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Kyrgyzstan: Biometric IDs Fuel Debate About Ethnicity

A mock-up of the new, biometric ID card. Cardholders are entitled to include, if they wish, their ethnic self-identification in the data stored on the embedded microchip, although this detail is not printed on the card. (Photo: Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Service)

Kyrgyzstan’s government is distributing biometric ID cards with embedded microchips to its population, amid a rowdy polemic about whether the document should include information about the holder’s ethnicity. The issue is particularly sensitive, given the country’s Soviet legacy and its more recent history of inter-ethnic conflict.
 
The government began handing out the new-look IDs in December. Proponents of the modernized document say it will cut down on fraud. Officials have been particularly stung by claims that Kyrgyz identification documents — ID cards and passports — are so easily forged that they circulate freely among would-be Islamic terrorists.
 
But one aspect of the new IDs has self-styled national patriots — an assorted collection of often aggressively chauvinistic patriotic movements in Kyrgyzstan — up in arms. The space on the card once reserved for stating ethnic identity has been scrapped and now simply designates the holder’s citizenship.
 

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Nurjamal Djanibekova is a reporter based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan: Biometric IDs Fuel Debate About Ethnicity

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