Turkmenistan is the most authoritarian of the Central Asian states, with all aspects of public life under strict government control. All forms of religion are treated with hostility by the state, while Christians – around 9-10% of the population – also experience persecution from the Muslim majority.
The political context is dominated by a pervasive presidential personality cult, first established by former President Niyazov (in office 1990-21) and continued by his successor President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. In March 2022 Gurbanguly’s son Serdar Berdymukhamedov was elected to the presidency in polls that were disputed by international observers. According to some observers, civil liberties under President Serdar have not improved.
The majority of Christians in Turkmenistan are of Armenian and Russian background, though there is a small but growing community of Muslim-background believers. Converts from Islam are usually rejected by family and former friends, and will lose their jobs. Although they face such discrimination and ongoing pressure to return to Islam, they are full of joy and thirst for the Word of God; leaders long for training and equipping for ministry.
Turkmenistan’s Council for Religious Affairs is staffed entirely by Muslims and rarely grants permission for Bibles to be imported. Evangelism is considered harmful to society. Christianity is associated with negative foreign influences.
Religious meetings in private homes are banned. There are just 20 registered churches – the only places where it is legal for Christians to meet. Churches find it almost impossible to get registration. Since 2016 churches have been required to have 50 adult members in order to apply.
Police monitor church activities, raid Christian homes and arrest Christians, particularly church leaders. Unauthorised religious services or evangelism can result in a fine of approximately £23-£460 ($29-$570; €27-€535), with the higher fines for church leaders. If imprisoned, Christians often face torture and starvation.
Ask the Lord to strengthen His people as they endure government restrictions and pressures from the community. Pray especially for converts, that they will continue in their faith despite persecution. Pray also for God’s continued provision for impoverished believers.