Supporting the practice of pilgrimage through the restoration of the burned sacred site and preparing pilgrims for public discussions

In Kyrgyzstan, like in other parts of the world, there is resistance among indigenous practitioners to the processes of radical Islamization. Assistance is sought for two tasks:

  • The restoration of the burned natural sacred site Archa Mazar.
  • Training indigenous practitioners to defend their positions in the context of religious radicalization and commercialization.

The sacred site Archa Mazar is located in the Kochkor District in the northern part of the country. Archa Mazar was included in the national list of sacred sites in 2020 and represents a natural complex consisting of juniper trees, stones, and a spring. Hundreds of Kyrgyz pilgrims have come here for pilgrimage, seeking restoration of health, life success, progeny, and more. In the spring of 2023, the sacred site was set on fire by a group of religious radicals with the aim of halting mass pilgrimages. From their perspective, worshipping trees and springs is considered “shirk” (associating partners with Allah) – the most serious sin in Islam.

We intend to conduct a series of urgent training sessions for practitioners of sacred sites in order to shift their discussions with radicals from the narrow religious field and equip them with tools for protecting their natural and cultural heritage, such as the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) and the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). This series of training sessions (preliminarily 3-4), including sessions at the sacred site, aims to inform participants about instruments and avenues for safeguarding local natural and indigenous cultural values.