TURKMENISTAN: Child Deaths to be Pinned On Adventists?

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 27 September 2001

In the wake of the discovery by police of the bodies of two children in the ruins of the Adventist church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad, nearly two years after it was bulldozed by the authorities, members of the community are being summoned regularly for questioning at the Internal Affairs Administration. The former church's pastor, Pavel Fedotov, told the Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) headquarters of the Adventists' Central Asia Conference by fax from Ashgabad on 17 September that the bodies found at the beginning of September in the basement of the ruins were those of children aged nine and ten. Although a senior police official told Keston News Service from Ashgabad that the Adventists are not suspects, the Adventist community remains concerned that the investigation appears to be focusing more on their beliefs than on establishing who was responsible for the children's deaths.

'On 13 November 1999 the authorities used bulldozers to demolish our church in Ashgabad. After that, local Adventists stopped going to the ruined church,' Igor Litvinov, spokesman for the Central Asia Conference, told Keston from Bishkek on 25 September. 'This means that the dreadful discovery in the church basement was made almost two years after the Adventists had last attended the church. Nevertheless, many members of our community in Ashgabad are regularly called for questioning.'

Litvinov was concerned about the nature of the questions. 'We have been put on our guard because the investigators don't so much ask questions about the children's corpses as about our doctrine.'

Bigench Poladov, head of the Second Department (which investigates serious crimes) at the Internal Affairs Administration in Ashgabad, did not deny that his colleagues had been questioning members of the Adventist community. 'It is common practice for an investigation and is employed in all the countries in the world,' he told Keston by telephone on 25 September. 'No-one suspects the Adventists of this crime, but we have to question all the people who were at the scene of the crime.' Poladov dismissed Adventist concerns over investigators' questions about their beliefs, seeing no conflict with the law. 'It's normal human curiosity. I'm very interested myself in finding out the details of Adventist doctrine.'

Despite these assurances, Litvinov remains wary of the course of the police investigation. 'The authorities constantly stress that this horrific crime was committed in an Adventist church, although that has nothing to do with the facts,' he insisted. 'After the police had questioned the Adventists, rumours began to spread through Ashgabad that this monstrous crime had been committed by members of our community. The situation of our brothers in Turkmenistan is bad enough as it is. Our only church has been demolished and our brothers in that republic have not succeeded in registering a new church with the authorities.'

The Adventist church in Ashgabad was registered in 1990, Litvinov reported. In 1992 the city authorities gave official permission to build a church. Construction work began in November 1993, through the efforts of the church, but in the same year the church was semi-officially deprived of its registered status. 'The church's bank account was closed down, and the tax and other codes and the seal of the church were declared invalid because the church needed to be re-registered. The church submitted all the necessary documents for re-registration between 1994 and 1996, but the documents were put to one side.' In 1999 the church made another attempt to re-register, and once again collected all the 500 signatures of founding members necessary for re-registration. 'Despite this we did not end up being re-registered.'

Despite claims that the site of the bulldozed church was needed to build a new road (see KNS 21 January 2000), it remains a ruin. (END)