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Kyrgyz Nationals Join IS In Syria For Many Different Reasons, Expert Says

Bulgarian terrorism expert Tatyana Dronzina

Bulgarian terrorism expert Tatyana Dronzina

Kyrgyz nationals who have gone to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group or other militant factions have been motivated by a variety of different factors, says Tatyana Dronzina, an expert in terrorism from Sofia State University in Bulgaria.

In a February 2 interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, Dronzina said her research in Osh province in southern Kyrgyzstan revealed no one single factor that pushed Kyrgyz nationals to travel to Syria to fight.

"When we talk about the people who have gone [to Syria] we should not think of them as a single entity," she said. "They have different motives; there are different groups."

According to Dronzina, many of those who went to Syria had completed only nine years of education and then left Kyrgyzstan to work in Russia or elsewhere.

"Such people have a narrow outlook. Added to this is discrimination and pressure in the labor markets. They do not have an easy life," Dronzina told Radio Azattyk.

Other Kyrgyz nationals, including women, left for Syria because of problems in their personal lives, she added.

"Some women left because of their boyfriends; others met guys there and then went to join them. There are those who left out of fear that they would not be able to start a family [in Kyrgyzstan]. There was one man who left because he was not allowed to marry his girlfriend. Those who are searching for romance also go," Dronzina said.

According to Dronzina, some men and women from Central Asia have gone to Syria for religious reasons -- in order to fight for a specifically Islamic state -- while others express the desire to fight for a "new world."

Combating Radicalization

In order to address the issue of Kyrgyz and other Central Asian nationals traveling to Syria to join Islamic State, governments need to bear in mind the fact that there is no single motivating factor causing the outflow to Syria, Dronzina said.

"If the government wants to have effective needs to differentiate these strategies. That is, if you went [to Syria] for one reason; we will work with you in that particular direction. You can't apply the same strategy to everyone," Dronzina she added.

In Dronzina's view, the Kyrgyz government has already taken the first steps in this direction by undertaking research into the phenomenon of radicalization that has revealed specific motivations.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, the government has opened a toll-free, 24-hour hotline, where those concerned about radicalization can call for advice. According to Kazakhstan's Culture and Sport Ministry website, the hotline is intended to answer questions about issues including the imposition of "strange religious ideas" and those concerned about themselves or family members "coming under the influence of dubious people or organizations of a religious nature." It is unclear, however, how effective this program has been at combating the flow of Kazakh nationals joining the IS group in the Middle East.

A recent policy briefing by the International Crisis Group about radicalization in Central Asia also pointed out that a wide cross-section of citizens has gone to join the IS group in Syria and Iraq, but noted that Central Asian governments have done little to address the reasons why this is the case.

While it is not known exactly how many citizens from Central Asia have gone to IS-held territory in Syria and Iraq, the Crisis Group report estimates that between 2,000 and 4,000 individuals from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are fighting with or otherwise supporting the IS group.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena