Thursday, November 17, 2016

Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Tashkent

I’ve visited the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Tashkent two years ago. The church had been built in 1896. Bishop Kornelius Wiebe welcomed us. He did not speak much German, however, so that his Russian had to be translated. He was announced as a goalless spokesman. In earlier days Tashkent had been the richest / largest city in Turkestan. Katharina, the Great, had brought the Germans to Russia. Before the revolution more Germans than Uzbeks lived in Tashkent. In 1941 the Volga-Germans were resettled to Turkestan, but the Germans from there were resettled to Siberia. In part, they died of cancer after work in the uranium mines (Tajikistan). Approx. 60% of Germans have perished through these measures. The Germans, like the Crimean Tartars, were considered "traitors" after the beginning of the war.

Stalin, however, closed the church already in 1937. The church now has 200 members, rather old people. The liturgy still is in German, while the sermon is held in Russian. When guests come, then it’s also bilingual; e.g. On 19.10. So when three jubilees are celebrated. He's already sitting at the translation. Supposedly the Christians had no disadvantages because of religious affiliation. It had been better for the Germans in Uzbekistan than elsewhere in the USSR during the Soviet period.

There were about 6000-7000 Germans living in Uzbekistan; half of which live in Tashkent. Approximately 5,000 members had emigrated to Germany. In the past, about 20,000 Protestant Christians lived in Tashkent. Contacts also exist with other religious communities. Wiebe had been invited regularly to the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha). And he also had been invited by the mufti, who at the time had been to Mecca, to the inauguration of a new mosque. There was ecumenical co-operation with the Orthodox, the Catholic, the Armenian Church and other Protestant communities. There were even common services, most of which are held in the Catholic Church, as they have the largest church.

The German tradition in Uzbekistan is broken, because the richest families were also the first to emigrate. Or previously, they had already migrated within the framework of family reunion, which had been possible even before independence, while such applications had been rejected during the Brezhnew era. Nowadays, Uzbeks are more likely to travel to the US and not to Germany.

It was sad to hear, that Bishop Kornelius Wiebe had passed away last year. He was born into a Mennonite family. His parents were deported from the German autonomous Wolga republic to Urus (Tartar), where Wiebe was born. He later moved to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and back to Uzbekistan. Since 2000, he was the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Uzbekistan, which had been founded in 1993. I remember singing together and will his memory.

The late Bishop Kornelius Wiebe in 2014 

The Church

Outside of the Church


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