The controversy surrounding a series of billboards in Kyrgyzstan’s capital that condemned the spread of conservative Islam has now drawn in President Almaz Atambayev.
Quizzed by journalists on July 14, the president said that not only was he all in favor of the posters’ message, but he is now proposing dotting more of them around the country.
The billboard consists of three pictures side by side. Starting from the left, there is a row of women in traditional Kyrgyz headdresses. Next are women in white hijabs. On the right are women in black niqabs, a form of all-body dress that obscures almost the entire face. Underneath the collage is the tagline “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?” — a suggestion of disapproval at the adoption of what many in Kyrgyzstan see as alien forms of dress.
Atambayev said that it was important to resist the spread of outside customs.
“Let us not confuse Arabian, Pakistani, and I don’t know, Bangladeshi culture with Kyrgyz culture. This is an imposition of foreign culture. A foreign culture of dress. We have our own clothes,” Atambayev said.
While not taking responsibility for the existing handful of billboards that sprung up in Bishkek on July 13, Atambayev urged spreading the message further.
“I have ordered the presidential administration to give funding so that banners like these can be hung up across Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “We need banners like these. It doesn’t say anything bad on them. There are just three photos and one question.”
It is still something of a mystery, however, who was behind the billboards.
News website Kloop.kg called the mayor’s office and was told that the poster had been ordered by a foundation calling itself “Patriots of Kyrgyzstan.”
But in its searches, Kloop.kg found no public foundation with that name, although it noted that there was a political party called Patriots of Kyrgyzstan headed by Almas Orozbakov, who has in the past voiced support for Atambayev.
Zanoza.kg relayed speculation in social media that the campaign might be the work of a self-styled spiritual development fund called Yiman, which was set up by Atambayev in early 2014. The fund has denied the claim.
All the five or so billboards have, in any case, already disappeared. In the place of at least one of them, there is a poster showing Kyrgyzstan’s sporting delegation to this summer’s Olympic Games.