Collage: Afghani teenager Turganbay Abdulbhakhidov with classmates in the background. Photos by Nurbek Bogachiev. - Photo: 2019

Afghani Teenager in Kyrgyzstan Plunges into Learning

By Bagymdat Atabaeva*

NARYN, Kyrgyzstan (IDN) – Turganbay Abdulbhakhidov is a 16-year-old teenager from Afghanistan who immigrated into Naryn region two years ago. His family used to make a living through cattle breeding in the Pamir mountains. Without electricity, proper medical services, educational institutions, and sustainable housing, these people live on the roof top of the world caught in a web of virtually no one’s land encompassing Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. 

“My family always moves around,” Turganbay told IDN, and the latest move to Naryn is turning out to be a positive one. “I have always wanted to study; this was number one motivation for me to move here, and start a new life in Kyrgyzstan,” he added.

He got accepted to the Access program in the local School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE). This program is oriented to assist socially vulnerable children. No fee is charged from students since the program is funded by the American Council. The program in which Turganbay is enrolled in, has three main parts: English language, IT, and Community services. Children also actively participate in the cultural events and are encouraged to organize voluntary campaigns.

Turganbay joined the program in November 2018 and was placed in the 6th grade though his age indicates he should be placed in the 9th grade. “We hadn`t any strong prejudices about him,” says Zarrina Tynaibekova, one of his teachers at the school. “All (teachers at the boarding school) realized that he would need a lot of attention and support from our side to catch up with the program. We got a special order from Ministry of Education to adjust the school material and see if he can finish 2 classes in one year. Surprisingly, he did. He is a very striving student.”

He finished the year as a top student. “He is one of the most active in my group,” Ainura Alakaeva – English Instructor at SPCE told IDN. When asked how different he is from other children she noted his curiosity and communicability. “I was little surprised that he learnt technology fast. He loves working on computer and making videos, he already has good photo and video-editing skills. I think this is all because of his curiosity and ambition,” she adds.

Turganbay’s story may not be something strange to many millenniums living in this region of ongoing conflicts. But, they may be able to learn some lessons from his experience of not to be intimidated by change. 

The history of people moving across the region could be traced back many centuries when ethnic Kyrgyz started moving into upper Pamir mountains in the 16th century, and later a second wave moved in 1920-30s. Main reason was to avoid expropriation of their cattle after Soviets took over Kyrgyzstan.

After Vakhan valley was given to Afghanistan as a buffer zone between British India and Russian Central Asia, political borders divided Pamir Kyrgyz into two big groups. These were: a bigger group of more than 65,000 people living in modern Tajikistan and a smaller group of 2,000 people in Afghanistan whom Soviets didn`t touch at all.

On October 17 last year, the local government and locals of Naryn gathered in the midnight on the main square of the city. They met and welcomed 6 families of Afghanistan origin into their new houses. Local government promised to provide them with housing after a local media exposed their plight. However, promises didn`t realize straight away. Society was debating on sharing responsibilities with the Afghani government, necessity of proper documentation, cultural similarities and differences, as the issue of public housing is rather sensitive here.

Opinions of the people here were divided. Some declared their willingness to help, while others were sceptical about the positive aspects of immigration. Some believed that it would be hard for people from Pamir region to adjust to local weather, lifestyle, culture, and technology. They turned out to be right: about one-third of those who willingly came to Naryn have moved back to the Pamir mountains. 

Coming from a completely different world, Turganbay wasn`t afraid to accept new challenges and study hard to realize his dreams. As a result of the special order from the Kyrgyz Ministry of Education to adjust his school curriculum, the teenager grabbed the opportunity and came out with flying colours

Right at the beginning, he was talkative and curious. In comparison to Naryn children, he is very outgoing and not afraid of sharing his opinions. He also asks a lot of questions, just as he would do when he first came into the school,” says Zarrina who is his current Class Instructor at the School named after an academician and an honoured worker of science Uson-Asanov.

“One of the biggest challenges for me was not getting acquainted with technology, but getting used to writing and reading in Cyrillic Script,” noted Turganbay. And actually he still uses the Arabic script to write in Kyrgyz and later changes it to the Cyrillic script when it comes to taking notes, writing essays and using phone.

In this religiously liberal country, he faced some problems outside his classroom. These are some of the harder challenges for him to overcome. Turganbay who came from a family of practicing Muslims and a society which used Quran as their constitution found differences in behaviour and lifestyle of his classmates and the society – sometimes overwhelming. With a tight schedule he managed to keep to the requirements of devout Muslims to pray 5 times a day. When he had misconceptions in the school he kept learning more and asking questions.

“I want to continue my education in a Madrasa,” says Turganbay. So, to spend his summer productively he is now studying in a madrasa in Kara-Balta which is another town in Kyrgyzstan. “He is very tolerant and patient,” says Zarrina. “In class he is very much respected by his classmates as he always tries to help everyone, especially girls. Children in my class respectfully call him bayke (“elder brother” – from Kyrgyz).”

Turganbay is a very faithful and a modest teenager, but is also not afraid of singing and performing to a large group of people in a more secular setting. Just recently during a festival in a local theatre he sang a song “Ulanbek`s family”, which is a Kyrgyz song translated into English, and also congratulated guests in English.

“I used to go to School in Afghanistan which was much far from our house. However, in our society, education isn`t a priority, it`s not even an option. Children from early age help their fathers to graze cattle, so their future profession is kind of decided for them,” claims Turganbay. 

Despite huge differences between Pamir and Kyrgyz lifestyles, Turganbay didn`t change one main thing in his daily routine – learning and assisting others in learning.

He is aware that he is lucky because he is now getting used to having books, internet and going to school with a variety of sciences being taught in contrast to Afghani school Turganbay used to go. He realises for the children of Naryn, these are usual things and thus they may forget to value them. But in Turganbay’s homeland families would be left apart from civilization and live in hunger of both knowledge and food. 

Turganbay now realizes that education has opened doors for him to enter a new civilization without having to reject his past or religious beliefs. “I want to study not only sciences, English and Russian, but also spiritual sciences like theology. I want to continue my education in a Madrasa,” he says, adding, “I want to become a teacher. I think teachers directly affect the character of a generation. Being a teacher, I can nurture leaders and I always felt like I have a lot to share.”

The writer is a student of media studies at the University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. She is doing an internship with IDN-InDepthNews as a correspondent for Kyrgyzstan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 July 2019]

Collage: Afghani teenager Turganbay Abdulbhakhidov with classmates in the background. Photos by Nurbek Bogachiev.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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