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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #23

TURKMENISTAN

Country rank

23

Persecution score

70.11

Last year’s rank

22

Region

Asia

Persecution Type

Dictatorial paranoia (Very strong), Islamic oppression (Strong)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

6,031,000

Christians

68,000 (1.1%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Islam

Government

Presidential Republic (Authoritarian)

Leader

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Central Asia through:

• Literature distribution
• Biblical and vocational training
• Socio-economic development
• Women’s ministry

ABOUT TURKMENISTAN

What does persecution look like in Turkmenistan?

Persecution against Christians in this repressive Islamic state comes largely from the government and from society.

The government imposes many restrictions on church life. Unless their churches are registered, Christians are highly susceptible to police raids, threats, arrests and fines. Even Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches may have their Sunday services monitored. The printing or importing of Christian materials is also restricted.

Believers who come from Muslim backgrounds experience intense pressure from families, friends and villagers to deny their faith. 

How women experience persecution

In deciding to become a Christian, women from Muslim backgrounds go against societal expectations – where they are totally subordinate to their parents, and if married, their husband – and open themselves to beatings, house arrest, verbal abuse, threats, disinheritance and rejection. 

They may also face abduction, rape and sexual harassment. Cases brought against perpetrators of sexual assault are rarely seen because of the shame associated with it. 

Some abducted women are forcibly married off to Muslims as a corrective measure, while converts may also be forced into marriages to oblige marital arrangements made by their parents prior to their conversion to Christianity. 

Christian women are discriminated against in the workplace. They may even lose their job, further heightening persecution because it makes them more dependent on their family. 

In addition, women can be abused as a way of putting pressure on their husbands and family members. This in turn fosters fear and feelings of helplessness across the wider Christian community. 

How men experience persecution

Leadership roles in Turkmenistan tend to go to men, making them a target for persecution on several levels.

Christians feel that state agents look for any excuses to impose fines on men for things such as holding illegal gatherings or even downloading Christian songs. Meanwhile, Muslims are suspicious of Christian leaders since they consider them to be at the forefront of converting others to Christianity. They attack those most actively involved in evangelism. 

It is very difficult for leaders to obtain religious training. Tight restrictions mean training can only be conducted in special, state-run institutions – but there are no such institutions in Turkmenistan. The authorities also monitor church leaders to ensure platforms aren’t given to anyone with radical or “extremist” views.

Beyond the walls of the church, Muslims obstruct the business activities of converts and Protestants (who are regarded as a “sect”), forcing many Christian business owners to keep their faith secret.

Christian men from Muslim backgrounds can face harassment and intimidation from families and communities, which can lead to home detention, disinheritance, shaming and beatings. 

Military service is mandatory and objection on grounds of conscience is not permitted.  

What has changed this year?

Despite dropping a place from last year’s position on the World Watch List, little has changed for Christians in Turkmenistan. It remains hugely challenging for those who follow Jesus, notably due to restrictions and surveillance from the state, and pressure on converts to recant.  

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Whilst government oppression is prevalent across the country, believers from Muslim backgrounds experience greater pressure in rural areas. 

How can I help Christians in Turkmenistan?

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Turkmenistan?

Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Central Asia by providing Christian literature, biblical and vocational training, and socio-economic development projects. We also provide immediate aid to Central Asian believers when they are jailed, excluded from families and communities, and deprived of livelihood and employment because of their faith in Christ.   

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Turkmenistan, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

– Pray for an easing of heavy restrictions on churches in Turkmenistan.
– Pray for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of church leaders; it’s a role that can entail intense pressure.
– Ask that believers who come to Christ from Muslim backgrounds will be guarded from harm, and that families, friends and villagers will be powerfully impacted by the transformation in their lives.

A PRAYER FOR TURKMENISTAN

Father God, thank You for the way in which You are working in and through the church in Turkmenistan. Continue this work and fill Your people with renewed joy at knowing and sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Protect Your people, help them stand strong and grant them wisdom and discernment to navigate restrictions and surveillance. Build Your church in Turkmenistan. Amen.