Jehova Witnesses in Kazakhstan are open, eager to share any information. Their activity aren’t restricted in Kazakhstan, however there is risk for restrictions due to incorrect interpretations and understanding of some aspects of their beliefs from society.
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*This publication was prepared as a series of CABAR.asia articles dedicated to raising awareness on religious diversity in Central Asian countries. The authors do not seek to promote any religion.
Friday 10 am. Big queues to the Kingdom Hall located on the outskirts of Almaty. During open doors guest are welcomed by food reception and saxophone. First remarkable thing that strike the eye is smiles of the Jehova Witnesses. They communicate on the first name basis, among themselves – brother and sister.
Every visitor has two servants or “volunteers” as they name each other. Everything is told in two languages, very detailed and enthusiastically.
I stop by table of literature and woman hands me Bible in Kazakh language, brochure about Witnesses view on marriage, and another brochure which says what to do if you cannot get married. She asked me to write down her number, if there will be any need to speak to someone
Polat Bekzhan and his wife are Jehova Witnesses for 34 years.
– We became Jehova Witnesses in 1985. My wife worked at maternity home, where also worked Jehova Withnesses. At that time organization was restricted.
Someone left book about Jehova Withnesses and my wife brought it home. We decided to read it and we have found answers to questions, that we in our hearts and which we were seeking answer for a long time. We have learned that Jesus died for our sins, for the sins of the mankind.
By entering the organization our life has remarkably changed. I gave up drinking, smoking, quarrelling with wife and increased my love to her. Holy book has taught us this. There are everything there.
We have six children, 12 grandchildren – they are all Witnesses. I think that Jehova Witnesses have made my life better. We are happy that Kazakhstan has right to freedom of religion.
Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize that they do not engage in proselytism, that is, they do not call people to become witnesses.
Lev Gladyshev, Official representative of the regional religious union Christian Center of Jehova Withnesses in Kazakhstan:
– We are all people, we can live without communication. If I exercise my right to communicate, I tell you what I read in the Bible and if it becomes interesting you ask for more information. There is no violation of the law.
It’s just impossible just to join our organization. You need to make certain changes in your life. For example, refuse from bad habits, involving in fornication, smoking, drinking…
Among other restrictions, which imposes a testimony on the parishioners – the nonintervention in state affair and integral neutrality. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not perform the national anthem, do not pay tribute to the flag or emblem. For them, participation in political parties and in elections is considered unacceptable. But at the same time a considerable part of the sermons of the Witnesses is devoted to the topic of respect for the state and the observance of the laws. Military service in the army is also unacceptable, even if the refusal entails criminal prosecution and imprisonment.
In addition, Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from blood transfusions and eat it, but according to the press service representative Vladislav Digolian, they do not refuse vaccination:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have never had restriction for vaccination. We do not give such a ban. This is the deal of each believer individually. Saying that, we state that organization does not interfere in the private, personal life of citizens, they themselves make decisions.”
Vladislav is from the third generation of witnesses and he studied the Bible with his parents, but has decided to join the organization independently and consciously:
– It is logical that parents-witnesses instill in their children some kind of value system, including religious values. Although we do not have infant baptism and small children, they must get mature enough to make this decision themselves.
Therefore, our organization is growing so slowly: anyone can attend the service, but not everyone can lead his or her lives in accordance with the necessary requirements and become one of us.
We do not have any political ambitions, our goal is to worship God, to live peacefully and be safe. Jehovah’s Witnesses will never take up arms because of this, we were persecuted. Especially in the 20th century, many witnesses perished in concentration camps both in Germany and in the Soviet Union.
By the way, this is how, through camps, the witnesses came to Kazakhstan in the 1940s. The history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kazakhstan dates back to 1892, when Simeon Kozlitsky was exiled to the village of Ust-Bukhtarma, a Bible researcher, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were called at that time. We believe that with their sweat and blood, their life in the camps, these people deserve the right to be part of society, the right to live, the way they consider is right, if it does not threaten either the state or other people.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses Center in Almaty was built in 2005. The total area of the buildings is approximately 5 thousand square meters, located on the territory of 7 hectares.
When you enter the territory of the Center it is like another world: double security, video cameras. As explained in the Center, such security measures are designed to respect the calmness of visitors.
The complex consists of four main buildings connected by transitions and comprising an office, a dining room, a kitchen, a residential building, a laundry room, a literary warehouse, and workshops. The residential building has 39 rooms in which live volunteers which work in the Center. At the moment there are 76 people.
All of them work in the departments of sending literature, maintenance, supplies, service, legal, translation, administrative, computer, accounting, hospital information, as well as the department of building Kingdom Halls.
According to Lev Gladyshev, this whole complex operates due to voluntary donations:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are a worldwide organization, with an estimated 8 million members worldwide. To be a witness is to have a proactive position, so it’s natural for members to take care of a place where they come often. For example donations are made to maintain literature. We do not pay tithing or any contributions and do not pay any fees. Donations are voluntary and anonymous.”
The website of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been translated into 975 languages. And literature is published in more than 750 languages and is distributed in more than 240 countries.
Order in the territory is also maintained by the parishioners.
Dinara Kurmanova entered organization, when she was 15, but officially, she became Jehova Witness in 18:
– Mom introduced me to the Witnesses back in ’97. The father got acquainted, but did not join, although he actively supports us. Since then, more than 20 years have passed.
I try to live by biblical principles, I take health seriously. I have been helping the Christian center here for several years as a volunteer. I am an ethnic Kazakh and here we have meetings in Kazakh, the literature is translated into Kazakh.
The environment is normal, although in social networks I do not indicate my affiliation, only in whatsapp I have profile picture as Jehova Witnesses.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»