October 26, 2017

1994: The New National Spiritual Assemblies in Central Asia

First National Spiritual Assembly of Kazakhstan 1994
Baha'is first settled in Central Asia during Baha'u'llah's lifetime, when the region was known as Turkistan. A flourishing community developed, and the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkar (House of Worship) of the Baha'i world was raised in Ashkhabad in the early part of the century. In 1925, the National Spiritual Assembly of Turkistan, with its seat in Ashkhabad, came into being.

The Baha'is of Central Asia obeyed the Soviet government's subsequent ban on Baha'i institutions and religious practice and the National Spiritual Assembly was itself dissolved in 1939, but Baha'is in the region retained their faith as a matter of private belief and conscience. When the policy of glasnost emerged in the 1980s, and then the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the surviving Baha'is began to share their Faith more openly with the help of fellow Baha' is from other countries who were then allowed to travel to the region. By April 1992, there were approximately 500 Baha' is and eight Local Spiritual Assemblies in Central Asia, and the Regional Spiritual Assembly of Central Asia, with its seat in Ashkhabad, had been re-formed.

During the next two years, dozens of Local Assemblies were elected, summer and autumn schools established, media interviews given, and conferences held. By Ridvan 1994, the Faith had grown enough to warrant electing separate National Spiritual Assemblies for each of the republics of Central Asia. Thus new Assemblies were formed in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The development removed the need for a Regional Spiritual Assembly and entitled Turkmenistan to its own National Spiritual Assembly.

The first National Spiritual Assembly of Kazakhstan was elected 30 April 1994. The 120 Baha'is gathered were joined by Lauretta King, Counsellor member of the International Teaching Centre, who represented the Universal House of Justice for the occasion. Mrs. King also represented the House of Justice at the first National Convention of the Baha'is of Kyrgyzstan, held 23-24 April in Bishkek. The 150 adults, youth, and children  gathered for the historic event expressed their "deepest gratitude and devotion to the Blessed Beauty, Baha'u' llah."

"Praise and glory, gratitude and thanks, be upon the Threshold of the All-Merciful that in this period of history His gracious favors have been bestowed upon us," wrote the participants in the first National Convention of Tajikistan, held in Dushanbe 29 April to 1 May. In the presence of a Counsellor member of the International Teaching Centre, Shapoor Monadjem, who represented the House of Justice, the delegates consulted, prayed, and elected their first National Spiritual Assembly.

In a message from the first National Convention of Uzbekistan held 22-24 April in Tashkent, the 100 participants expressed their "emotion, excitement, and anticipation" to the Universal House of Justice. Referring to a special message sent by the House of Justice to the Convention, participants said "its content uplifted our spirits and drew our attention to our vital responsibilities in 'serving the people of Uzbekistan through spreading this lifegiving message at once challenging and glorious'." 
(The Baha’i World 1994-1995)