Staunton, Feb. 22 – As in other former Soviet republics with large Muslim populations, the number of mosques in Turkmenistan increased from fewer than 200 at the end of Soviet times to 800 at the end of the last century. But now as a result of economic difficulties and repressive state policy, the number of mosques in Turkmenistan is back to where it was in 1991.
That is just one of the pieces of information about religious life in Central Asia that Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russian specialist on religious life, has shared in the course of an extensive interview to the Khan-Tengri journal (https://ia-centr.ru/han-tengri/oriental/khristianstvo-v-tsentralnoy-azii/).
Among the many others Mitrokhin made relevant to the current situation, the following are especially noteworthy:
· Protestantism in the region grew after 1991 as a result of the arrival of missionaries from the West and ethnic immigrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union. Aiding them in this was a Protestant training academy based in Azerbaijan.
· Even in Soviet times, Protestants outnumbered Orthodox, although both were far outnumbered by Muslims of various groups. Today, these disproportions have become even greater.
· Two of the countries in the region, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have pursued moderately tolerant polices toward all faiths. The other three –Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have been more repressive with Turkmenistan being especially so first against Protestants, then Russian Orthodox, and now even Muslims.
· Except at the very highest levels, the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and much of the laity is now drawn not from Russians coming in from the outside but from non-Russian converts.
· Consequently, Central Asia can no longer play the role of a farm team for the upper reaches of the Moscow Patriarchate; but at the same time, there is no talk of autocephaly because the numbers of Orthodox are so small. Instead, Central Asian Orthodox only seek a greater role in Patriarchal institutions.