Debaters from Central Asia come together in Kyrgyzstan for annual tournament

Eighty debaters and 25 judges from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan participated in the annual Manas Cup debate tournament held in Bishkek on 24-25 November.

IDEA CA co-organized the tournament with the Manas Debate Club of Manas University. The tournament saw debaters from various backgrounds and ages compete. Some of them shared their experiences and impressions with us and told us how debates have affected their communities and their lives.

Argyn Kentbekov (32) is a veteran debater from Almaty, Kazakhstan, who was representing Cartel – the top debate union in Almaty. Argyn told us that debate plays a crucial role in promoting critical thinking among youth.

“The development of critical thinking is always good and debate helps to this end. A person with a critical mind poses questions. He poses questions to his government, to his leaders, and demands the improvement of living conditions around him. A debater is a carrier of fresh ideas.”

Argyn has been debating since 1999 and says debate has played an enormous role in his life.

“Debate has defined almost everything in my life. I’m married a debater. I hope my children will develop interest in debates as well. Debate has also helped me in my job as a legal financial consultant and debate helps me not to become fixated on one idea but to consider other options in any given situation,” Argyn said.

Daniel Voloj (30) is a veteran debater from Rostov, Russia, who was participating in the XV Manas Cup as a judge. Daniel has been debating for six years.

Speaking about the tournament, Daniel said he was impressed by the progress Central Asian debaters have made in the last few years.

“Today, debate in Central Asia is at the same level as in Russia. This was unimaginable in the past. Today, speakers from Central Asia - from Astana and Bishkek – are winning tournaments in Moscow. This happened literally in the past year…”

“There are many reasons why this has happened. However, I think the main reason is that speakers from Central Asia have started participating in European and world championships where they are able to acquire relevant skills in a short period of time. This is commendable. For example, Kazakhstan has won the right to hold European championship in 2019. This is a huge event for speakers from Central Asia,” Daniel stressed.

Daniel also said he was impressed by the large number of debaters in Kyrgyzstan and by their career success compared to debaters in his home country of Russia.

“Some of my friends and acquaintances with whom I started my debating career and who were trainers at the first debates I attended [in Kyrgyzstan], are now working for political parties and higher educational institutions. It is obvious that debate has given them a lot in life. Among those debaters are those who have made their way into politics, into parliament, and the administration, or those who work in public organizations and NGOs. Overall, there are many debaters in Kyrgyzstan.”

It is worth mentioning that Daniel started his debating career through IDEA CA in 2012 when he attended the International Aitmatov Debate Academy (IADA), organized by IDEA CA in Kyrgyzstan; he won the debate tournament that was held at the end of the academy.

“Following Aitmatov (IADA), debate] influenced me very strongly. IDEA invites the best trainers and the best speakers for a week-long academy and teaches young debaters from Central Asia about debate. This is great. Many people started their careers in this way.”

Daniel also said that debate tournaments have become more difficult compared to previous years, adding that participants must put extra effort and time into preparation to become more competitive.

Commenting on debates’ potential role in regional development, Daniel said:

“It is important to understand that debate is apolitical and does not carry the purpose of promoting any political ideology. Instead, debate teaches respect towards other people’s opinions. And this constitutes a foundation for any normal political discourse. Debate is a ‘school’ for people who can debate on political issues. This is really cool.”

Apart from veteran debaters, the XV Manas Cup was also attended by younger and more inexperienced debaters.

Bakhrom Saydulloev (27) was among three debaters representing Tajikistan.

Bakhrom said debats is less developed in Tajikistan compared to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This is due to the fact that extracurricular activities are almost non-existent in Tajik schools, he said. He also stressed IDEA CA’s role in promoting a debate culture in Tajikistan by financing trainings for Tajik debaters in Kyrgyzstan.

Doriyush Soliev (22), another debater from Tajikistan, told us about his debate experience and shared own opinion regarding the debate tournament. In 2016 he particiapted at IADA, after that he became a debate trainer. Moreover, he was a president of an English debate club in Dushanbe:

"I was glad to participate in the tournament. There were very interesting motions and a lot of experienced debaters from different countries of Central Asia. The event's organization was good, the volunteers worked very efficiently. The invited judges showed high competence and gave qualitative feedback."

"I hope in the future there will be a lot of debate tournaments in English. This would give a greater impact from our debates in the human rights agenda's importance. So thus, it would allow us to tell the world that young people in Central Asia think about the problems of their society."


Author: Aisha Jabbarova, intern at IDEA CA