TAJIKISTAN: No Results Yet From Church Bombing Investigations

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 18 January 2001

Nearly three weeks after the New Year's Eve bombing of the Russian Orthodox and Adventist churches in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, the Interior Ministry investigation has not so far come up with any results, official and church sources in Dushanbe have told Keston News Service. `Nothing concrete is known about the reasons for the attack,' the Orthodox dean of Tajikistan, Father Sergei Klimenko reported. `An investigation by the Interior Ministry and the Security Ministry is underway and a criminal case has been launched, but no-one has been arrested.' Adventist pastor Vladimir Mikhailov agreed. `So far the investigation has not produced any results,' he told Keston. `No-one has claimed responsibility, no-one has been arrested and the security agencies are saying nothing.'

Saidjon Akhmedov, chairman of the government's Committee on Religious Affairs, confirmed that the investigation had so far produced no results. `Nothing is yet known,' he told Keston on 18 January. `The investigation being conducted by the Interior Ministry will discover who was behind these actions.'

A bomb reported to have been the equivalent of 250 to 300 grams of TNT exploded at about 7.30 in the evening of 31 December next to Father Sergei's church, the St Nicholas Cathedral. `There were no victims, thank God, and there was more noise than damage,' Father Sergei told Keston by telephone on 18 January. The bomb destroyed two buildings annexed to the church and blew out windows in the Sunday school and baptistry of the church. `The repairs were minor and cost some 300 to 400 US dollars, mainly repairing two doors and broken windows.' Father Sergei stressed that the bomb attack had not interrupted worship in his church. `The bomb went off after we had finished our service, and the liturgy began as scheduled the following morning at eight o'clock.' He had received no threats ahead of the bombing.

The bomb at the Adventist church exploded within minutes of that at the Orthodox church, destroying the gates and fence and partly damaging the wall and windows both in the church building itself and in the pastor's house across the street. As with the attack on the Orthodox church, there were no injuries. `All the security organs came, interrogated witnesses, church members and neighbours and collected statements,' Pastor Mikhailov told Keston by telephone on 18 January.

A spokesman for the security ministry - who refused to give his name - said he had no information about the results of the investigation. `The interior ministry is conducting the investigation,' he said, referring Keston to them. No-one answered the phone at the press centre of the Interior Ministry in Dushanbe on 18 January.

The Dushanbe city administration has been keen to deny any official anti-Christian sentiment. `It should be stressed that the Dushanbe administration has not taken, and will not take, any measures to hinder the activities of the various religious organisations,' a statement issued on 9 January declared. The administration, citing believers' rights spelled out in the Tajik constitution and the country's religion law, said it `guarantees freedom of conscience and the peaceful coexistence of the various religions and confessions'. It stressed that a criminal case had been launched into last October's bombing of the Korean-led Grace Sonmin church, adding that the perpetrators have been taken into custody (see separate KNS article). `The Dushanbe administration is doing its best to ensure peaceful interaction between all religious confessions in the capital and does not need local and foreign advisers who sow discord in society.'

The Islamic Rebirth Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) `resolutely condemned' both the October and December bombings. `The IRPT considers these explosions to be the work of enemies of peace, stability, national reconciliation and security in Tajikistan,' the party's spokesman, Sulton Hamad, told Iranian radio from Dushanbe on 3 January. `These explosions were aimed at stirring up discord among followers of various religious sects which are active in Tajikistan.'

However, Adventist leaders remain concerned. `We'd like to believe that this was a lonely splash of terrorism against Christian presence in the city,' Pastor Aleksandr Shvarts, president of the Adventists' Southern Union regional territory, told Adventist News Network from the union headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan. `This may be viewed as a threatening act to show that Christians should not feel comfortable in this area.' Pastor Mikhailov told Keston that in the wake of the bombing the security agencies had warned the church to exercise caution.

Father Sergei reported that the Russian Orthodox have six churches in Tajikistan, with a further two under construction. The Adventists report that their damaged church is one of two in Dushanbe, with 400 church members in the two congregations. There are also small Adventist congregations in other parts of the country. (END).