Kazakhstan

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikistan

Turkmenistan

Uzbekistan

Home » Culture and History, Photoblog, Turkmenistan

A forgotten dawn in Ashgabad

Written by on Monday, 16 November 2009
Culture and History, Photoblog, Turkmenistan
5 Comments
ashgabad00

The Bahai House of Worship in Ashgabad after its exterior was completed in 1919. Photograph in the public domain.

Turkmenistan’s former ruler, Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, often prophecized that his nation had a grand destiny.  From the perspective of the world’s youngest global religion, the Baha’i Faith, he was indeed prophetic, but just not in any way he would have realized.

In 1902, Ashgabad, the future capital of independent Turkmenistan, was the site of the Baha’i Faith’s first ever Mashriqu’l-adkhar (مشرق اﻻذكار‎, literally, “Dawning-place of the remembrance of God”) or House of Worship.  In the central religion’s scripture, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the prophet-founder of the religion, Baha’u'llah, writes:

O people of the world! Build ye houses of worship throughout the lands in the name of Him Who is the Lord of all religions. Make them as perfect as is possible in the world of being, and adorn them with that which befitteth them, not with images and effigies. Then, with radiance and joy, celebrate therein the praise of your Lord, the Most Compassionate. Verily, by His remembrance the eye is cheered and the heart is filled with light.

Because Baha’is believe that their faith shall eventually be instrumental in the establishment of a world commonwealth in which the sexes, science and religion, and all nations are reconciled, the construction of the Ashgabad House is looked upon as a significant moment for human history.  So, what happened to it?  Well, the Soviets happened.

According to Baha’i scholar Moojan Momen, life for Bahai’s during the early days of the Communist Revolution was good.

Activities were expanded, publications increased, and, freed from the legal restriction against converting Christians, the Baha’is began to teach the religion to Russians. As many as five hundred attended public meetings convened for this purpose. Although there was some state-sponsored anti-religious propaganda, this only served to bring the Baha’i teachings to public attention.

By his estimate, the community numbered 4000, of which 1000 were children — equivalent to 3% of the entire international Baha’i community at the time.  Indeed, the Turkmenistan community was among the more established ones in the early Twentieth Century.

From 1926 onwards, however, the Soviets began to crack down on the community.  The repression culminated in 1928, when the Ashgabad House was confiscated by authorities, and in 1938, when they arrested and exiled every adult male Baha’i to Siberia; the women and children were deported to Iran.  In 1963 an earthquake irreparably damaged the foundations of the House and it was torn down.  According to the travel guide Lonely Planet, its doors currently grace the entrance of the Art Museum.

The Baha’i Faith continues to be active in Turkmenistan, as well as neighboring Uzbekistan, still suffering under waxing and waning repressions.  To this day, many in the international community still think fondly of “Old Ishkabad”.   In 1996, Jeff Lavezzo, a Baha’i from the United States, made a computerized reconstruction based upon old photos and a floor plan:

The Ashgabad House's floor plan.  Photograph in the public domain.

The Ashgabad House's floor plan. Photograph from "The Bahá'í World", Volume VII, 1942.

Laying the cornerstone.  Photograph in the public domain.

Laying the cornerstone. Photograph from "Star of the West," Volume IV, Number 18.

The House under construction.  Photograph in the public domain.

The House under construction. Photograph from "Star of the West," Volume IV, Number 18.

Side view of the finished House.  Photograph from "An Earthly Paradise" by Julie Badiee.

Side view of the finished House. Photograph from "An Earthly Paradise" by Julie Badiee.

The Ashgabad House was once the tallest structure in the city.  The photograph above was taken in 1945, from "Architecture Of The Soviet Turkmenistan" by Kacnelson, Visocky, et al.  Click on it to see city plans from the early Twentieth Century.

The Ashgabad House was once the tallest structure in the city. The photograph above was taken in 1945, from "Architecture Of The Soviet Turkmenistan" by Kacnelson, Visocky, et al. Click on it to see city plans from the early Twentieth Century.

The interior of the Ashgabad House.  Photograph from "An Earthly Paradise" by Julie Badiee.

The interior of the Ashgabad House. Photograph from "An Earthly Paradise" by Julie Badiee.

A bird's eye view of the completed House.  Image by Jeff Lavezzo.

A bird's eye view of the completed House. Image by Jeff Lavezzo.

The House as it would have appeared today (dawn).  Image by Jeff Lavezzo.  Click on it to read and see more.

The House as it would have appeared today (dawn). Image by Jeff Lavezzo. Click on it to read and see more.

The finished House as it would have appeared today.  Image by Jeff Lavezzo.

The finished House as it would have appeared today (afternoon). Image by Jeff Lavezzo.

Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Schwartz is himself a practicing Baha’i.   This post is intended purely for cultural interest.

Bookmark and Share

5 Comments »

  • [...] Editor’s notes: (1) neweurasia is committed to the principle of pluralism and is not seeking to promote any one religion or ideology over another. (2) Historically speaking, Turkmenistan has long been the home of religious innovation.  For example, check out Schwartz’s article on the Bahai Faith in Ashgabad. [...]

  • [...] Editor’s post-script: For an interesting bit of religious architectural history in Ashgabat, check out our post, “A Forgotten Dawn in Ashgabad”. [...]

  • [...] educational topography of Turkic Central Asia, going back into the shamanistic past with Paksoy to a forgotten dawn in Ashgabat with Schwartz and the halls of the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek with Orazdurdy. I’m about [...]

  • Schwartz says:

    @rodolfo viquez, this is from the official website of the Baha’i Faith (http://www.bahai.org, http://info.bahai.org/):

    The Bahá’í Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent religions. Its founder, Bahá’u'lláh (1817-1892), is regarded by Bahá’ís as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad.

    The central theme of Bahá’u'lláh’s message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. God, Bahá’u'lláh said, has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification.

    One of the purposes of the Bahá’í Faith is to help make this possible. A worldwide community of some five million Bahá’ís, representative of most of the nations, races and cultures on earth, is working to give Bahá’u'lláh’s teachings practical effect. Their experience will be a source of encouragement to all who share their vision of humanity as one global family and the earth as one homeland.

    Turkmenistan has one of the oldest established Baha’i communities in the world. At present, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there were approximately 1000 Bahá’ís across Turkmenistan in 2005. It is my understanding that they are allowed to worship by the government, although like other religions (including Islam), they are subject to limitations. It is my impression, though, that generally speaking, the government and older generations of Turkmen have a positive impression of the Baha’is.

    Here is a bit more about the Baha’is in Turkmenistan (in English):

    http://www.bahai.org/worldwide-community/national-communities/turkmenistan
    http://www.northill.demon.co.uk/relstud/turkmnst.htm

    Allah-u-abha!

    Reply

  • Josh says:

    Hi, I really like the article, the layout, the depth of the emotions and the facts that you have written. Please kindly contact me by email if possible. Thanks

    Reply

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.