On 22 June, almost 40 students from across Central Asia and an international group of 10 academic advisers gathered in Almaty for a Central Asian Youth Network (CAYN) event on modern challenges to security in Central Asia.
The CAYN was established in 2004 in order to enhance promising students' knowledge and understanding of contemporary security threats, the OSCE's role in responding to them, and to enable the students to network with their peers from the region.
"When selecting potential candidates for CAYN seminars, we are looking for young leaders who are knowledgeable of the everyday challenges that Central Asia faces," explains Ambassador Alexandre Keltchewsky, the Head of the Centre in Astana. "We aim to help young people prepare to take responsibility for the development of the region in an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence."
The June seminar is the first of two planned for this year, in partnership with other OSCE field operations in the region. Students, accepted on the strength of their applications, will be divided into groups based on their research interests. An academic adviser will be assigned to each group and will lead them in discussions related to their research topic.
Over the course of the following three months, the student groups and their advisers will collaborate to produce original academic research on their assigned topic. Particular emphasis will be placed on teamwork, and communication and co-ordination between groups and their academic advisers will be maintained via a dedicated Facebook group and e-mail.
In September, the student groups and academic advisers will reconvene in Almaty to present a summary of their research. Afterwards, those students with the best articles and presentations will be given the opportunity to have their work published and distributed to international organizations, universities and other interested parties.
The CAYN was launched in 2004 with a seminar of 50 participants in the Uzbek resort town of Charvak. The following year a similar event was held in Kyrgyzstan on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, and in December 2009 a three-day seminar was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan for students from a number of Central Asian universities.
The 2009 seminar provided the students with an in-depth overview of the OSCE's mission and acquainted them with the Centre's efforts to promote OSCE values, principles and commitments. Topics included such contemporary security issues as arms control, terrorism and extremism, the situation in Afghanistan, water management, labour migration, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and freedom of the media, to name but a few.
More than 30 students from the region spent three days with experts from organizations such as the Russian Institute for Oriental Studies, the German Society for Technical Co-operation (GTZ), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Centre for Gender Research, the Netherland-based Centre for European Security Studies, and the Almaty-based NGO Medianet.
During the seminar, inquiry-based learning was facilitated through student-centered discussion groups, interactive games and role-playing activities.
Changing perceptions, building co-operation
"Participation in this seminar has changed my perception of Central Asian security issues," said Asem Asfandiarova, a second-year student at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, who attended the 2009 seminar in Almaty. "I realized that co-operation is possible and learned new ways of looking at conflicts and how to search for solutions. Moreover, after interacting with other students from Central Asia, I rid myself of many stereotypes."
After attending the seminar Asem returned to her hometown of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and together with others conducted a leadership course for high school students during which she shared what she had learned at the CAYN event.
Karina Mukanova, who is from Kazakhstan and attended the same seminar said, "I always knew that conducting policy is difficult, but I had no idea how complicated it is, and how many important details are involved. The seminar allowed me to see that sometimes you have to give in to the other side on some issues in order to achieve a better overall result."
Building a lasting network
In addition to the academic value, previous CAYN participants have also complimented the seminars' networking opportunities as an important contributor to their future success. Echoing an opinion voiced at all CAYN seminars, Almira Zakiyeva, a 2004 seminar participant, says "I met a lot of fascinating and smart people from different regions who today, 6 years later, I still keep up with. The chance to network has created many opportunities for me." The CAYN Facebook group currently has 78 members and is growing.
"This event is a workshop in the true meaning of the word," says Luca Brusati, a professor from Udine University in Italy who served as an academic adviser for this year's seminar. "Participants are expected to work in groups on original papers targeting some of the hottest topics for Central Asia today, ranging from terrorism to water supply, from migration to transportation policy. All in all it's an excellent opportunity for young professionals to develop their skills, work in multi-cultural teams and deliver top-quality results."