Starting Strong: Astana Roundtable Launches with Expansion on the Horizon 


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NOVEMBER 02 – ASTANA – Seated in the bright apex of the iconic Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a diverse group of respected religious community leaders from Kazakhstan and prominent central government officials gathered for an inaugural roundtable that promises to be the first of many. 


Executive Summary 

The inaugural roundtable served as a kickoff event and marked the first achievement of the collaboration between LYNC, the Nazarbayev Center, and the IRF Secretariat, as set forth in the MOU signed in Georgia on June 26, 2023.  The event garnered broad engagement and was positively received, indicating a strong commitment from the religious sector to advance the establishment of local ongoing roundtables in eight other Kazakhstani cities, where leaders from various faiths will have an opportunity to include a religious community voice in broader discussions on a variety of social issues. A key strategy involves creating a secretariat to help to coordinate and facilitate these roundtables. 

Looking ahead, LYNC is organizing a tour in the spring of 2024, targeting eight cities to support the formation of ongoing roundtables. 

The gathering was for an event initiated by Love Your Neighbor Community (LYNC), along with The Committee on Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan (CRA) represented by its Chairman H.E. Yerzhan Nukezhanov, and the N. Nazarbayev Center for the Development of Interfaith and Inter-civilizational Dialogue (NAO) represented by the Center’s Chairman H.E. Bulat Sarsenbayev, on the topic of “Religious freedom and Civic Responsibility – Partnership between Kazakhstan and the USA.” 

In this mission, LYNC engaged with those previously worked with and some for the first time. Also participating was Yeshaya E. Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, Rev. Tomasz Bernard Peta, Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Saint Mary in the city of Astana, Rev. Yuri Novgorodov, Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kazakhstan, Rev. Arman Arenbayev, Senior Pastor of the Almagul Presbyterian Church in Almaty and Chairman of the Evangelical Reformed Church, Imam Hasan Amankulov, the Head of the Department of Religious Rehabilitation of the Muslim Spiritual Administration of Kazakhstan, Alinur Sabit, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i Society in Kazakhstan as well as Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Baptists, Krishna Conscience Society, and other including government officials involved in religious affairs. While not present, the Metropolitan of Astana and Kazakhstan of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexander, sent warm greetings to the hosts and participants and a statement expressing interest in participating in future development.

The multi-faith dialogue and collaborative action.  

The participants engaged in a comprehensive dialogue on key elements of religious freedom, social cohesion, and responsible citizenship, underscoring the significance of collaboration between Kazakhstan and the United States.  

In light of the varied composition of contemporary society, there is an ever-growing need to reassess current multi-faith connections and progress beyond mere tolerance toward more profound discourse, mutual comprehension, and collaboration. 

Through a collaborative effort involving CRA, LYNC, and NAO, the roundtable served as a dynamic platform for the exchange of shared values and mutual understanding—an essential groundwork for an imminent, multi-faith, multi-sectoral collaboration aimed at addressing four critical facets: 

  1. The intersection of religious freedom with responsible citizenship, the empowerment of women, and human dignity; 
  2. The cultivation of cross-cultural religious literacy and the strengthening of social cohesion. 
  3. The challenges of radicalization and the exploration of comprehensive preventive strategies. 
  4. Creating and/or sustaining existing multi-faith roundtables and reinforcing them with civil society initiatives, including establishing a Roundtables’ Secretariat. It will help facilitate ongoing public discourse and foster connections with a global community of like-minded people.

In the event’s official opening, President Emeritus for the Institute for Global Engagement Chris Seiple shared a warm message from a large screen facing the circle. He greeted his long-time and new friends with fond memories of his time in Astana and Shymkent. Seiple underscored the importance of ‘Covenantal Pluralism’—a commitment to mutual engagement, respect, and protection across diverse cultures and faiths.  

Advocating for a societal rather than solely governmental responsibility to protect religious minorities, Seiple emphasized cross-cultural religious literacy to combat extremism, encouraging the development of personal, collaborative, and social competencies of evaluation, negotiation, and communication.

Inspired by the strengths of Central Asian models, his message highlighted the importance of creating strategies to foster peace, mutual understanding, and neighborly solidarity in the face of global challenges. 

Following, the Chairman of the CRA, Yerzhan Nukezhanov, highlighted fruitful cooperation between LYNC and CRA on the verge of a 10th anniversary of the partnership that began from the IRF Roundtable’s first visit on Dec. 2, 2013, organized by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington DC and the IRF Roundtable and Institute for Global Engagement.  

Yerzhan Nukezhanov notes the collaboration between LYNC and CRA

A Call to Endeavor 

Several in attendance addressed participants with passionate advocacy for better understanding, education, and dialogue between differing religious communities.  

One of the attendees, Alinur Sabith (Bahais Society of Kazakhstan) accentuated conflicts erupting worldwide and called for strengthened work with greater accuracy in presentation and involving highly professional researchers. 

“The conflicts generated by fragmentation are a grave danger that the nations and peoples of the earth can no longer endure and that seriously threaten the existence of a fragile peace on earth. The consequences of universal disunity are too terrible to contemplate, too obvious to require any demonstration.” 

Sabith continued saying religious leaders can make a significant contribution but must proclaim these truths beyond religious pulpits: “What is needed is a widespread recognition of the unity of all humankind, the nobility of every human being, and the unity of all religions, and the realization of these principles through appropriate legal measures.” 

Pastor Arman Arenbayev, a LYNC partner and Chairman of Evangelical Reformed Church Presbytery, highlighted the diversity of the country and posed inquiries regarding the methods of peaceful coexistence. 

“Residents of Kazakhstan profess Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and numerous other religions. What to do? How is it possible to find agreement between such a diversity of ethnic groups and religious confessions? How to find a common language? How do you find mutual agreement?” he asked.  

“After all, every representative of a particular religion believes that his or her religion is the most correct. Every believer deeply believes in the exclusivity of his religious practice. What to do? How do we find harmony and agreement?” 

Arman Arenbayev

Arenbayev then affirmed the significance of covenantal pluralism and urged the cultivation of interpersonal connections. 


“Friends, we all live in a very diverse, multifaceted society. But we are all neighbors. Neighbors united by one citizenship. Here on earth, our citizenship is our wonderful and beloved country of Kazakhstan. Let us strengthen what we have – develop relationships with each other. Show respect to each other. Be ready to protect each other in difficult times and seek mutual understanding and agreement,”he closed. 


Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Andrey Tetryuk, reflected on Kazakhstan’s 33 years of independence, emphasizing the nation’s maturity through its embrace of responsible citizenship, particularly in the face of globalization’s challenges.  

“Nothing big and serious is created quickly and easily. I remember the city of Tselinograd and the move of the capital. Many people thought that it wouldn’t work. And look how beautiful our capital is today!” he said. 

Tetryuk illustrated that significant achievements demand dedication and time, advocating for perseverance in pursuing religious freedom and responsible citizenship. 

“Without work, without our goodwill, without the active participation of spiritual leaders, it will not be possible to create responsible citizenship. But as the Kazakh proverb says, ‘Arzannyn sorpasy tatymaidy’ or cheap soup is not good.” 


Protecting Women 

President of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Nadine Maenza discussed the profound impact of religious freedom on societal benefits, including social cohesion, peace, and economic growth, in her presentation titled “Religious Freedom in the Context of Responsible Citizenship, Women’s Rights, and Human Dignity.”  

Drawing on her experiences, Maenza highlighted Kazakhstan’s commendable progress in fostering a peaceful society that embraces all religious traditions. She illustrated the vital role of women in deradicalization, especially in groups previously controlled by ISIS, and how supporting women’s rights is in harmony with religious communities thriving.  

Maenza emphasized the importance of cross-cultural religious literacy to preempt disinformation’s divisive effects and strengthen societal bonds. She also referenced the success of the IRF Secretariat’s religious freedom roundtable as a model for promoting good citizenship and governance. She lauded the New York Declaration: C5+1 for its commitment to cross-cultural understanding and the protection of human rights. 


CCRL and Social Cohesion 

Mr. Matius Ho from the Leimena Institut, Jakarta, Indonesia, spoke on fostering social cohesion through a Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy (CCRL) program in Indonesia. Highlighting Indonesia’s religious demographic, he stressed the importance of understanding and respecting different faiths to counteract the growing intolerance noted among Islamic educators and students. The institute’s CCRL program develops competencies for personal, comparative, and collaborative understanding across faiths. Leimena Institut has trained thousands of educators, provided extensive resources, and conducted numerous outreach events.  

Participants watch a presentation given by Mr. Matius Ho from the Leimena Institut

Ho’s presentation garnered significant attention and interest from those attending the roundtable and helped LYNC gain momentum on our CCRL project in Kazakhstan. 

 Pepperdine University partner and Associate Professor for the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Dr. Sukhsimranjit Singh, spoke on cross-cultural psychology and achieving productivity through a globalized approach to understanding the power of ethnocentric identity.

“We need to hold on to some values that are dear to us; at the same time, we need to shed some values that need to be shed to understand, to accept, to tolerate other societies and other cultures.” 

Singh emphasized the need to understand conflict and the power of conflict resolution to mediate religious disputes and gave tips and trades for mediators to build a cohesive society. 


Mitigating Radicalization Among Youth 

Imam Khasan Amankulov

Imam Khasan Amankulov, discussed the importance of developing spiritual virtues as a means against extremist ideology. 

Amankulov emphasized that with the independence of Kazakhstan, the need arose to revive the national culture, language, and religion: “Preserving our unique identity and spirituality is the challenge of the present time. In the globalization era, we face the spread of radical ideas that threaten social harmony,” he said.  

“However, Islam does not reject national traditions, and we must educate young people in the spirit of patriotism and tolerance. The stability of society and the country depends on each of us.

Nearing the conclusion of the roundtable, Greg Mitchell, founder and CEO of the IRF Secretariat, shared his remarkable journey alongside Kazakhstan, such as the inaugural inclusive multi-faith roundtable in Shymkent back in 2019, the participation of the Kazakhstani delegation at the 2021 IRF Summit and the signing of a historical MOU between the LYNC and Kazakhstan, propelling the cause of religious freedom forward. 

Astana and Beyond 

The roundtable emerged as the initial outcome of the collaboration outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in Georgia on Jun. 26, 2023, between the LYNC, the Nazarbayev Center, and the IRF Secretariat. 

The choice of Georgia for the signing was deliberate; it commemorated our inaugural and highly effective trip as a team to present a model outside of Kazakhstan to promote religious freedom and social cohesion through the development of covenantal pluralism. We have a great multi-faith, multi-sectoral team composed of LYNC staff, Kazakh imams, pastors, government representatives, and academics. 

LYNC is happy to report that the roundtable event was a success with wide participation and a positive reception. The religious community is ready to help move forward to create local ongoing roundtables. 

As we persist in nurturing multi-faith dialogue and collaboration, with Religious Freedom as our fundamental guiding principle, LYNC advocates for a perspective that transcends mere tolerance. Rather than segregating communities based on religious differences, LYNC champions the freedom of open communication and collaborative endeavors. 

This approach paves the way for collective action in confronting shared societal challenges, cultivating a profound sense of shared humanity, and fostering mutual understanding among individuals of diverse faiths. 


Such efforts significantly lower social hostility toward religion and between religions, which is one of two key indices that measure religious freedom, according to the Pew Research Center.