KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 8, Article 16, 15 August 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
SUMMARY:
TAJIKISTAN: PRACTISING PROTESTANTS OUTNUMBER ORTHODOX
CHRISTIANS. According to local church leaders, the total number of regular
Protestant worshippers in Tajikistan already exceeds three thousand, compared
with approximately fifteen hundred Orthodox. The main reason seems to be
that whereas the Protestants have sought members from all ethnic groups, the
Orthodox have confined themselves to traditionally Orthodox populations.


Tuesday 15 August 2000
TAJIKISTAN: PRACTISING PROTESTANTS OUTNUMBER ORTHODOX
CHRISTIANS

by Nikolai Mitrokhin, Keston News Service

According to local church leaders, the total number of regular Protestant
worshippers in Tajikistan already exceeds three thousand, compared with
approximately fifteen hundred Orthodox. The main reason seems to be that
whereas the Protestants have sought members from all ethnic groups, the
Orthodox have confined themselves to traditionally Orthodox populations.

St Nicholas Church, the Orthodox cathedral for the Tajik capital Dushanbe, can
hold two thousand people and only ten years ago was full on major festivals.
Now on Sundays there are 300-400 worshippers, with 600 at the last Easter
service, according to the priest in charge Archpriest SERGEI KLIMENKO.
According to the priest, regular parishioners attending church at least once a
month number about 600 - this was the congregation at the last Easter service.

Compared with statistics for 1989, only ten per cent of the Russian-speaking
population remains in Tajikistan. According Archpriest Sergei, if it were not
for the Russian army and border troops units remaining in Dushanbe, who
provide employment for some of the remaining 50,000 Russian speakers, it is
quite possible that by now the parish would have ceased to exist altogether.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) continues to regard Tajikistan as its
canonical territory with its six parishes in Tajikistan forming part of the Central
Asian diocese of the ROC based in Tashkent.

In keeping with the ideology of the Central Asian diocese only members of the
�Orthodox nations� living in this region are considered as parishioners:
Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Moldovans and some Roma. The Orthodox
priests do not see the �local population� (as they describe them) as potential
parishioners, claiming that they fear for their lives and for the survival of their
churches if the Muslim clergy should call for reprisals against them for
proselytism.

Such concerns appear unfounded. Throughout the civil war - including periods
when power fell in to the hands of those named �Islamic radicals� - and until
the present, the only problem that Archpriest Sergei has had with the �local
population� is that neighbouring children knock down the fruit in his garden
with stones and sticks. The situation is the same with the other parishes in
Tajikistan. Meanwhile, the Protestant congregations which have conducted
active missionary work in the country have not been attacked by believing
Muslims in Tajikistan.

Furthermore, Archpriest Sergei, who is one of the consultants on �new sects� of
the state Committee for Religious Affairs, told Keston that he managed to
prevent the Bible Society of Tajikistan from importing 150,000 Bibles in Tajik.
In his view the import of Bibles could cause a �civil war� provoked by
�reactionary Muslim activists ready to declare holy war�.

According to Klimenko there is no need for Bibles in Tajik because the
Orthodox in Tajikistan do not use the Tajik language in worship and literature
in Tajik does not appear on church bookstalls. At present about one hundred of
his regular parishioners are �locals� as a result of mixed marriages. Indeed, he
was puzzled when a Tajik wanted to be baptised into the Orthodox Church and
cited the following example: in response to the priest's doubts, a young Tajik
brought �a whole folder of signed statements that his family, neighbours and
the local authorities were not opposed to his adoption of the Orthodox faith�.

Meanwhile, the Protestant churches in Tajikistan are broadening their base
from the Germans and Russians who were members during Soviet days to
including ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Tatars. In the heart of an area of traditional
Tajik housing in Dushanbe is the �House of Prayer for All Nations�, the central
church of the officially registered Union of Evangelical Christian/Baptist
Churches (UECB). Its 400 seats are full for every service, and 600 attended at
Easter. The church holds services in Tajik and distributes literature in the Tajik
language as well. Five other congregations belong to the Union elsewhere in
Tajikistan. Thus, despite the relatively small number of baptised members -
four hundred in the whole of Tajikistan - the number of regular attendees is
nearly one thousand. No less than one-third are Tajiks, Uzbeks and Tatars.

In Dushanbe there is another large Protestant congregation. The �Solmin
Missionary Centre� belongs to Grace Mission and was established by pastor
CHEE YOON SON who arrived in 1991 from Los Angeles. Having lived
alongside the local population through the country�s recent civil war, he now
leads a congregation of 1500 mostly ethnic Tajiks. Groups associated with the
Centre meet in four small towns in other parts of Tajikistan.

As well as the congregations of the UECB and Grace Mission there are a few
smaller Protestant congregations operating in Tajikistan: Hope Christian
Mission, the Council of ECB Churches, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals
and the New Apostolic Church.

If the ethnic Russian population continues to decline and outreach to the �local
populations� continues to be confined to Protestant churches, then the
comparative church decline among Orthodox and growth among Protestants
appears set for years to come. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.