KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 8, Article 12, 10 August 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
SUMMARY:
TURKMEN AMBASSADOR FAILS TO JUSTIFY CRITICISM OF
KESTON ARTICLE. Keston submitted seven questions to the Turkmen
ambassador to Armenia in response to his claim that Keston�s article was
�absolutely untrue�. During Keston�s visit to Turkmenistan in July, we
discovered that no Armenian churches were registered in the Central Asian
republic and reported on the influential role played by the Chief Mufti and key
member of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Council for Religious Affairs.


Thursday 10 August 2000
TURKMEN AMBASSADOR FAILS TO JUSTIFY CRITICISM OF
KESTON ARTICLE

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Turkmenistan's ambassador to Armenia, TOILY KURBANOV, has failed to
specify which parts of Keston News Service's article on the difficulties facing
the Armenian Apostolic Church in Turkmenistan he finds inaccurate. Keston's
article - written by Keston Institute Director LAWRENCE A. UZZELL and
published on 17 July - highlighted the fact that no Armenian churches were
registered in the Central Asian republic and pointed out the key role a Russian
Orthodox priest FR ANDREI SAPUNOV appeared to play in the government's
policy towards Christians in his capacity as a deputy chairman of the
government's Council for Religious Affairs.

Questioned by the Armenian news agency Snark on 18 July, Ambassador
Kurbanov had described Keston's article as `absolutely untrue', but did not
elaborate. Keston sent Kurbanov seven specific questions on 23 July in an
attempt to discover which parts of the article were inaccurate. Keston asked the
ambassador what specific mistakes the article had contained; whether he could
confirm Keston's information that no Armenian churches had registration in
Turkmenistan; why this was, given that some 40,000 ethnic Armenians lived in
Turkmenistan; whether Armenian Apostolic communities were able to function
freely without state registration; why an Armenian priest visiting Ashgabad last
December was unable to hold the liturgy; whether and when the Turkmen
authorities would allow Armenian Apostolic Christians in Ashgabad to register
a community; and whether and when the Turkmen authorities would allow
Armenian Apostolic Christians in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi to
regain their church confiscated during the Soviet period and to register a
community.

In his response to Keston's questions on 8 August, Ambassador Kurbanov
declared bluntly: `We affirm that in our view the given article does not accord
with reality'. He stressed that under Turkmenistan's law on religion the
Ministry of Justice registered religious organisations `and not any other state
organisation', an apparent reference to the Council for Religious Affairs. (This
is despite the role played by the CRA in deciding whether religious groups
should gain registration or not.) He stressed that Turkmen law proclaimed
freedom of religious confession and separation of religion and state. `All
religions and confessions are equal before the law and no religious
organisations (least of all the "Moscow Patriarchate") carry out any state
functions in Turkmenistan,' Kurbanov declared. (Although one deputy
chairman of the CRA is the Chief Mufti, while another is Father Sapunov, the
senior priest of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in
Turkmenistan.)

The only specific point that Ambassador Kurbanov addressed in his response
was the return and restoration of the Turkmenbashi church (although he did not
respond on whether an Armenian Apostolic community would be allowed to
register in the town). Kurbanov declared that the return of the church `is
connected not only with the required state registration but - as far as we
understand it - with the financial expenditures necessary'. He told Keston that
the Turkmen and Armenian governments were currently discussing a potential
scheme whereby the Turkmen government would finance the restoration of the
Turkmenbashi church while in exchange the Armenian government would
finance the restoration of the mausolleum of Emir Kara Yusuf of th Kara
Koyunlu Turkmen tribe which is located near the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Ambassador Kurbanov hoped that his responses answered Keston's questions,
adding that he was available should Keston need `additional information'. On 9
August, Keston sent through again its list of questions, asking the ambassador
for specific responses to the six and a half of the seven queries that he had
failed to answer. (END)


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