Leading Adventist Olga Kholopova was summoned by the secret
police in the capital Ashgabad on 8 November and, two days later, to her local
police station in a bid to force her to send her son to school on Saturdays, the
Adventist day of rest and worship. Protestant sources told Forum 18 News Service
that officers threatened not only to launch a criminal case and take her son
away from her if she failed to comply, but to deprive the Adventist church of
the registration it got back in June after a seven and a half year break. But
Pastor Pavel Fedotov told Forum 18 he believes the threats are a
misunderstanding that can be overcome. "We hope for a good resolution to this
issue and are looking forward to reaching an understanding with the
Turkmenistan's Adventist leaders are convinced that threats to
their official registration as a religious organisation are a misunderstanding
that can be overcome. "We're worried by the threats to remove our registration
connected with our members' desire for their children not to have to study in
school on Saturdays, our Sabbath," Pastor Pavel Fedotov told Forum 18 News
Service on 9 November. "We hope for a good resolution to this issue and are
looking forward to reaching an understanding with the government."
Protestant sources told Forum 18 that existing concerns were heightened
when a leading Adventist in the capital Ashgabad, Olga Kholopova, was summoned
by the National Security Ministry secret police on 8 November and threatened
that if she continues to refuse to send her 12-year-old son Timur to school on
Saturdays the church's registration will be removed.
summoned by the ministry's 6th department, which deals with the struggle against
terrorism," one Protestant told Forum 18. "Although officers were polite, she
was threatened with a criminal case, a fine and the denial of parental rights if
she refuses to send her child to school on Saturdays. They also threatened to
send her son to a special centre for delinquent adolescents supervised by the
police - and to strip the church of its legal status." The Protestant told Forum
18 that officers dismissed Kholopova's attempts to explain the importance to
Adventists of observing the Sabbath.
"This is also a religious freedom
issue for Timur, because he is himself a believer," one Protestant told Forum
Protestant sources stressed to Forum 18 that Timur has had
"excellent reports" in school and has not encountered problems with his study.
They add that the secret police know that Adventists, a small minority in
Turkmenistan, honour Saturday, their Sabbath, as a day of rest and worship. The
Protestant sources point out that although the Turkmen school week runs from
Monday to Saturday, about half the school children in Ashgabad fail to turn up
on Saturdays because they are helping their families at work in markets and
Forum 18 was unable to immediately reach any security
ministry officials to find out why such threats have been made against Kholopova
and against the church. Telephones also went unanswered at the government's
Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad on 10 November.
Kholopova had already been summoned by her son's school, the local
hyakimlik (administration) and her local police station in a bid to pressure her
to submit. Protestant sources told Forum 18 on 10 November that she was again
summoned to the local police that day, though the police told her they were
surprised that they had been dragged into the issue which they said was not a
Given that unregistered religious activity in
Turkmenistan is illegal, Adventists are highly concerned not only by the threats
to Kholopova but the threat to remove registration from the church. On 1 June
the Adventists became one of the few minority religious faiths to regain
registration this year after a seven and a half year period when all their
activity was treated as illegal. Their church in Ashgabad was bulldozed by the
authorities in November 1999. Even now they have regained registration, they
still cannot meet for worship as an entire congregation in Ashgabad (see F18News
4 October 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=424).
Adventist children have faced intermittent problems in school over their
desire not to study on their day of rest. Despite their religious convictions,
one Adventist family in Ashgabad was forced to bow to intense pressure in
September not to keep their child away from school on Saturdays.
autumn, Adventist leaders were warned that check-ups would be carried out in all
Ashgabad schools on Saturdays to make sure all children – including Adventists –
were present. Sources told Forum 18 that one such check-up was carried out in
the capital's schools in October. The authorities also told the Adventists they
would be looking through the church's membership list to help verify that all
the members' children attended school on Saturdays. Pastor Fedotov was warned
that if children were not attending school on Saturdays his church's
registration would be cancelled.
It is unknown if any observant Jews
have encountered similar problems in Turkmenistan over compulsory schooling on
Saturdays. Much of Turkmenistan's small Jewish community emigrated in the decade
after independence and little communal Jewish activity appears to survive.
All Turkmenistan's religious public holidays are Muslim, the traditional
faith of the majority of the population.
For more background, see Forum
18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map
of Turkmenistan is available at