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September 30, 1999   VNN4833  Comment on this story

Turkmen Authorities Destroy Hare Krishna Temples


TURKMENISTAN, Sep 30 (VNN) — by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The Turkmen authorities - who are inflicting the harshest religious policy in the whole of the former Soviet Union - have turned their attention to the Hare Krishna community after taking steps to try to halt the activities of Protestant Christian communities. Two Hare Krishna temples - in the capital Ashgabad and in the eastern town of Mary - were destroyed in August and the leader of the Ashgabad community, ALEKSANDR PRINKUR (ACHARYA DAS), was forcibly deported from the country.

Keston believes this is the first time government authorities in any of the former Soviet republics have deliberately destroyed places of worship since the end of the Soviet period, although many places of worship have been forcibly closed by the authorities in a number of republics. During the 1994-1995 Russian assault on Chechnya, bombing by the Russian air force destroyed the Russian Orthodox church in Grozny. More recently, St Petersburg authorities wanted to demolish a Russian Orthodox church to make room for a motorway, but at last word had dropped those plans after a public outcry which included the reporting of Sasha Shchipkov for KNS.

Prinkur told Keston News Service on 3 September that on 12 August the National Security Committee (KNB, the former KGB) and the local authorities forced the Hare Krishna devotees to pull down their temple in Ashgabad, which had been under construction for two years on private land belonging to a devotee and which was almost finished. Two days later a programme attacking the Hare Krishna community was shown on Ashgabad television. 'The presenters of the programme conducted open propaganda against our community,' reports Prinkur, 'and it was also said that the Hare Krishna temple in the town of Mary had been destroyed.' (Keston does not have independent confirmation of this report.) In the wake of the programme, the woman who owned the land where the temple had been built in Ashgabad was beaten at the market by another woman who had seen the programme.

'Devotees are periodically summoned to the KNB, where they are interrogated, intimidated and threatened that their homes will be taken away,' reports Prinkur. 'Very many devotees and those who associate with devotees have lost their jobs. One woman, Klara, who had just begun to associate with devotees, was fired from her job. Her boss told her that they were firing her because she was connected with Krishna Consciousness and also threatened that they could put her in prison.'

Prinkur himself, who had led the Ashgabad community since 1995, was deported after the demolition and in the wake of two months of harassment of the community. In the evening of 14 June two KNB officers and one policeman conducted an illegal search of the Ashgabad temple - without presenting the necessary documentation - breaking into locked cupboards and confiscating both communal and personal property. 'They searched through literally everything,' reports Prinkur, 'and left everything in complete disorder.' The officers focused on the books, confiscating a total of 1,300 volumes as well as 16 video cassettes and 120 audio cassettes. All those present had their identity documents confiscated, though all but Prinkur were able to get them back the following day at the local administration.

However, the authorities seem to have targeted Prinkur. All his personal possessions, including books, two cameras and a tape recorder, as well as all his documents (internal passport, military book, birth certificate and labour record book) were confiscated. The republican KNB kept them for two months, despite Prinkur's repeated attempts to get them back. 'One KNB officer, ORAZ NEPESOVICH, told me that they would keep the documents until my identity had been established. He told me that I was a citizen of Uzbekistan and that I was allegedly staying in Turkmenistan illegally, although I was legally registered in the village of Anau in Ahal region from 2 April 1997. From 2 March 1999 I reregistered in the town of Bezmein in Ahal region, and had a temporary registration certificate valid until 1 March 2000.'

On 16 August - four days after Hare Krishna members had been forced to pull down the temple - two KNB officers came by car for Prinkur, but he was not at the site of the former temple, as he had moved to another home. They said they had come to talk about registering the community and returning his documents. The following day Prinkur went to the offices of the republican KNB in Ashgabad. There they told him that his documents would be passed to the city KNB for them to deal with the matter. An officer of the city KNB then arrived and he was handed Prinkur's documents. He then proposed taking Prinkur to the city KNB, but instead took him to the visa and registration office, where they drew up documents for his deportation without his knowledge. He was told his registration had been removed and he was shown a piece of paper filled in with his name (and with his forged signature) declaring that he was moving to Uzbekistan. The KNB officer then informed him that his train was leaving in half an hour and that he had to hurry to catch it. Prinkur asked for time to collect his things, but this was refused. 'They began to threaten me that they would put me in a cell if I did not leave the country within an hour. I was taken to the station by police officers and put on the train, accompanied by a guard.' He was then deported.

The Hare Krishna community has been unable to gain registration with the Turkmen authorities, despite repeated attempts. Under current Turkmen law, each religious community needs 500 adult citizen members before it can even apply for registration. The Ashgabad Hare Krishna community has existed since 1990, while the Mary community - the bigger of the two - has existed since 1993. Although both communities were denied registration in the early 1990s, they had been able to function relatively freely until 1996, when campaigns to close them down began. In 1997, under the new regulations in the wake of revisions to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations, the Mary community collected the required 500 signatures, but the application was rejected as some of the signatories lived in the Mary region but not in the town of Mary.

The same year the Ashgabad community tried again to register.

Both the Mary and Ashgabad communities suffered constant harassment and threats from officials.

Only communities of the officially-sanctioned Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church have official registration.

Communities that have been denied registration include Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and Bahais. This summer the Turkmen authorities stepped up their harassment of Protestant churches in what many believe was an attempt to halt their activity once and for all. (END)

Below is contact info for the Turkmen Ambassador to the USA and the US Rep to Turkmenistan. Unfortunately, I am not sure which addresses are current. Once again, thank you very much for sharing my thoughts with your esteemed readers. Jaya Vaishnavas!!! Vrin Parker

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Halil UGUR
chancery: 2207 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 588-1500
FAX: [1] (202) 588-0697
chief of mission: Ambassador Khalil UGUR
chancery: 1511 K Street NW, Suite 412, Washington, DC 20005
telephone: [1] (202) 737-4800
FAX: [1] (202) 737-1152

US diplomatic representation:
chief of mission: Ambassador Joseph S. HULINGS III
embassy: 6 Teheran Street, Yubilenaya Hotel, Ashgabat
mailing address: use embassy street address
telephone: [7] (3632) 24-49-25, 24-49-22
FAX: [7] (3632) 25-53-79

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Steven R. MANN
embassy: 9 Pushkin Street, Ashgabat
mailing address: use embassy street address
telephone: [9] (9312) 35-00-45, 35-00-46, 35-00-42, 51-13-06, Tie Line [8]
962-0000 FAX: [9] (9312) 51-13-05

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