Issue 7, Article 13, 17 July 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Resistance by the secular authorities and by the Moscow Patriarchate continues
to prevent the Armenian Apostolic Church from reviving any of its half-dozen
parishes in Turkmenistan which it maintained pre-1917.

Monday 17 July 2000

by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service

Resistance by the secular authorities and by the Moscow Patriarchate continues
to prevent the Armenian Apostolic Church from reviving any of its parishes in
Turkmenistan, a Keston representative learned from various well-informed
sources during a mid-July visit. So far the authorities still refuse to allow even
the architectural restoration of a century-old Armenian church building in the
town of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea coast.

Turkmenistan became part of the Russian Empire only in the late 19th century,
and the Armenian form of Christianity has as strong a claim as the Russian
Orthodox Church to be a `traditional religion' there. Before the Bolshevik take-
over the Armenian community maintained approximately six parishes within
the borders of today's Turkmenistan, and to this day the republic has
approximately 40,000 citizens of Armenian descent. Those who want to follow
the faith of their ancestors, however, must content themselves with occasional
restricted visits by Armenian priests from neighbouring countries (see KNS 18
December 1999). (One of those countries is Uzbekistan, which despite its
generally authoritarian policies on religion has nevertheless allowed the
reopening of an Armenian parish in Samarkand.)

The Armenians are also trying to revive their parish in Ashgabat,
Turkmenistan's capital, along with an Armenian cultural centre. So far the
authorities have refused to permit either. One well-informed source said that he
thought that there was a roughly `fifty-fifty' per cent chance of progress on
these issues; he also opined that pressure from the West would hurt rather than

Meanwhile, the Armenian Embassy in Ashgabat is the site of a Sunday school
focusing mainly on language and cultural lessons. Turkmenistan citizens of
Armenian descent who want liturgical services in a real church building have
no choice but to attend one of the city's two Russian Orthodox parishes.

The Armenian church is theologically and sacramentally distinct from the
Orthodox Churches; the Oriental tradition to which it adheres separated from
the rest of the Christian world in the fifth century AD. The secular authorities
in Turkmeniistan, however, have in effect granted veto power over Armenian
Christian activities to a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr ANDREI SAPUNOV, who
serves as a deputy chairman of the republic's Council for Religious Affairs
(CRA). MERED CHARIYAROV, a staff consultant for the CRA, told Keston
on 11 July that Fr Sapunov handles all issues related to all Christian
confessions. Chariyarov himself claimed never to have heard about the
Armenian church building in Turkmenbashi. Keston requested a meeting with
Father Sapunov but was told that he was out of town. (END)

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