Empowering Kyrgyz Youth: Initiatives to Unlock Opportunities in Remote Regions

  • Sydnee Wilke, Julia Repishti

Thirty-one-year-old Atabek Aripov has already had a quite successful career. Born and raised in Kyrgyzstan in the southwest region of Batken, he has worked as a journalist and TV presenter, ran as a candidate in local elections, and is now pursuing a law degree at Osh State University. His real passion is becoming a strong leader and advocate in increasing youth involvement within communities and even one day being elected to office. As the leader of “Media Ray,” a civil society organization (CSO) that trains youth in the Batken region on civic advocacy and leadership skills, and leader of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Youth Republican Network (YRN), Aripov is closer to attaining his goal.  

In 2019, Aripov and other Kyrgyz youth established an informal meeting group, with support from IRI, to form connections and share information to build up each other’s leadership and advocacy skills. In 2022, they created The Youth Republican Network (YRN), which brings together youth from around Kyrgyzstan to bolster the civic and political inclusion of youth and increase their interest and involvement in decision-making processes in their communities. IRI, in coordination with YRN leadership, provides trainings and expertise to strengthen youth members’ individual capacity and assist youth-driven CSOs to be sustainable and successful at advocating for solutions to local issues. “What I like most [about YRN] is its focus on nurturing real political leaders, especially among young people, and providing them with substantial support,” said Aripov. He feels that it is crucial for young people to get involved in their communities and shape the future of their society, especially as youth are often drivers of innovation and creativity. 

YRN has built up their capacity to organize events and workshops that address political and social issues and support the advocacy of youth policy within the local and national government. On May 12-13, 2023, YRN, in coordination with local government and IRI, organized the “Ethno Festival of Strengthening International Friendship and Harmony 2023” in the Kadamzhai district in the Batken region, which aimed to bring youth from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan together for constructive dialogues on how to foster greater cooperation and promote cultural exchange and friendships. YRN’s event was a success with over 250 attendees from both countries as well as active participation from delegations of government officials from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, including Marat Tagayev, the Kyrgyzstan Deputy Minister of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policy. According to Aripov, “The Deputy Minister’s presence at the event truly showed their support for us. It was amazing to see how the youth and local government in Kadamzhai district worked together.” YRN demonstrated its capacity to host events that bring youth and Kyrgyz stakeholders together for meaningful dialogues while also building YRN’s visibility in the community and even with the Kyrgyz government. 

The increased advocacy has paid off. Due to the success of the Ethno Festival, the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports and Youth Policy supplied funds to YRN to lead a project that will enhance the potential of young people in the Kadamzhai district in the Batken region over the course of four months. Also, Aripov and other members of the network were invited to participate in many government-led events dedicated to youth issues, including the Republican Youth Congress of Kyrgyzstan, organized by the Ministry in October, which focused on increasing digital literacy, modernizing education, and shaping youth consciousness. In November, Aripov participated in the “Kyrgyzstan of My Dreams” Presidential Youth Forum, an event attended by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov. Elected youth representatives from each region attended the event, and Aripov was selected to give a speech, in which he highlighted achievements of youth from across Kyrgyzstan.

Aripov giving a speech about his work with youth at the “Kyrgyzstan of My Dreams” Presidential Youth Forum in November 2023.

While Kyrgyzstan has a National Youth Policy that offers financial support for youth initiatives and involving youth to help craft youth policy, youth participation in the political process remains limited, especially for youth from rural regions. IRI has focused on empowering Kyrgyz youth to become more active within their communities. Aripov emphasized that “the involvement of young people in political and civic processes is crucial for the future of society, ensuring long-term stability and development of the country.” For him, leading YRN and participating in other government-sponsored youth meetings are key to helping him achieve his goals and improving avenues for young people to get civically engaged. 

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