Thursday 3 February 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

On 15 January 2000 the Serbian Orthodox Church of St Ilija the Prophet in the
village of Cernica, near Gnjilane, in Kosovo was dynamited. It was the 77th
Serbian Orthodox Church or monastery to be destroyed in Kosovo since the
arrival of the NATO peacekeeping troops and the UN administration in June

�The Serbian community and the Orthodox Church in Kosovo strongly
condemn this latest barbaric act which confirms that the ultimate aim of the
Albanian extremists is the destruction of all Orthodox and Christian churches,
monasteries, cemeteries, and monuments in Kosovo and Metohija. It makes it
even more tragic when we are aware that all of that happens in the presence of
the strongest army in the world -- NATO, and the UN mission in Kosovo --
UNMIK,� Hieromonk SAVA (Janjic) of the Decani Monastery, Protosingel of
the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Kosovo and Metohija, and the official
spokesman for the Serbian National Council in Kosovo, told Keston News

There are about 450 Serbs and 3,000 Albanians living in the village of Cernica
today. Since their arrival last June, US Marines have been closely patrolling the
Serbian houses and the church. They have positioned armoured vehicles at the
hill nearby. They have had a sentry post about 70 meters from the church,
which is close to Serbian houses. Despoite this, however, Serbs in Cernica have
been attacked regularly.

According to data received from Fr Sava, last year a shepherd was killed in his
meadow, and hand grenades were thrown into a yard of another man. On
another occasion, six mortar shells hit the part of the village where Serbs are
living. On a third occasion, the house of a Serbian family was damaged in an
explosion while the family were eating dinner. The wife died instantly and the
husband spent hours digging his son from the rubble. The remaining Serbs are
leaving the village, and it is certain that their houses will then be sacked,
burned and destroyed, despite all the guards.

Investigation has shown that a large quantity of dynamite was placed inside the
church building, close to the entrance door, or at the entrance door. The
explosion occurred at 3:20 AM. The blast hit three neighbouring Serbian
houses (50 meters away) with rubble and caused severe damage to the roofs
and facing walls. The front part of the church was completely destroyed, while
the fire that started afterwards burned the altar and the frescoes. The parish
priest of Gnjilane, Fr TRAJKOVIC, made a public appeal to the US Marines,
asking �how is it possible for someone to destroy the church in front of their
patrols and sentries, despite their modern night-vision equipment�? Later that
same day a KFOR spokesperson issued a statement �regreting� this and similar
acts of violence, and saying that KFOR is placing additional troops in the
vicinity of the latest explosion.

The Church of the St Ilija the Prophet was rebuilt in 1912 on the site where the
earlier, medieval church was destroyed. It was considered to be one of the
�jewels� of Serbian sacral architecture in Kosovo. (END)

Thursday 4 February 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

As Turkmenistan continues its campaign to crush minority religious faiths as
part of its `religious cleansing' programme, the wife and children of Baptist
prisoner SHAGILDY ATAKOV have been forcibly removed from their home
and transported back to his parents' home town after she refused to allow her
children to bow before the portrait of the president at school. The Turkmen
authorities have also arrested two Baptist leaders in the capital Ashgabad, just
over a month after deporting one of the congregation's pastors.

ARTIGUL ATAKOVA and her five children were detained by officers of the
National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB) in the morning of 3
February at their home in the town of Mary (since Shagildy's imprisonment
they have been living in the home of the SHULGIN family in the town and
have official registration there). They were transported to the town of Kaakha
more than 200 kilometres away.

The forced removal followed several weeks of harassment both of Atakova and
of the Shulgin family. On 22 December 1999 the KNB and the visa and
registration office had confiscated the Shulgins' passports `on the pretext of
verifying the legality of their residence permits and residency in Turkmenistan',
declared a 2 February statement from local Baptists passed to Keston News
Service by the Friedensstimme Mission in Germany. The same officials
confiscated the passports of the SENKIN family, also members of the Baptist
congregation in Mary, early in January. `Although a residence permit is
registered through the city commission in the khokimat [local authority] and
establishing its legality should not present special difficulty or take up time,'
the Baptists declared on 2 February, `the passports have still not yet been

On 31 December Atakova had gone to her children's school to protest that they
had been made `in a coercive manner and under threat' to bow to a portrait of
the Turkmen President SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV (as had the whole school).
`My children are not going to bow down because we are believers,' Atakova
told the teachers. She was summoned by the school director on 2 February to a
meeting also attended by a local education authority official, who demanded
that she make a written statement refusing to allow her children to this `school

Immediately on her return home some six KNB officers arrived to search the
Shulgins' flat, and half an hour later a search was conducted in the home of the
Senkins. Two hours after that two KNB officers returned and took Atakova and
V. SHULGIN to the KNB centre where the local KNB chief questioned them
individually. `In the course of these conversations Atakova had to hear
insulting words (it is indecent to quote them), as well as threats she would end
up in prison "together with her husband" if she did not stop confessing her faith
in God,' the local Baptists report.

Ironically, Shagildy Atakov also ran into problems in labour camp in Seydy in
November 1999, when he refused to swear the oath of loyalty to President
Niyazov required of all prisoners (see KNS 28 January 2000).

The Baptists' statement also reported the arrest by the KNB of two members of
the much-persecuted Ashgabad congregation, MIKHAIL KOZLOV and
ANATOLI BELYAYEV, in the evening of 2 February. `Their fate is at present

The Ashgabad congregation's pastor, VLADIMIR CHERNOV, and his wife
OLGA were deported from Turkmenistan by plane on 23 December 1999. The
church had met in Chernov's home. Belyayev had been arrested before dawn on
17 December 1999 in a massive clampdown on members of the congregation
ahead of the Chernovs' deportation. Kozlov too was caught up in the
clampdown, being detained the same day while travelling with the Chernovs by
train to the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi. He was beaten by KNB officers
during his detention. Belyayev had earlier been detained as well when in April
1999 his car was stopped near Dashkhovuz and Christian literature confiscated.

These Baptist congregations belong to the Council of Churches of Evangelical
Christians/Baptists, which refused registration during the Soviet era and has
declined to register its congregations in any of the republics of the former
Soviet Union since 1991.

The Turkmen authorities have permitted only the officially-approved Sunni
Muslim Board and the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to gain
registration since 1997, when all other religious groups that had registration
had it revoked. Although Turkmen legislation does not specifically outlaw
unregistered religious activity, the authorities consider such religious activity
illegal. They have detained believers, raided worship services, deported non-
citizens involved in religious activity, fined believers and demolished places of
worship in their attempts to stamp out all traces of religious activity outside the
framework of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Seeking a response from Turkmen officials, Keston contacted the Embassy of
Turkmenistan in London on 3 February and twice faxed through the Baptists'
statement, which was in Russian. An official confirmed receipt of the fax.
However, telephoned later for a comment on the latest developments, VADIM
SHRIYEV, first secretary of the embassy, told Keston: `Unfortunately no-one
at the Embassy speaks Russian.' He promised to comment on 4 February if
Keston provided a text of the latest news in English, which Keston faxed
through in the afternoon of 3 February. (END)

CORRECTION to KNS article Tuesday 1 February 2000 �WILL THERE BE
of the rector of the Baptist seminary was incorrectly spelled. Instead of
KAZYNKO it should have been KOZYNKO. (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 2000