Soviet Central Asia

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1959 Article

Soviet Central Asia, region of West Asia bordering in the west on the Caspian Sea, in the north on Siberia, in the south on Persia (now Iran), Afghanistan, and India, and in the east on China, consists of an area of 1,508,445 sq. mi., with an approximate population of twenty million. At present Soviet Central Asia is composed of the Kazakh SSR, including the former Syr Darya and Dzhetysu regions (1956 population 8 1/2 million; capital Alma-Ata), the Uzbek SSR (1956 population, 7,300,000; capital Tashkent), including the former Bukhara, southern Khorezm and parts of Samarkand, Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and Turkestan, the Turkmen SSR (1956 population, 1,400,000; capital Ashkhabad), including the former Turkoman region of Turkestan and the western parts of Bukhaar and Khorezm, the Tadzhik SSR (population 1956, 1,800,000; capital Stalinabad), including eastern Turkestan. The largest SSR of all is in the Kazakh SSR with Alma-Ata as its capital and other larger cities like Karaganda, Petropavlovsk, Akmolinsk, Semipalatinsk, Aktyubinsk, and Pavlodar. The Pavlodar Mennonite settlement is now a part of it. Other early Mennonite settlements were Auli-Ata and Ak-Mechet. See also Khiva, Claas Epp, Asiatic Russia.

The Soviet government has used various methods and experiments since 1917 to transform this vast territory and its primitive population to its basic philosophy and plans. In 1917-24 some independent khanates such as Bukhara and Khiva struggled for their independence. Since 1924 the Soviets have attempted to stamp out the national feelings of the population of these countries and to transform the entire political, economical, and cultural life of the total area to integrate it into the Soviet empire. Stalin stated in 1919 that "owing to its geographical situation, Turkestan is a bridge linking Socialist Russia with the oppressed countries of the east. In view of this, the consolidation of Soviet power in Turkestan may have the greatest revolutionary significance for the entire east" (Stackelberg, p. 85). Particularly Khrushchev has pursued the policy of making the vast territory of the Kazakh and Uzbek SSR's an agricultural and industrial stronghold. In the latter, two thirds of the total Soviet cotton crop is raised. The native population is apparently decreasing while the European-Russian population has been moving in in large groups since World War II.

During World War II particularly the Ukrainian population, including many Mennonites and others of German background, were forcibly sent to Soviet Central Asia and other parts of north and east Russia. Later when those who had been taken along with the German army into Germany were repatriated in 1943 by the Soviet army, they were also sent here. Many were sent into the coalmines of the Karaganda region. Klaus Mehnert (189) estimated that one million persons of German background were living in Soviet Asia in the late 1950s.

In the spring of 1954 many hundreds of thousands of people were sent to the Kazakh SSR for agricultural work in the Khrushchev program; some 18,000,000 hectares of land were to be made arable.

The Canadian Mennonite papers contain significant information on the location, life, and activities of the Mennonites in Central Asia. One reporter states that when the German army moved into the Ukraine in 1941, the Mennonites were put into freight cars and sent to the Kustanai region of the Kazakh SSR, arriving there in November 1941. However, the men were drafted in January 1942, and the women and children left to take care of themselves under very primitive conditions (Mennonitische Rundschau [Sept. 19, 1956]: 1). The largest concentration of Mennonites in Central Asia is in the Kazakh SSR, the main centers being the region and city of Karaganda. In 1955 the Karaganda Baptist Church had 1,000 members, two thirds of whom were of German background and mostly Mennonites. The Mennonites had previously worshiped separately. The leader of the eight ministers of the church is a Russian Baptist, three are Mennonites, and two are Lutherans. They meet four times a week and have communion services the first Sunday of each month. Every Sunday they have two German sermons. Smaller meetings take place in Mennonite homes. Thirty families had received Bibles from Mennonites in America. The Russian Baptist magazine, Bratsky Vestnik, published in Moscow, in its report on the dedication of the Baptist Church of Karaganda on 18 November 1956, says that 133,000 rubles and much voluntary labor had been spent on enlarging and remodeling the church. The Moscow representative, who came by plane to take part in the activities, reports that he visited a Peters family who lived in an attractive home with a nice garden. Peters was working in the mines and earned enough to permit his wife to devote her time to church work.

When H. S. Bender and David B. Wiens visited Soviet Central Asia a little later, they met some of the Mennonites of this area, particularly of Karaganda and Alma-Ata. The latter also has a large Baptist church in which Mennonites worship. Orie O. Miller, who visited this area in 1958, also made several contacts with the Mennonites. All reports, written and oral, confirm that living conditions, including freedom to move from one place to another, choice of occupation, freedom to worship, have improved considerably. In some instances Mennonites have organized congregations, but these have not been officially registered and approved by the Department of Cults. In some cases, because of local pressure, the meetings have been discontinued. A recent letter reports that a Mennonite baptismal service was stopped when the police arrested the officiating minister. The congregation remained together praying for the minister, and he returned after a few hours (Der Bote [Oct. 8, 1958]: 4). In general, the Mennonites have suffered with others of German background because of their German culture and language during and after World War II. There are indications that today, at least in some places, there is less discrimination.

Mennonites in this area can be found in almost any occupation, but many of them were originally men and women forced to work in the mines. A letter (Mennonitische Rundschau [Nov. 9, 1955]: 2-3) from Stalinabad says that some of the members of a certain family are working in a hospital, one works as a nurse in a clinic, another in a print shop, still another is a railroad engineer, while others are tailors and chauffeurs. They raise two crops a year. They attend the Baptist church of the city, and some sing in the choir. Orie O. Miller visited Stalinabad in 1958 and found these reports confirmed. -- Cornelius Krahn

1990 Article

About one quarter (the western portion) of the former Soviet land mass was commonly regarded as being part of Europe. The rest was often spoken of as Asiatic Russia, i.e., the eastern three quarters which fit geographically into Asia. Soviet Central Asia referred then to a group of republics in the south central part of the Soviet Union. Their population was largely Muslim. The republics of Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenia formed the core of this region.

The entire area came under firm tsarist control in the later decades of the 19th century. Some Mennonites came to settle in the vicinity of Khiva in the present republic of Uzbekistan around 1885 when Claas Epp of the Am Trakt settlement led a group to settle near Ak Metchet. Many of the families who came here soon moved on to North America, or returned to their home communities in Russia. Those who remained eventually had to relocate near the border of China further east and south. Descendants of the group reside there in 1987.

Soviet Central Asia became the home for hundreds of thousands of Germans when they were forced to relocate during World War II as "enemies of the people" and placed under a "special regime" (Spetskomandantura). Others who had been consigned to prisons and work camps farther north during this time joined families and acquaintances in the more climatically congenial cities and larger towns of the south when the restrictions on ethnic Germans ended in 1955. Most of the major cities of Central Asia—Tselinograd, Karaganda, Pavlodar, Dzhambul, and Alma Ata in Kazakhstan; Frunze in Kirgizia; Tashkent in Uzbekistan; Dushanbe in Tadzhikistan—had sizable German Catholic, Lutheran, or Mennonite communities in their vicinity in the 1980s.

During the early years of reconstruction following World War II, many Mennonites, scattered as they were, simply joined growing Baptist congregations which were registered with the government right after the war (All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians–Baptists). When the Initiativniki schism came in the early 1960s (Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists), some Mennonites joined the new unregistered groups, and continued, often in leadership positions, to participate this way right to the 1980s. Several of the largest registered Baptist congregations in Central Asia, e.g., those at Karaganda, Kant, Alma Ata, Frunze, and Tashkent, retained significant German segments in their memberships. Sometimes separate services were held to accommodate these families, and former Mennonites found leadership posts here as well.

The foremost Mennonite Brethren congregations of Soviet Central Asia were found in Karaganda and Novopavlovka near Frunze, with some unregistered congregations also at Dzhambul and other places. The Kirchliche Mennonite groups were strongest in Karaganda (400 members, 1987), Alma Ata (150 members), and Tokmak, near Frunze (225 members). They had additional registered groups meeting at Politotdel, near Alma Ata; Dzhambul; and several other places, e.g., Romanovka, near Frunze. Many families of these groups immigrated to West Germany in the 1970s and a growing number left in the 1980s as well. -- Lawrence Klippenstein


Bankowski, Serguisz. Die Katholiken in der Sowjetunion. Zollikon, Switzerland: Glaube in den 2. Welt, 1981.

Bender, H. S. and D. B. Wiens. "Report on the Mission to Russia." Oct. 26-Nov. 16, 1956.

Bohren, Rudolf. Lutheraner in der Sowjetunion. Zollikon, Switzerland: Glaube in der 2. Welt, 1981.

Bolshaya Sovetskaya Encyclopedia. Moscow, 1947: 1843 ff., 1895 ff., 1905 ff., 1921 ff., 1883 ff.

Bratsky Vestnik (1956-58), (Moscow).

"Changes in the Population of the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1956." Bulletin, Institute for the Study of the USSR III (November 1956, No. 11): 30 ff.

Claassen, Virginia, Peter Neufeld, Vern Q. Preheim. "Glimpses of the Mennonites in Russia 1948-1957." Mennonite Seminar Study. Bethel College, 1957.

Kravchenko, A. "Collectivization in the Kirghiz SSR." Ukrainian Review (No. 4, Munich, 1957).

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 63-71.

Mehnert, Klaus. Asien, Moskau und Wir. Stuttgart, 1957: 174 ff.

Miller, Orie O. "Report on Trip to Soviet Russia, 1958."

Park, Alexander G. Bolshevism in Turkestan 1917-1927. New York, 1957.

Sawatsky, Walter. Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981.

Stackelberg, G. A. von. The Sovietisation of Turkestan (Studies on the Soviet Union I). Munich, 1957: 74 ff.

Stricker, Gerd. "Die Mennoniten in der Sowjetunion nach 1941. Ein Facette russlanddeutschen Kirchenwesens." Kirche im Osten 27 (1984): 57-98.

Stricker, Gerd with Walter Sawatsky. "Mennonites in Russia and the Soviet Union: An Aspect of the Church History of the Germans in Russia." Religion in Communist Lands 12 (Winter, 1984): 293-311.

Stricker, Gerd. "German Protestants in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union." Religion in Communist Lands 15, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 32-53.

Regarding "Karaganda" see:

Der Bote (March 2, 1955): 8; (Nov. 16, 1955): 7; (Jan. 25, 1956): 7; (Oct. 17, 1956): 7; (Oct. 31, 1956): 7; (Nov. 28, 1956): 7; Mennonitische Rundschau (June 9, 1948): 7; (Sept. 21, 1955): 5; (Sept. 28, 1955): 8; (Jan. 4, 1956): 2; (April 18, 1956): 8; (May 9, 1956): 5; (July 4, 1956): 8; (July 25, 1956): 5; (Dec. 12, 1956): 3; (July 25, 1956): 15.

For "Stalinabad" see:

Mennonitische Rundschau (Nov. 5, 1954): 3; (Nov. 23, 1955): 5.

For "Tashkent" see:

Mennonitische Rundschau (July 7, 1954): 11.

For "Tadzhik SSR" see:

Mennonitische Rundschau (April 27, 1955): 6.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Lawrence Klippenstein
Date Published 1990

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Krahn, Cornelius and Lawrence Klippenstein. "Soviet Central Asia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 27 May 2022.

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Krahn, Cornelius and Lawrence Klippenstein. (1990). Soviet Central Asia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 May 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 590-591, Vol. 5, p. 848. All rights reserved.

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