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Alexy Praises “Good Fruits” of Secular and Spiritual Interaction in Turkmenistan

Sunni Mufti Remains in Prison

Moscow Orthodox Partriarch Alexy II offers a brief eulogy to the late Saparmurad Niyazov:

“As head of the Russian Orthodox Church, I was pleased to see the good fruits of interaction between the secular and spiritual leaderships in the republic. The president was the initiator of many good works,” Alexy II said in a message of condolences to acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov.

Well, I suppose he might be doing nothing more than just being polite (and mindful of the position of Orthodox Turkmen) – but this is the same Alexy who is notorious for heaping praise and honours on Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko (as I blogged here).

So, just what were “the good fruits” of the Turkmenbashi’s interaction with religious leaders? Forum 18 and ASSIST Ministries explain:

Exiled human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin, of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, noted that hostility to religious freedom was a “personal instruction” of Niyazov.

…Although harassment of religious communities has eased in the past year or so, between 1997 and 2003 no religious communities apart from some state-approved Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities were allowed to function. Police raids and harsh punishments on those conducting religious activity without state permission were the norm.

…Even the Russian Orthodox Church – one of only two legal faiths between 1997 and 2003 – faces restrictions on its activity. The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) reported in October that final construction work on the women’s convent next to St Nicholas’ Church in Ashgabad had to come to a halt in late 2005, after President Niyazov warned the Orthodox clergy in a private conversation that if they carried on with the building work he would order the demolition of all the country’s Orthodox churches.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups have suffered particularly, although judging from the situation in Russia one doubts that Alexy has any qualms about that.

Of course, Niyazov’s most significant “interaction” with religion was the creation of his own holy text, the Ruhnama:

It is unclear whether Niyazov’s invented Ruhnama religion will continue to be state-imposed…Niyazov’s two-volume Ruhnama (Book of the Soul) has become compulsory reading in schools and other institutions and has been imposed on religious communities. Quotations from it have even – in an action that is for devout Muslims blasphemous – been carved around the interior of the dome of a vast new mosque built in Niyazov’s home village of Kipchak near Ashgabad, where he is due to be buried

In 2002 the Sunni Mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for “treason”; a secret trial accused him of plotting Niyazov’s assassination, although dissent and religious objections to the Ruhnama were more likely responsible for his downfall.

The Book of the Soul itself can be read here.

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