Turkmen Pastor Faces Bleak Future After Destruction of Church

Pavel Fedotov, 28, told an AFP reporter last week of weeping church members who sang hymns as authorities outside ordered operators of heavy demolition machines to begin tearing down the church

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan | Bettina Krause / ANN

In a recent interview with news agency Agence France-Presse, the pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which was destroyed by Turkmen authorities last November described the final moments before bulldozers began the destruction of the seven-year-old Church building where more than 80 people had worshiped each week. Pavel Fedotov, 28, told an AFP reporter last week of weeping church members who sang hymns as authorities outside ordered operators of heavy demolition machines to begin tearing down the church.

“The security forces ignored our requests to show their orders, as well as our pleas that people still remained in the church,” Fedotov is quoted as saying. “They said they had an injunction to quickly tear down the building, because it was allegedly in a state of disrepair.” Fedotov points out that although Turkmen authorities claimed the church was being destroyed so that a major road could be constructed, work on the road has still not begun in the five months since the building was flattened.

Fedotov, however, remains committed to serving his Ashgabat congregation. “As before, we will meet for prayer,” he told the AFP reporter, “but there is no permanent place for the service, and no official approval. The future will only get worse.”

The destruction of the Ashgabat church in 1999 continues to act as a lightning rod for the concerns of international human rights organizations and governments around the world, which view with concern Turkmenistan’s increasing repression of religious minorities. The incident has been cited numerous times by members of the United Nations in session, recorded in the United States’ State Department’s annual international religious freedom report, and retold in a growing number of news stories dealing with the plight of minority religions in this central Asian country.

While the Muslim and Russian Orthodox faiths have thrived in post-Communist (post-1991) Turkmen society, protestant Christian groups and other non-mainstream religions are facing escalating hostility from the Turkmen government, led by entrenched president Saparmurat Niyazov. These religious groups must fulfill what has been described as “near-impossible” registration requirements before being granted legal status, and most have been unable to comply.

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