Different Ethnic Groups
% of population under 25 (2016)
Kyrgyzstan: An Overview
Kyrgyzstan is a country located in the mid of Central Asia, it is land of mountains and nomads. Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is home to many different ethnic and tribal groups that co-exist as it borders with China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Population is 6 million people and consists from 80 different ethnic groups. Most of its population lives in rural areas (66%) while a third lives in urban areas (34%). Kyrgyzstan has a young, rapidly expanding population with around 47,5 % of the population is under the age of 25 (2016). In 2010, first the North and then the South was marked with violent conflict that caused 500 deaths, almost 2,000 seriously injured, and some 400,000 displaced, with youth playing a major role. While a high number of young people in a society do not necessarily cause violence, if combined to other factors such as unemployment, marginalisation and political exclusion of parts of the society, criminal and extremist activities, it can bring about instability and conflict.
Some factors are structural such as occupational segregation in the labour market between women and men, a patriarchal society, socio-economic inequalities with high levels of rural poverty and insufficient domestic jobs for working-age people. In addition, the Kyrgyzstani education system struggles to include all minority groups. With a North/ South geographical divide, the Uzbek/ Kyrgyzstani distrust is particularly present in Southern oblasts, prompted by rural economic poverty which led to waves of migration towards cities. Alienation of the new groups caused politicians and extremist groups to take advantage of new comers which reinforced tensions between communities and religious groups. Youth particularly in rural areas, have fewer employment opportunities, may lack access to appropriate training or education which also makes them more vulnerable to these groups.
Ethnic tensions are exacerbated by language differences with the requirement of Kyrgyz or Russian language proficiency as State and Official languages for entry into university or for entry into state jobs. While linguistic integration is likely to be the long-term goal of this policy, the short-term result is exclusion of ethnic minorities in higher education or into accessing state jobs. At the same time, situational analysis show that some ethnic minorities deny education of girls based on gender roles. Young people expressed feelings of being excluded from political, economic and social processes, a lack of trust in law enforcement and the legal system, dissatisfaction with the quality of public services and “decision making processes at local, family and even the individual level”.
After the regime change in 2010, the government made commendable efforts to develop youth policies (by for instance creating a Ministry of Youth Affairs or creating specific legislation for youth), these initiatives however didn’t fulfil their ambition as they struggled to include the marginalised, uneducated or unemployed youth populations (mostly from rural areas). Currently education is provided in official and state languages (approximately 50 out of 2,200 schools taught in Uzbek). Therefore, there are limited chances for intercultural contact between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, increasing perceptions of distrust and fear of “the other”.
As a result of a patriarchal society and economic limitations for women, women and girls are particularly affected with nearly 1 in 10 girls are married before the age of 18 in Kyrgyzstan. A large proportion of early marriages in the country happen as a result of bride kidnapping, according to the United Nations Population Fund (2014). Despite, the government’s attempt to address this through legislation, it takes time to change social attitudes that may be considered as traditions for many communities. At the same time the latest research conducted by Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) shows that community members try to simulate that they are agree with the laws which prohibit “early marriage” but de-facto they do not want to change behavior.
 Mercy Corps & FTI. 2016. “Vulnerable to Manipulation: Interviews with Migrant Youth and Youth Remittance-Recipients in Kyrgyzstan.”
Our work in Kyrgyzstan
When we started working people were annoying with saying “Forum Theater? What about are you talking?” It was hard time of mistrust and rejection. Nowadays, there is a lot of support. Everyone is ready to help in the preparation of performances and participate in them. Leaders from neighboring villages invite us, they would like to use art to raise their issues, and they are similar to ours.
The Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) has been working on implementing the forum theater methodology, “Drama for Conflict Transformation” in secondary schools in Osh, Chui, Jalal-Abad, Batken, Naryn and Talas regions, since 2010. Drama Clubs were established in all of the above regions with 95% of participants being students and 5% of participants being other young people in the community. These Drama Clubs require young people to attend biweekly after-school classes and to practice exercises on open and constructive dialogue, which leads them to acquire the necessary tools to engage each other as well as adults in discussions about various community issues. Drama clubs put on theater performances based on real issues identified within their community. Common problems are: homelessness amongst children, bullying and racketeering in schools, alcoholism, migration, youth suicide as well as interethnic tensions, cross-border conflicts and fights between students due to diversity of opinions. Various stakeholders are invited to these interactive performances, with special invitations extended to those authority figures that could potentially help resolve the brought up issues on a larger level. If the performance is about bullying and racketeering in school then representatives of the education department, juvenile inspection office, social workers, psychologists, parents, and religious leaders are invited. The audience is involved in identifying the problem situation and in rewriting parts of the story, namely the moments where events could have been changed for the better. The methodology allows the youth to actively participate in the process on par with adults and to work together to find alternative ways of dealing with problems. According to assessments, the DCT methodology has a great impact on participants, changing the way they interact with others (including authority figures), and changing their worldview in a positive manner, since they learn to respect the opinions of others.
 Independent Project Assessment Report “Youth Theater for Peace,” conducted in 2011 in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.