KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 7, Articles 28-29, 25 July 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
TURKMENISTAN: BAPTIST PRISONER REPORTEDLY HOLDING FIRM.
SHAGELDY ATAKOV is reportedly holding firm in Turkmenistan; he has gained
the respect of fellow prisoners and has not faced another term in the camp punishment
cell as reportedly threatened.
UKRAINE: INTERCONFESSIONAL COUNCIL CLOSE TO COLLAPSE?
Tuesday 25 July 2000
TURKMENISTAN: BAPTIST PRISONER REPORTEDLY HOLDING FIRM
by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service
Baptist prisoner SHAGELDY ATAKOV is reportedly holding firm in Turkmenistan,
according to information received indirectly by a Keston representative who visited
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan's capital, in mid-July. A Protestant source said that he had
heard from an ex-convict recently released from the same labour camp that Atakov's
overall situation had not worsened and thhat he had won the respect of other
This report that Atakov has the respect of other prisoners confirms information
received earlier by the Friedensstimme mission in Germany in the wake of a labour
camp visit by Atakov's wife ARTYGUL on 30 May (see KNS 9 June 2000).
However, it seems that fears that Atakov would again face a term in the camp
punishment cell have not been realised.
Atakov is serving a sentence in a labour camp in Seydy, near Turkmenistan's north-
eastern border with Uzbekistan, for his involvement in an unregistered Baptist
congregation in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi. (END)
Tuesday 25 July 2000
CRIMEA: INTERCONFESSIONAL COUNCIL CLOSE TO COLLAPSE?
by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service
The Inter-Confessional Council of the Crimea (ICC) is in a state of
crisis after the Crimean Muslim leadership announced that the
co-chairman of the ICC, Mufti EMIR ALI EFENDI, is to suspend his
membership of the ICC. The Muslims are dissatisfied with the policy of
the Crimean diocese of the Orthodox Church. The Muslim leadership
declared in a statement that it does not `deem it possible to remain
in unity with people who do not promote peace and mutual understanding
between different confessions on the peninsula'. Keston News Service
has been consistently unable to gain an interview with Archbishop
LAZAR (SHVETS) of Simferopol and the Crimea to obtain his response to
the Muslims' wide-ranging accusations.
The ICC was established in November 1992 at the assembly `Peace is a
gift of God', which brought together religious leaders and ethnic
communities in the building of Supreme Council of the Crimea. Despite
initial discussion about giving legal status to the council, the
registration of the council's statute has still not taken place.
Several religious denominations were represented at the inaugural
meeting, including Archbishop Lazar of the Orthodox Church under the
Moscow Patriarchate; the head of the Roman Catholic parishes of the
Crimea Father ROMAN DERDZYAK; the chairman of the Evangelical
Christians/Baptists, IVAN LEVCHUK; the head of the German association
MARGARITA BEKSEL; ISSAK BERNSTEIN from the Jewish community; the
chairman of the Russian community ANATOLY LOSS; and the priest of the
Armenian Apostolic Church VARTAN SERGIYAN. Two co-chairmen were
appointed at the first meeting, the Mufti and the Archbishop of the
The Council, which convened as and when issues came up, originally met
at the office of the Orthodox Diocese, transferring later to another
Orthodox-owned building. VLADIMIR MALIBORSKY, the chairman of the
State Committee for religious affairs in the Council of Ministers of
the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, attended practically all the
meetings. Ethnic communities have not participated in the council's
activity and formed an independent organisation in 1998. Since its
inception, the council members have signed and forwarded more than 20
appeals to various organisations, among them appeals concerning the
tragic events in Feodosiya in 1996 and in Simferopol in 1998. Other
issues discussed included the return of religious property, and moral
questions in society and the media.
Despite the request for membership by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of
the Kiev Patriarchate, neither it nor the Greek Catholics acquired it.
A similar inter-confessional council on the national level was founded
only a few years later, but which united all the main religious
streams in Ukraine.
Tensions between ICC members came out into the open when a number of
them failed to participate in the Ukrainian Partnership Meeting under
the auspices of the Eastern Europe office of the World Council of
Churches (WCC), which was held in the Crimean resort of Alupka from 20
to 25 May. The Baptist community did not take part. The Muftiyat was
not represented as its delegate, ZAKIR KURDSEIDOV, who had been due to
attend the meeting, was absent because of illness, as he told Keston
on 30 May. DMITRY PARUBETS, the representative at the Partnership
meeting from Caritas-Spes, the charity of the Catholic Church in
Ukraine, told Keston on 5 June that he regretted the absence of the
Greek Catholics from the meeting, describing it as a `negative point'.
`I would say the same concerning the absence of representatives of two
other branches of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. I would like to underline that
it is my personal subjective opinion. But I hope (and it is again my
subjective opinion), such seminars will only benefit from the
representation of all the main churches of Ukraine.'
Criticism of the Orthodox diocese was intensified when the leading
Crimean Tatar politician MUSTAFA JEMILEV declared in an interview in
the 4 July issue of `Avdet', the official newspaper of the Crimean
Tatar Mejlis, that the Muftiyat of the Crimea and representatives of
other confessions intend to leave the ICC in protest at the activities
of the Crimean Diocese.
The Muslims are unhappy at the rising number of crosses placed in
prominent positions. `In several towns and villages of the Crimea
crosses characteristic of the Orthodox branch of Christianity have
appeared, as well as posters placed along the main roads close to
tourist centres and in other public places which say things like "The
Crimea is the cradle of Orthodoxy",' a representative of the Mejlis at
the Crimean Muftiyat told Keston on 12 July. The profusion of such
crosses and posters also drew criticism from the head of the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, Patriarch FILARET DENISENKO,
during his June visit to the Crimea. He argued that such symbols were
`provocative and disrespectful' in Crimea's `multi-confessional
society' (see KNS 21 July 2000).
The Muftiyat's declaration also complains that `without any legal
grounds' one of the central squares in Simferopol is being prepared
for the construction of an Orthodox church. The Muftiyat alleges that
the Crimean political leadership supports the building of Orthodox
churches while it has a `conniving attitude' towards the destruction
of Muslim monuments. `The decree of the President of Ukraine "On
measures of returning religious property to religious communities" is
not being fulfilled,' the declaration complains. `A number of mosques,
which exceeded 1500 in the nineteenth century, are now being used for
various improper purposes and are sometimes defiled due to the
connivance of the local authorities. The religious feelings of the
indigenous people of the Crimea are thus being insulted.'
The Muftiyat blamed Archbishop Lazar for the attempt to `artificially
sharpen inter-confessional relationships among the citizens of
Ukraine', pointedly noting that he `heads one of the religious
organisations of the Crimea under the foreign Moscow Patriarchate'.
Some of the Muftiyat's concerns are shared by other religious groups.
The pastor of one Crimean Baptist congregation, who requested
anonymity, told Keston that the Baptists are suffering because of
pressure from the Orthodox Church in the Crimea, but declined to give
specific details for fear of causing additional tension.
In its declaration the Muftiyat demanded a halt to the illegal placing
of religious monuments and posters, the removal of those which have
already been illegally installed and a more balanced official
religious policy. Until these demands are satisfied, the Crimean
Muslim leadership declared, it would suspend its membership of the
A source in the Crimean diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,
Moscow Patriarchate who wished to remain anonymous told Keston that
Archbishop Lazar had explained the declaration as a consequence of
`the schismatic's actions', an apparent reference to Patriarch
The day after the declaration was published an unofficial meeting
between Archbishop Lazar and Mufti Emir Ali Efendi took place in the
Muftiyat of the Crimea. It has become known that Archbishop Lazar
intends to meet Jemilev as well.
Despite the Muftiyat's claims that other member communities in the ICC
are also preparing to suspend their membership, ARSEN ALCHIKOV, Mejlis
representative in the Muftiyat, was unable to tell Keston in a
telephone interview on 17 July which the other members are. (END)