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Despite Bans, Central Asians Observe Valentine's Day

Central Asian countries have a special relationship with Valentine's Day. While some nations in the region embrace the holiday that has become popular in recent years, other countries ban or try to replace it with more “authentic” local celebrations.

Global Voices has reported about social media debates related to Valentine's Day in Tajikistan, where one third of people celebrate the holiday according to a recent survey. Below is a brief overview of how Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have observed February 14 this year.

Kazakhstan

The authorities in Kazakhstan are generally much more tolerant towards new holidays and traditions than their neighbors in the region. Kazakhs are free to celebrate Valentine's Day as they wish. As in many other countries, however, social media users argue about whether the holiday should be celebrated. Responding to frequent portrayals of Valentine's Day as a holiday that contradicts Islam, blogger Ainura Rai asserts [ru] that the holiday has a “secular character” and, therefore, does not run against any religious conviction. Another blogger, Kuanushbek Zhakparov, agrees that “the day of love” is a secular holiday but contends [ru] that Valentine's Day is an “evil” capitalist phenomenon promoted by companies that make money by selling cards, flowers, and other love-themed products. Other bloggers discuss [ru] inexpensive gifts that people could give their loved ones on February 14.

Meanwhile, in the northern Kazakh city of Kostanai, traffic police has used the holiday as an opportunity to improve its image among drivers:

In Kostanai, police officers presented drivers with Valentine's Day Cards.

An unusual group of police officers was on duty at the Abay Avenue, near TSUM, today. Drivers did not expect such a surprise from police officers.

On the Day of Love, [police officers] gave drivers Valentine's Day Cards and gifts from insurance companies.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has joined the list of “enemies of Valentine's Day” this year. Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a member of Kyrgyz parliament (who has been calling for a ban on Valentine's Day for several years now) recently called February 14 a “holiday from the devil”. The authorities in the southern city of Osh have banned the observance of Valentine's Day in schools, arguing that the “holiday of love is a bad influence on children’s morality.” Education officials have suggested that schoolchildren should instead observe the Family Day on February 15.

This has not stopped young Kyrgyzstanis from celebrating, however. Blogger Bektour Iskender reports [ru] that students in several school in Osh did organize Valentine's Day events. Similar events were held in many schools and universities across the country. On kloop.kg, blogger Darya Solovyova shares [ru] gift ideas for Valentine's Day.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been more aggressive than its neighbors in trying to root out celebrations of Valentine's Day. For several years now, the country's authorities have been trying to convince people to celebrate February 14 as the birthday of Mohammed Zahiriddin Babur, the Uzbek people's “great ancestor”. 

The birthday of Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur is celebrated today.

This year, the authorities have stepped up their campaign against Valentine's Day. Officials at a number of universities in the country have forced students to sign contracts affirming that they will not observe “the day of love”. A traditional February 14 concert by a popular Uzbek pop singer has been cancelled. In many mosques throughout Uzbekistan, mullahs have denounced Valentine's Day during Friday sermons as a “harmful holiday that contradicts both Islam and local traditions”.

Despite these restrictions, however, some people in Uzbekistan have celebrated Valentine's Day. On Facebook and Odnoklassniki, many Uzbekistani users congratulated their followers or shared love-themed images and electronic cards. 

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