Issue 8, Articles 8-9, 3 August 2000

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

MOSQUES DEMOLISHED. By order of the President of Turkmenistan, all
known copies of the Koran in Turkmen have been burned, the 72 year-old
mullah who made the translation has had his home bulldozed and has been sent
into exile.

GOVERNMENT. The mullah�s situation is not unique. In light of the
President�s recent statements, it is thought that numerous foreign Muslim
teachers have been deported and observers are preparing for further
crackdowns on Muslim education and unregistered mosques.

Thursday 3 August 2000

by Vitaly Ponomarev, Keston News Service

The Turkmen authorities are continuing to persecute the mullah HOJA
AHMED ORAZGYLYCH who was exiled in March with his family from the
Turkmen capital Ashgabad to the remote Tedjen district in southern
Turkmenistan close to the Iranian border on the orders of President
SAPARMURAD NIYAZOV (see KNS 27 March 2000).

After the deportation and in the absence of other accommodation, the family
moved into the mosque at the cemetery in Govki-Zeren, 20 kilometres from
Tedjen, which the head of the family built in the glasnost era under Gorbachev.
However, in April the mosque was demolished on the orders of the National
Security Committee (KNB), the successor to the KGB. In order not to remain
homeless 72-year-old Orazgylych was obliged to build himself a two-roomed
hut which as yet has no roof. It is reported that he is forbidden to leave the
village, his family is practically deprived of the means of existence and contact
with friends is possible only under the watchful scrutiny of the law
enforcement agencies.

At the beginning of March, Orazgylych's house and the attached mosque on the
edge of Ashgabad were also demolished by bulldozers and the plot of land was
transferred to the Ministry of Energy and Industry. The Turkmen authorities
explain the demolition of both mosques by the fact that they were not
registered as required by law. However, such measures have not been applied
to any other of the more than 100 mosques which were not re-registered after
the tightening up of the registration rules in 1997.

Exile to a `remote place', as applied to Orazgylych, was introduced as a
punishment under the criminal code by a presidential decree of 3 March.
However, Turkmen law has not set out the rights of those exiled and how they
are to survive.

Following President Niyazov's accusations that Orazgylych's 1995 translation
of the Koran into the Turkmen language was inaccurate and `evil', the president
ordered the entire print-run to be burnt (see KNS 27 March 2000). Keston
News Service has learned that in accordancewith this order, 40,000 copies of
this edition of the Koran were confiscated in March from libraries, bookshops
and the warehouse of the `Turkmenistan' publishing house and subsequently

Officials of the KNB and the government's Council for Religious Affairs have
declined to discuss with Keston Orazgylych's exile, the burning of the Korans
or the demolition of the two mosques. (END)

Thursday 3 August 2000

by Vitaly Ponomarev, Keston News Service

The decision to burn all available copies of mullah HOJA AHMED
ORAZGYLYCH�s translation of the Koran, and the demolition of two
mosques associated with him (see separate KNS article) are examples of the
increasingly frequent interference in religious matters by senior Turkmen
government officials. Turkmenistan's Muslims, like believers of other faiths,
constantly face restrictions imposed by state bodies.

On 10 January while speaking at a conference on the Turkmen language,
President SAPARMURAD NIYAZOV demanded that Turkmen Muslims
renounced the use of the hadiths, sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad
which do not appear in the Koran. Niyazov claimed that `there are many
contradictions in them', a remark reported in the newspaper `Neitralny
Turkmenistan' of 1 March.

In 1997 about half the open mosques in the country were not reregistered. In
the past five years almost all the Islamic educational establishments have been
closed, the last known closure being that of the major madrassah in the eastern
town of Chardjou (now Turkmenabad) in June 1999. Restrictions on religious
education at mosques have been introduced, affecting thousands of believers.
Since the mid-nineties the import of Islamic literature into the country has
practically ceased.

Since 1996 the authorities have repeatedly expressed their concern at discord
among Muslims `harming our unity and cohesiveness' and have announced the
possibility of `taking measures against violators of order'.

Speaking on 5 April in his home village of Kipchak near Ashgabad, President
Niyazov declared that `all madrassahs and religious schools which were opened
everywhere must be closed' and that it was enough for the country to have one
madrassah functioning under the control of the Muftiyat. Given that all the
registered madrassahs were closed in the previous years, the president's
comments could be interpreted as a call to fight unofficial Islam and an
admission that the authorities' ban on private religious education is widely

According to unconfirmed reports, over 300 Islamic preachers with foreign
citizenship (mostly Iranian) have been deported from the country so far this
year. Keston was unable to confirm these figures, but the rumours of the mass
deportation of foreign Islamic teachers demonstrate that the campaign to deport
religious activists is affecting not only Protestants, the Jehovah's Witnesses and
the Hare Krishna community (see KNS 23 May 2000).

In March Niyazov expressed his dissatisfaction with the activities of the muftis
and announced that the chief imam of the south eastern town of Mary had been
removed after accusations of committing economic crimes. This is the first
instance of the removal of a highly-placed Islamic religious figure since 1992.
It is possible that further imams will be removed from mosques in view of
Niyazov's reference in his speech to `an increase in the number of violations by
religious figures'.

Despite these pressures, almost all the country's imams have ignored Niyazov's
instruction to repeat the oath of loyalty to the Fatherland and the president after
each namaz (daily prayers), something that has met solid support from
believers. The oath of loyalty, printed at the top of daily newspapers, reads:
`Turkmenistan, beloved homeland, my native land, both in my thoughts and in
my heart I am eternally with you. For the slightest evil caused to you, let my
hand be cut off. For the slightest calumny against you may my tongue lose its
strength. In the moment of treachery to the fatherland, to the president, to your
holy banner, let my breathing cease.'

Dozens of mosques that have been refused registration continue to function. Up
until now the local authorities have often turned a blind eye. However, some
observers believe the situation could change quickly. It is possible that the
destruction of the two mosques built by Orazgylych were simply the first step
in the authorities' attempts to establish total control over the activity of the
Muslim community. (END)