Historical Context

Turkmenistan is a state in the southwest of the Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran. It is located between the Caspian Sea and Amu Darya river. The country has some small isles in the Caspian Sea as well. Turkmenistan is the flattest among other Central Asian countries. It is a country of deserts and oases. Most of the country’s territory is covered by the Karakum desert. Kopet Dagh or Turkmen-Khorasan Mountain Range extends in the south, along the border with Iran. The capital city is Ashgabat. The official language is Turkmen.

Mountain formation processes still take place in this region, so earthquakes occur often. The most severe earthquake occurred in 1948, when Ashgabad was totally destroyed.   

The population is about 5.5 million people. Turkmenistan is a home of different nationalities. Most of the population is Turkmen; and among the minorities, there are also Uzbeks, Russians, Kazakhs, Tatars, Armenians, etc.

The majority is Muslim (mainly Sunni) – 89%. Christians make 9% of the population, other religions about 2%.

Turkmenistan is a country with ancient cultural heritage. The foothill oases of Kopet Dagh were populated starting from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC. The first state, which had a center on the territory of today’s Turkmenistan, was the Parthian Empire with its capital city of Nisa. At different periods, the country was alternately under the rule of Parthians, Macedonians, Arabs, Seljuks and Tatar-Mongols.

In Turkmenistan, there are many archeological monuments preserved from ancient times. For example, not very far from Ashgabad, there are ruins of Nisa, one of the capital cities of the Parthian Empire. In the north of the country, in Konye-Urgench, Kutlug-Timur Minaret - a 60-meter-high structure is located, which was built in 1011. The territory of Turkmenistan was a crossroad of ancient caravan routes of East and West.

In the 19th century, Turkmenistan became a part of Russia and then was included in The Russian SFSR as an autonomy. Later Turkmen SSR was established, and in 1991, it became an independent republic.  


Christian Context

On the territory of today’s Turkmenistan, there is an ancient city called Merv, where the first Christian community was formed in the 3rd century. Christian grave fields of the 3rd and 4th centuries testify about this. Also, 18 kilometers north of Merv, there is a structure called Kharoba Koshuk, which some researchers consider to be ruins of a Christian (Nestorian) Church.   

The first bishop of Merv was Mar Shabbay. According to historical sources, he healed Shiraran, - the sister of Parthian king Shapur II, - of her disease. She was converted to Christianity, for which the king exiled her to Merv. In Merv, Shiraran started missionary work, built a church and exhorted Mar Shabbay to move there. He moved to Merv with other priests and brought with himself some necessary inventory. For a long time, coins with a cross at the rear side were issued in Merv.  

Today ethnic Turkmens who convert to Christianity experience oppression from the government. There are reports about instances of tortures of Christians in Turkmenistan.

From 2003, registration of all religious organizations has become mandatory. Unregistered religious organizations are considered illegal, and all the registered religious organizations are under strict control of the government. From 1994, to control the religious organizations, the government established the Gengesh (Council) of Religious Affairs, the members of which were the Mufti, the Deputy Mufti, an Orthodox priest and a secular officer. In 2016, Turkmenistan adopted a new Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations, which does not mention the Gengesh in any way. However, the government has also created a special committee, which is authorized to control religious organizations and materials with religious content in Turkmenistan.