Ak-Mechet, a village located eight miles (13 km) from the city of Khiva in Asiatic Russia (now Uzbekistan), was settled 16 April 1884 by a small group of Mennonites under the leadership of Claas Epp. These Mennonites had separated from the Köppental-Orloff church (Samara) in 1880 and 1881 primarily for the purpose of avoiding forestry service and also to seek a place of refuge for the time of the great tribulation of the last days. After attempting to settle in Tashkent and later in Bokhara, they came to Khiva where they were joined by some followers of Elder Abraham Peters from the Molotschna.
Their first place of settlement in Khiva was on the bank of the Lausan River, a branch of the Amu-Darya. Since residence here was made impossible by predatory attacks and thefts by Turkomen, they received from the khan of Khiva the park Ak-Mechet, which belonged to one of his relatives. Only a small part of the group settled here, the rest migrating to America. Originally the land of Ak-Mechet covered only about thirteen acres; hence, the Mennonites, unable to farm, raised vegetables and made their living in the trades of cabinetmaking and tailoring. The church consisted of about twenty-five families, who were supporters of Claas Epp, and who owned a church building that also served as a school and residence for the teacher.
Before the death of Claas Epp (6 January 1913), the majority of the group recognized the errors in his teachings and separated from him, turning to the leadership of W. Penner. Epp's views gradually disappeared and the religious and economic life of the community improved. Soon they learned to fertilize and irrigate the sandy soil in order to raise rice and cotton.
The group lived undisturbed for approximately fifty-five years, hardly noticing World War I and the change of government when the Soviets took over. When the local Soviet government in 1925 was about to streamline the cultural, economic and religious life of the Mennonites according to the Marxian doctrines, the Ak-Mechet group simply sent a delegation to Moscow and received from Kalinin, president of the Soviet Union, a document guaranteeing that they could continue their way of life unmolested. Their Asiatic neighbors, however, were forced to join the collectives. Ten years later in 1935 the Mennonite mayor of Ak-Mechet was again requested by the Soviet authorities of Khiva to organize a collective, but with the document signed by Kalinin the group felt safe and secure. When they refused, ten persons including the mayor and the minister were arrested and publicly tried as counter-revolutionaries. They gave a brilliant testimony, which lasted far into the night. Death by shooting was the sentence for each of them and their families were to be exiled.
On the following day the GPU trucks appeared to take the families into exile. All the women of the settlement came out, clustered around the trucks, and piled up in front of the wheels, demanding unitedly that none of them or all be taken. The GPU agents seemed to be overwhelmed and returned to the city of Khiva leaving the trucks. After a few days more trucks came to take the entire group. Thus the Mennonites of Ak-Mechet were compelled to leave the place that had been their refuge for more than half a century. They were taken to the city of Samarkand by truck, ship and train, whence they proceeded approximately one hundred miles southeast into a desert. Here they were forced to pioneer with the few tools that they had brought with them. How long any of them survived is unknown.
Bartsch, Franz. Unser Auszug nach Mittel-Asien. North Kildonan, MB: Echo-Verlag, 1948. This reprint of the original 1907 edition published at Halbstadt, Russia, contains a supplement, "Auszüge aus der 'Geschichte von Ak-Metschet,' von Alexander Rempel."
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 16.
Inoyatova, Dilaram M. "The Khivan Mennonites." Mennonite Life 62, no. 2 (Fall 2007). http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2007fall/inoyatova.php (accessed 28 November 2008).
Mennonitische Blätter (1884): 64, 79; (1901): 93.
Cite This Article
Bartsch, Franz and Cornelius Krahn. "Ak-Mechet (Uzbekistan)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 21 Jun 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ak-Mechet_(Uzbekistan)&oldid=146352.
Bartsch, Franz and Cornelius Krahn. (1955). Ak-Mechet (Uzbekistan). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ak-Mechet_(Uzbekistan)&oldid=146352.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 29-30. All rights reserved.
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