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Religious Freedom Internationally
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Turkmenistan is situated in Central Asia, and borders the Caspian Sea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. 89% of Turkmens are Muslim and 9% belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Turkmens comprise 85% of the population, 5% are Uzbekistani and 4% are Russian.

Turkmenistan was conquered by the Russians in the late 19th century, and subsequently became a Soviet republic. It achieved its independence in 1991 due to the disintegration of the USSR. President Niyazov has complete control over the country and does not tolerate any form of opposition.

Religious Freedom

The Constitution guarantees religious freedom; however, this provision is not respected. All religious organizations are required to register with the government on pain of criminal charges. Faith based groups are also subject to harassment by authorities and the cancellation of registration for unsubstantiated reasons. Unregistered faith groups are prohibited from participating in religious activities, such as attending meetings, distributing religious literature and speaking about their faith.

There is no official state religion in Turkmenistan, yet Islamic institutions and clergy receive financial support from the state. Islamic studies have been included in the curricula of public schools. Private religious education is not permitted, and religious minorities are not legally able to provide religious education without the permission of government institutions and the president.

International Treaties Signed by Turkmenistan

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Canada-Turkmenistan Diplomatic Relations

Information about Canada’s relationship with Turkmenistan
Canadian representatives in Turkmenistan
(Canada’s ambassador to Turkey is responsible for Turkmenistan)


For prayer requests, see the alerts, or the general page of prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Related Links

General information about Turkmenistan
Information about human rights in Turkmenistan
Information about the persecuted Church in Turkmenistan  (from the Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Related EFC Religious Liberty Commission Alerts

Note: Alerts are in reverse chronological order, beginning with most recent.

Government Control Over Churches Increases


(Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet countries have been struggling to survive and re-organize their societies without communism. Many of them have been democratizing and part of that process has been a relaxing of laws regarding religious freedom and the right to worship. However, many of these countries, still dealing with economic and social problems caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, are falling back into patterns of repression. The leaders of these countries need prayer, as do the Christian leaders and members of the Church. Here is a summary of some of the situations in the region)

This country has the harshest state controls on religious activity of any of the former Soviet republics and on November 10, this law was tightened even more. Prior to November 10, the law required that for a religious community to be registered and recognized by the state, it must have at least 500 adult members. This meant that the Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Church was officially recognized; however, the Shia Muslims and Protestant churches that met those requirements, were still not allowed to register and are therefore not recognized by the government. Under the new law however, activity by unregistered religious groups has been made illegal and participants will face criminal rather than administrative charges.

There are also other restrictions such as a new requirement that all organizations receiving monetary or other support from foreign donors notify the Justice Ministry and that all religious literature be approved by the Council for Religious Affairs. These restrictions apply equally to all religions and Muslim communities are facing discrimination the same as the Christian communities. Mosques and churches are being shut down if leaders fail to comply with government demands; leaders are being arrested, detained and interrogated extensively; people of faith communities are being discriminated against.

• For the leaders of these countries – that God would work in their hearts and that they would change the laws to allow for religious groups to function
• That the leaders of the Christian communities would have wisdom in knowing how to deal with the government and in knowing how to lead their congregations
• That believers would be strengthened in their faith in spite of the restrictions they are facing and that the gospel would be spread far and wide
• That in spite of the government situation, the Church would grow and become a light in dark countries

Turkmenistan and Tajikistan: persecution of Christians increases

(Source: World Evangelical Fellowship, Keston News Service)

Christians in both of these central Asian nations have seen intensified campaigns of repression this fall, with group arrests, deportations, imprisonment and fines. Pray for God's people as they worship him this Christmas. Pray that the fear and trauma of the past months would be healed as they receive the love of the Prince of Peace. Pray that Jesus' Holy Spirit would protect their worship services from disruption by the authorities.

Turkmen congregation arrested and fined

(Source: Keston News Service, BBC)

Turkmen Christians have faced harassment and threats for years as the ex-Communist President for Life, Saparmyrat Niyazov, imposes his own bizarre views of religion and power on the country. President Niyazov has even attempted to promote himself as a prophet and to portray the "Rukhnama," a 400-page book he wrote on spiritual and moral values, as a modern equivalent of the Koran. One official who recently defected has described in detail Niyazov's efforts to 'crush' Christianity and keep Islam under tight state control. In what is only the most recent of a whole series of repressive measures against Christians, Turkmen officials and KNB security police (the former KGB) arrested an entire congregation on November 15. All of the more than forty people attending a service of the Word of Life Church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad were detained when the private apartment where the church was meeting was raided.

Few of the local people at the meeting have been able to pay the huge fines imposed on them. Those who have not have had their identity papers confiscated by the security police, and all face the threat of dismissal from work. Russian pastor Vladmir Shamrai, who led the meeting, his wife Olga (who is pregnant), and visiting Russian pastor Leonid Malko were expelled from Turkmenistan and put on the earliest available flights out of the country.

The Turkmen authorities continue to take action against those present at the meeting. On November 21, those who invited the two Russian pastors to the country and the owner of the apartment where the meeting took place were summoned for interrogation at the city administration. Each was asked to write a statement about the church's activity and given a warning about possible confiscation of their homes and deportation from Ashgabad to other parts of the country. Another church member has been summoned for interrogation in the morning of 23 November, and it is feared she may be fired from her job as a music teacher.

• Pray that God would provide for the Christians who were arrested and fined, and that he would protect their homes and their jobs.
• Pray that the God of all comfort would encourage the entire Christian community in Turkmenistan as they remain courageously faithful to him.
• Pray that God would turn the heart of President Niyazov from his wickedness and bring about a new openness to Christianity in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan: Campaign of Oppression of protestant churches escalates

(Source: Keston Institute, Newsroom)

Those of you who have been on the EFC Religious Liberty Alert List for some time will recognize that there have been several alerts on Turkmenistan over the last several months. There is a continuing campaign of oppression of Protestant churches in this country. On February 17, the only remaining Baptist church in the capital city of Ashgabad was sealed by authorities. Last year, all other Baptist Union churches in the country were closed. Authorities charge that the churches have no registration, but all churches in Turkmenistan lost state registration in 1997 following adoption of a new law on religion and were required to re-register. The only groups allowed to re-register were Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church.

On February 15, two Baptists were detained and severely beaten in Turkmenabad, a city in eastern Turkmenistan. Aleksandr Frolov was forced to watch as Yevgeny Potolov was beaten during 14 hours of interrogation at KNB (formerly KGB) headquarters. These men belong to a congregation affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group uniting congregations in many former soviet republics. Authorities have threatened to deport Potolov as he is a foreign citizen. Six Baptist families active in local congregations of the Council of Churches have been deported from Turkmenistan in the past two years despite having legal residence in the country. All were Russian or Ukrainian citizens.

Another Protestant congregation in the capital, New Life Church, was raided by political police on February 2. The 24 people in attendance were detained overnight and warned not to attend future meetings. As we reported on February 5, Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist prisoner, is feared to be dying from torture. Atakov was transferred to hospital following international pressure (those of you who responded to our appeal by writing letters were part of that campaign). Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Ashgabad centre of the Organization for Security and Cooperation has attempted to visit Atakov but has had no response to his request.

• Please pray for the Prostant Christians of Turkmenistan. Pray that they will not waiver in their faith and that God will give them special comfort and boldness in the face of oppression.
• Please continue to pray for Shagildy Atakov, that God will strengthen him physically.
• Pray for Yevgeny Potolov and Aleksandr Frolov, that God will heal their bodies and encourage their spirits.
• Pray for President Nyiazov, that he will change repressive laws and allow religious freedom.

Turkmenistan: Government persecutes Baptist family

(Source: Keston Institute, Amnesty International)

Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist Christian, is believed to have been so harshly treated in prison that he is in imminent danger of dying. According to Amnesty International, he was imprisoned solely because of his religious beliefs. Shagildy Atakov has served nearly two years in labour camps. He was arrested in December 1998: according to the authorities he was accused of fraud connected with his car business but there are reports that the real reason was his religious affiliation. In March 1999 he was sentenced to two years in a labour camp and fined the equivalent of US$12,000. His sentence was increased to four years after the prosecution appealed.

Conditions at the camp are very harsh. He has reportedly been beaten repeatedly by prison guards. At another detention place in mid-1999 he was reportedly beaten so severely that he temporarily lost his sight. His wife Artygul Atakova visited him in the labour camp on 3 and 4 February. He was reportedly hardly able to walk, he was bruised and battered, he had abdominal pains, he frequently lost consciousness and was suffering from jaundice. In December 2000 he had been moved to the camp sickbay with symptoms that suggested he was going to have a heart attack.

State officials are reported to have harassed Shagildy Atakov' s family because of their religious beliefs. They have placed his wife and children under village arrest in the village of Kaakhka, near the Turmen-Iran border. They have given one of his brothers a term of administrative detention and forced other relatives out of their jobs. Shagildy Atakov is the father of five children.

• Please send faxes/airmail letters in English, Russian or Turkmen:
• expressing concern at reports that Shagildy Atakov is in imminent danger of dying as a result of harsh prison conditions and repeated beatings;
• urging the authorities to ensure that Shagildy Atakov receives appropriate medical treatment;
• expressing concern at allegations that Shagildy Atakov was prosecuted solely for his peaceful religious activity, in violation of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan became a party in 1997;
• urging the immediate release of Shagildy Atakov on compassionate grounds.

President, Turkmenistan
744000 g. Ashgabat
Apparat Prezidenta
Presidentu NIYAZOVU S.A.
Faxes + 993 12-35 51 12/ 35 66 88
Salutation: Dear President Niyazov

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Turkmenistan
744000 g. Ashgabat
pr. Magtymguly. 83
Ministerstvo inostrannykh del Turkmenistana
Ministru BERDIYEV B.
Faxes + 993 12-51 12 20 / 35 49 18
Salutation: Dear Minister

Procurator General, Turkmenistan
g. Ashgabat
ul. Seidi, 4
Prokuratura Turkmenistana
Generalnomu prokuroru ATAYANOVOY G.
Faxes +993 12 35 44 82
Salutation: Dear Procurator General

• Please pray for the Christians of Turkmenistan. Christianity has been spreading in Turkmenistan but converts face much persecution.
• Please pray specifically for Shagildy Atakov, that God will strengthen him physically.
• Pray for Artygul Atakova, Shagildy's wife, his five children and other family members who face persecution. Pray that they will not waiver in their faith and that God will give them special comfort and boldness in the face of oppression.
• Please pray for the oppressors of these brave men and women, that their hearts will be softened by the witness of those whom they are persecuting and they will turn to Christ as their personal saviour.
• Pray for government officials of Turkmenistan, that they will change repressive laws and allow religious freedom.

Turkmenistan: Churches face serious difficulties

(Source: Keston Institute; Compass Direct)

Further to our Alert of December 13, 2000, Secret Police in Ashgabad, capital of Turkmenistan (located just north of Iran and east of Turkey), evicted two Christian families from their homes on December 20. As we reported in the December 13 Alert, Pastor Piriyev was evicted from his home on December 9. On December 20, Batir Nurov was evicted with his wife and infant son. Umit Koshkarov was evicted with his wife and toddler son on December 21. Both families were required to move from Ashgabad. The evictions follow repeated interrogations, beatings and torture of the three men following the discovery of "Jesus" videos dubbed in the Turkmen language in the wreck of a car one of the men was driving.

"We don't know what to do, where to go," Pastor Piriyev told Compass Direct on December 21. The house church cannot obtain legal registration under the repressive laws of Turkmenistan and its members are regularly rounded up for interrogation. "Our situation is getting very difficult." A Pentecostal church in Ashgabad is also facing serious difficulties. The church has been meeting in a private house at Koltsova Street 21a for several years. Recently, local authorities brought a suit alleging that Pastor Viktor Makrousov had failed to seek or receive permission to use the building for services, failed to gain permission for internal remodelling and failed to obey instructions to halt services in the house. The suit asks that the house be demolished for violating fire and sanitary regulations. The hearing is scheduled for January 4, 2001.

Pastor Makrousov has paid three fines for refusing to halt services in the church in 1999 and 2000. He and his wife and daughter were each fined one month's wages for leading an unregistered worship service at the beginning of December in the town of Tedjen, south east of Ashgabad. The Ashgabad Pentecostal church lost official registration in the compulsory re-registration process in early 1997 that saw all religious communities apart from those of the Sunni Muslim board and the Russian Orthodox Church lose their registration. Although Turkmenistan's published laws do not specifically criminalize unregistered religious activity, the government treats all unregistered religious activity as illegal and punishes those participating in it.

• Please pray for the Christians of Turkmenistan, particularly those of Ashgabad. Christianity has been spreading in Turkmenistan but converts face much persecution.
• Please pray specifically for Pastors Piriyev and Makrousov who are facing great opposition from the government and are losing or have lost their churches. Pray for strength and encouragement for them.
• Please also pray for Batir Nurov and Umit Koshkarov and their families who have lost their homes for the sake of the gospel.
• Please pray for the oppressors of these brave men and women, that their hearts will be softened by the witness of those whom they are persecuting and they will turn to Christ as their personal saviour.
• Pray for government officials of Turkmenistan, that they will change repressive laws and allow religious freedom.

Turkmenistan: Christian Families Evicted

(Source: Compass Direct)

A Protestant Christian pastor was evicted from his home on December 9 along with his wife and two children (aged 7 and 6). Their home is near Ashgabad. Pastor Piriyev had purchased the home in September and led a house church there. The pastor and his wife were both forced to sign documents giving the house to the government. Piriyev and three other families have been investigated by the KNB (formerly KGB) since November 22, when multiple copies of Christian videos dubbed in the Turkmen language were found in the wreck of a car that one had been driving. The four, Batir Nurov, Babamurat Gaebov, Umit Koshkarov and Piriyev were beaten and tortured from November 22 to 24.

After three days, they were released on the condition that they pay fines, sign agreements to move back to their home towns and surrender their homes to the government. Piriyev is the first who has actually been evicted. Gaebov does not own a home. Both Nurov and Kishkarov are effectively under house arrest as their identity papers have been seized.

President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree last May affirming the inviolability of personal property. However, Human Rights Watch, in their annual report on Turkmenistan released last week, stated that there has been a "continuing spate of official confiscations of private homes." Amnesty International issued an urgent action bulletin on the four men on December 5. "We are all in a difficult situation here," one of the four converts told Compass Direct. "Please pray for our wives and children. We need God's strength and wisdom."

• Please pray for Piriyev, Nurov, Gaebov and Koshkarov and their families, for God's strength and wisdom for all of them.
• Pray that the KNB stops all action against these men.
• Pray that the police and officials who are harassing these Christians will turn to the Lord by the testimony and witness of the Christians.


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