I. WHICH ARE RUSSIA'S MOST REPRESSIVE PROVINCES? Two experts agree
freedom is shrinking, but disagree where.
II. ARMENIAN CHURCH IN TURKMENISTAN WILL PROVE INTERESTING TEST CASE.
Baptists have not been reregistered since the 1996 law on religion
went into effect. Will the Ambassador of Armenia have better success
reopening the pre-Soviet church?
Friday 22 January
WHICH ARE RUSSIA'S MOST REPRESSIVE PROVINCES?
By Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service
Which provinces in Russia are the least hospitable to religious
freedom? According to the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, LYUDMILA
ALEKSEYEVA, the worst offenders include Ulyanovsk, Voronezh,
Krasnodar and Mordovia. She also included the city of Moscow on her
list - a judgment disputed by another specialist on church-state
relations in Russia, the Moscow historian SERGEI FILATOV.
'The way is being paved for renewed pressure on and control over
social and religious organisations�, Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Keston
News Service. 'There is a real trend towards a hardening of the 1997
law on religion and a danger of returning to the norms of the Soviet
era. People shouldn't wait for their organisation to be banned but
act when they see others being oppressed.' As an example of this
trend in Moscow, she cited the current court case against the
Jehovah's Witnesses (See Tatyana Titova and Lawrence A. Uzzell,
MOSCOW COURT SAID TO TILT TOWARD OPPONENTS OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES,
Keston News Service, 20 November 1998).
VASILI KALIN, head of the Administrative Centre of the Jehovah's
Witnesses in Russia, told Keston that some secular officials and
Orthodox clergy still wished to restore the Soviet regime's
oppressive policies towards his confession. Kalin described how he
and his parents had been deported from Ukraine to Irkutsk in the
1940s. Soviet oppression of Jehovah's Witnesses continued until 1986,
when six people from Khabarovsk were the last to receive sentences.
But the same Jehovah's Witnesses whom the Russian government
rehabilitated in 1991 now face the threat that the government may
again forbid them to profess their faith.
SERGEI FILATOV, a specialist on the history and sociology of religion
at Moscow State University, agreed with most but not all of Lyudmila
Alekseyeva's observations. In his opinion the official attitude
towards religious freedom did not depend upon the political
orientation of the government, however paradoxical that might seem.
For example, he has found that the Communists in Krasnodar and the
democrats in Arkhangelsk are displaying equal tolerance towards all
confessions. There are pro-freedom democrats and pro-freedom
Communists, he said - and there are democrats who are antiwestern and
who are strongly sympathetic towards Orthodoxy. In his view the
regions where violations of freedom of conscience are occurring most
frequently include Belgorod, Tula, Tyumen, Khabarovsky krai, Adygea,
Khakassia, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Omsk
and Orel. Filatov would not put Moscow even among the worst ten
provinces: he said that violations of religious freedom there were no
more frequent than average for Russia. (END)
Friday 22 January
ARMENIAN CHURCH IN TURKMENISTAN WILL PROVE INTERESTING TEST CASE
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
In what seems set to become an interesting test case of
Turkmenistan's attitude to religious minorities, the Armenian
community in the port city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) is
seeking to regain its church confiscated during the Soviet era and to
reopen it as a place of worship. Since the adoption of a revised law
on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations in 1996 and
subsequent compulsory reregistration, all religious groups except the
Muslims and the Russian Orthodox have been denied registration by
Turkmenistan's state authorities.
Much of the impetus for reopening the Turkmenbashi church, the only
surviving Armenian church in Turkmenistan, has come from the Armenian
ambassador to Turkmenistan, ARAM GRIGORYAN. He met the mayor of
Turkmenbashi, CHARI VOVEZKLICHEV, last September to discuss the
restoration of the church and the resumption of its activities.
Vovezklichev told Grigoryan that the restoration would be possible
only if the Armenian side allocated all necessary funds. The
resumption of the church's activities was a more complicated task, he
told the ambassador, and was connected with the registration of the
church community. In October, thanks to assistance from Armenia, an
Armenian Sunday school opened in Turkmenbashi, although this appears
to be a cultural more than a religious venture.
Ambassador Grigoryan told Keston from the Turkmen capital Ashkhabad
about the history of the church, built `to meet the spiritual needs
of the Armenians, who made up a not inconsiderable part of the
population of colonial Krasnovodsk'. The Armenians already had four
other churches in what is now Turkmenistan when the Armenian Synod
decided in 1900 to build the Krasnovodsk church. Imperial permission
was received in 1902 and construction was completed in two years. The
church was consecrated on 15 May 1905. However, it functioned for
only some two decades before being closed in the 1920s on orders of
the Soviet of People's Commissars. Two of the towers were later
demolished and the interior decoration and furnishings were
destroyed. The church was turned over to industrial use. New tall
buildings in surrounding streets hid the church from three sides,
although it is situated on a central square opposite what is now the
local government office.
`The building is still intact today, though minus the towers and
interior decoration,' Ambassador Grigoryan told Keston, `and needs
thorough restoration. We are now making attempts to realise the
restoration jointly with the mayor's office of the city and the local
Armenians.' The ambassador appealed for support from abroad to speed
up this work.
However, while Grigoryan was optimistic over the future reopening of
the church in Turkmenbashi, he was less hopeful about providing
churches in other Turkmen towns. `The construction of Armenian
churches in other towns in Turkmenistan is possible, but is not
feasible because of the lack of funds.'
Before the latest version of the Law on Freedom of Conscience came
into force, religious communities belonging to eight different faiths
had registration. Following compulsory reregistration in 1997, most
religious communities - including up to half the registered Muslim
communities - lost their registration. Under the amendments to the
law adopted in 1996 a religious community needs to have 500 members
to apply for registration. However, many religious communities that
have that number of members have been denied registration.
Unregistered groups, including Bahais, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses
and Pentecostal Christians, have been harassed for holding
unregistered religious gatherings. An application to register the
Armenian church in Turkmenbashi will provide an interesting test
In the absence of Armenian churches in Turkmenistan, religious
Armenians mainly attend Russian Orthodox churches, where they are
said to make up a sizeable minority of those attending. In May 1998
the Russian journalist NIKOLAI MITROKHIN estimated that they made up
between ten and fifteen per cent of parishioners at Orthodox