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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: An Iranian-American Bahai at Home

VZCZCXRO8392
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBC RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHDIR RUEHIK
RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #1189/01 2530922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090922Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1517
INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 4278
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2090
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1955
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 2526
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 001189

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN AND NEA/IR, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL IR TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: AN IRANIAN-AMERICAN BAHAI AT HOME
(AGAIN) IN ASHGABAT

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Emboff's recent conversation with an
elderly Iranian-American Bahai religious worker in Ashgabat
revealed a refreshing exception to the problems faced by
minority religious groups in Turkmenistan, including
registered organizations. The fact that this Bahai community
elder is able to operate quite freely mentoring Bahai youths,
meeting in Ashgabat with other adherents from around the
world, and conducting other religious activities is rather
impressive. Our contact's relative freedom to conduct
religious work in Turkmenistan is positive. She also reports
having had no problems whatsoever in renewing her residence
permit each year since she arrived in 1991. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU Our contact, an 83-year old ethnic Iranian and
naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Ashgabat in 1925. Since
she returned in 1991, she has functioned as a community elder
and shepherd for the country's small Bahai community. She
meets regularly with Bahai youth, who look to her as a
religious mentor. In fact, the day after her conversation
with emboff, she was hosting a lunch for 15 young members of
the community from around the country. She is a point of
contact for visiting Bahais from around the world, including
from North America and the Middle East. She hosts religious
meetings in her home and sometimes shows movies from her
large collection of Bahai-themed videos. Our contact
volunteers as an English language tutor. She also enjoys
listening to the 24-hour Bahai radio station that broadcasts
from the U.S. via her satellite dish. She said that she never
misses an opportunity to spread the message of Baha'ullah in
her interactions with Turkmen she meets, although not in a
overt way. For example, she reminds vendors of the
importance of honesty, and irate cab drivers to use patience
rather than profanity, all basic tenets of her faith, she
says. Turkmen authorities allow her to renew her residence
permit yearly without problems because Ashgabat was her place
of birth.

3. (SBU) The Amcit Bahai community leader lived in Ashgabat
with her family for 13 years, then settled in the northern
Iran city of Mashad when they were forced to leave
Turkmenistan in 1938. Back in Iran, she attended high school
and later completed nurse's training. Her family, ethnic
Persians, are originally from Yazd. Her mother was also born
in and lived much of her life in Turkmenistan. Since 1953,
she has made pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa
six times, most recently for the dedication of the Bahai
World Center in 2001. At the time of her first visit to
Haifa, she met with Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of
Baha'ullah (revered as a divine prophet), founder of the
Bahai faith. (NOTE: The Bahai faith is one of the few
registered religions in Turkmenistan and the world's first
Bahai House of Worship was built in Ashgabat in 1908. END
NOTE.) Our contact left Iran for Nicosia in the 1950s and
worked as a hospital supervisor. She was later joined there
by her parents and siblings. In 1964, when the civil war
broke out in Cyprus, the family returned to Iran, but left
for the U.S. three years later via Lebanon. For the next 25
years, she worked in hospitals in East Africa and the
Caribbean, undertook further medical training in the United
States, ultimately returning to Ashgabat in retirement
seventeen years ago. All of her siblings reside in the
United States.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: Our contact's relative freedom to conduct
religious work in Turkmenistan is positive. The Turkmenistan
government does not limit her religious activities and have
allowed her to remain in the country legally.In addition to
its window on the Bahai community, our contact's story
mirrors Turkmenistan's early Iranian community, who migrated
here around the turn of the century. Many were dispersed
during Stalin's enforced relocations and sent to Khazakhstan
and Siberia. Others were ordered deported back to Iran. Of
the original immigrants who managed to remain in Ashgabat,
most have assimilated, and their descendants no longer speak

ASHGABAT 00001189 002 OF 002


Farsi at home. END COMMENT.
CURRAN

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