"My desire to help my community, my belief in equality and justice remain central for me. I want to see Kyrgyzstan as an example of peace, equality, and tolerance for the entire region."
Raisa (Raya) Kadyrova is the President and founder of the Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kyrgyzstan. Raisa credits the success of the organization to her family and colleagues. She never hesitates to acknowledge the on-going support and encouragement of her husband Almaz and their two children. Raya also credits her colleagues at FTI and the NGO community with their help in development of the ideas, strategies and creation of the structure that have contributed to FTI’s accomplishments.
Raya grew up in an environment of challenges and opportunities. Born on 28 March 1957, Raya lived in what was then known as the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Orphaned at the age of eight, Raya appreciated the Soviet system that gave her access to education, healthcare, and other social services. Clearly, beyond the social supports and educational opportunities Raya experienced early on, it is her own will, sense of responsibility, and her initiative that propel her. This was important because, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Kyrgyzstan became a poor, independent, struggling, new nation with border and resource conflicts to address.
Raya graduated from the university in Bishkek with a degree in teaching, and taught for several years. She started peacemaking activities in 1995 as a coordinator of the Tolerance Education and Conflict Transformation Program with the United Nations Refugee Agency (Unhcr). Back then there were about 45,000 refugees in Kyrgyzstan from the neighboring Republic of Tajikistan, a country crippled by civil war. There were also thousands of refugees from Afghanistan and Chechnya. For a country of 5 million residents, that was a huge burden. The country was still suffering from the recession and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the south of Kyrgyzstan, where most refugees settled, one saw the rise of numerous tensions and violence between the local people and the refugees. As part of the Unhcr program, Raya was teaching secondary school instructors and highschool students. Clearly her project was quite successful: she received hundreds of letter with requests for training. She understood that the walls of schools had become too narrow and had to be combined with grassroots activities. That is how her NGO was born. By that time, unfortunately, serious cross-border conflicts had emerged. Her foundation was the only one which operated under the conditions of the “Small Batken War,”which involved the incursions of religious extremists including guerrillas from Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Kyrgyzstan’s neighboring countries). Raya worked amidst the sounds of bullets and bombs, helping to organize camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), providing the population with true and objective information to help prevent the dissemination of rumors and panic among the local population.
In the face of some violent religious militants, she brought in respected religious leaders who could prove to the ordinary people that Islam is not about violence or hatred. She had a phenomenal success when she managed to persuade Government officials to send two helicopters all the way to the mountains in order to pick up the defenseless villagers, potential victims, who could easily be annihilated by the religious militants. People report that she saved the lives of about a hundred people.
Raya had to fight on different fronts during this two-year war and was also given the mandate to monitor the distribution of humanitarian aid. When she tracked the cases of abuse of power and submitted her report to the “akim” (the local governor) with the description of the stealing, he called his deputy and ordered him to throw her out with the assistance of the police force. He obviously did not like the objective description of the outrageous power abuse she had documented. During that war some Japanese, American, German and local citizens were taken hostages by the religious militants. Only those local citizens who knew the Koran by heart were let go. Since she and her assistants had to travel to the mountainous areas, they had to learn the Koran by heart, so that if they were ambushed by the militants and taken hostage they could have at least some chance to survive. Even small children were studying the Koran. After the war ended, Raya was the only woman among the seven people who received the title of Honorary Citizen of Batken Oblast (Batken region) from the Government of Kyrgyzstan for outstanding and honorable contributions in stabilization, democratization and socio-economic development of the region.
Conflict prevention and resolution require activities on all levels--grassroots, national and international, with or against the government. Quite often the officials who are the product of the authoritarian Soviet system are the very reason for the conflict. Raya considers it an important achievement that the SNB (Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Agency, the former KGB) in the person of its deputy minister requested FTI to teach their top-level specialist how to deal with the communities, perform conflict analyses, run negotiations and mediation.
If you had asked Raya when she was in her early twenties whether she would ever be the founder and President of the largest NGO in Central Asia, she would have said “No.” It was not in the plans of the young Soviet citizen. Even as the world changed around her, Raya found her internal balance, based on love of people, unchanged. Her desire to help her community, her belief in equality and justice remain central to her. While she has achieved so very much, both personally and professionally, Raya Kadyrova has no intention of slowing down. Indeed, she envisions a larger goal for her homeland, one that sees Kyrgyzstan as an example of peace, equality, and tolerance for the entire region.
“I represent the post-USSR Muslim State that does not allow women to make statements on their rights or to protect them. Women, as a rule, are the primary victims of violent conflicts, but you never see them at the peace talk tables," she says. "I have difficulty with proving that I can make decisions as an equal. The experience that I am getting in this program will help me get a better insight of the role of women in conflict resolution.”
In its short history, FTI has implemented 14 long-term projects in five countries and has developed a reputation as the premier NGO in its region, respected for both its ability to bring divided communities together in the spirit of peace and for its efforts to help lend a voice to the disenfranchised members of the cross-border communities. Its mission is to "prevent and transform inter-ethnic conflicts and coordinate community-based activities and civil forums that promote peace, tolerance, conflict resolution strategies and support local initiated solutions to regional interethnic conflicts."
In Raya's words: “I hope that the history of my experience, that I wish to document, will prove to be useful to other women. When they see that if I was able to accomplish that, they will wonder if they can achieve the same or maybe even more. That means I will ultimately gain more experienced and professional colleagues and become more confident in the victory. That means we can do it!”
Raisa (Raya) Kadyrova is the president and founder of the Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI). This organization’s mission is to prevent and resolve interethnic conflicts in the cross-border areas of Central Asia, comprised of five post-Soviet Union Republics. The problems the Central Asia region faces today are disputed lands and borders, scarcity of natural resources, especially water and land, militarization and small arms, religious extremism and terrorism, land mines, interethnic conflicts, poverty, and drug trafficking. “Our NGO is one of the few in Central Asia working on problems of interethnic hostilities,” Raya says.
As part of her activities, she monitors and evaluates the conflict situation, organizes and facilitates negotiation and mediation processes, conducts trainings and consensus-building activities, and communicates with the divided local populace. Raya works on grassroots, national, and international levels, while cooperating closely with government representatives and members of the Parliament. The activities of her organization are recognized as successful by the people, the government and Parliament. However, the growing number of victims of violent conflicts makes her realize “that our activities must be more effective.” Because she is so heavily involved in many activities at the same time and bears the load of implementing activities over the entire Central Asia region, she has not had time to document the processes and results, failures and successes of her activities.
“International donors often ask us, ‘What makes FTI successful?’ and we cannot always answer that question because we do not have time to sit down and document and analyze what we have achieved. Sometimes it seems to us that we work like a fire brigade, reacting to emerging issues, without being able to slow down and take a breath,” Raya says.
Having acquired independence after the disintegration of the USSR, the Kyrgyz Republic found itself to be free, but completely undeveloped and facing a whole range of problems, including economic development, foreign and internal political strategies, poverty, and restoration of its own culture.
Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI)
Central Asia and the Middle East | Kyrgyzstan