TURKMENISTAN: Delayed Baptist Deportations Imminent?

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 October 2001

The deportation of twelve family members of two Baptist men themselves deported from Turkmenistan during the summer in punishment for their religious activity appears imminent, Keston News Service has learnt. Local Baptists reported that Ziyad Ishchanov, an officer of the National Security Committee, the KNB (the ex-KGB), came to the homes of Nadezhda Potolova and Valentina Kalataevskaya and their families in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) on 15 October and gave them a verbal instruction to leave the country within ten days.

The two families had earlier been instructed verbally by the same KNB officer on 16 July to leave by 15 August (see KNS 23 July 2001). However, the latest statement from local Baptists - passed to Keston by the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries - did not explain why they had escaped deportation then. 'By God's mercy,' the Baptists wrote, 'they have continued to live and work (without their husbands/fathers) till this day.'

Yevgeny Potolov, who is from Russia and a father of four (the youngest born in August), and Vyacheslav Kalataevsky, who is from Ukraine and a father of seven (one of whom has already left home), had been active in congregations in Turkmenistan of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which refuse to register in all the post-Soviet republics where they operate. The two were deported on 26 June. The same KNB officer, Ishchanov, arrested the two and arranged their deportation. Although Keston has been unable to verify the report of the threatened expulsion of the Potolov and Kalataevsky families independently, reports distributed through the Council of Churches have a long track record of reliability.

Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the post-Soviet republics. Since early 1997, the only legal religious communities have been mosques affiliated to the state-sponsored Muslim Board and congregations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Hundreds of foreign citizens active with a variety of faiths - including members of Protestant churches, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees - have been deported in the past few years. 'In all the events of recent years,' the local Baptists wrote, 'what is becoming clearly evident is a directed work of a government apparatus to rid the country of God's Church, contrary to the laws and rights in this country.' (END)