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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09ASHGABAT797 2009-06-25 07:09:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

AVAILABILITY OF QURAN IN TURKMENISTAN

Tags:   KIRF PGOV SOCI SCUL TX 
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3038
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000797 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PGOV SOCI SCUL TX
SUBJECT: AVAILABILITY OF QURAN IN TURKMENISTAN



1. (U) Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet
distribution



2. (SBU) SUMMARY: A survey of bookstores in central
Ashgabat to check the availability of the Quran, the holy
book of Muslims, revealed that the book was practically
unavailable in state stores except for rare cases of
second-hand copies. The only other places where the
Quran could be bought were at an Iranian bookshop and
from a private bookseller. During the visit to the
Iranian store, the clerk explained that to import and
sell the Quran in Turkmenistan, the store needed approval
by the Presidential Council on Religious Affairs. In a
predominantly Muslim society, the unavailability of the
Quran for purchase seems to be an anomaly. The
authorities' strict control over the availability of
religious literature, including Islamic literature,
highlights the state's insecurity about the impact that
the unrestricted practice of religion could have on the
current status quo in Turkmen society. END SUMMARY.

UNAVAILABILITY OF QURAN IN STATE BOOKSTORES



3. (SBU) On June 19, Embassy Political Assistant visited
bookstores in central Ashgabat to check the availability
of the Quran for purchase by the public. Having visited
four bookstores, including an Iranian bookshop, the Quran
was found in only two stores, a relatively large, well-
stocked state bookstore and the Iranian shop. The state
store offered second-hand copies of the Quran in Arabic,
Russian and Turkish languages in big and small sizes,
with prices ranging from 400,000 to 600,000 non-
denominated Turkmen manats, around USD 28-43. According
to the saleslady, the books were brought in by a private
owner. The Qurans were not openly displayed on the
counter, but had to be asked for. Then the saleslady
brought them from a hard-to-see corner shelf and removed
them from a cloth covering. When asked whether those
copies of the Quran were the only ones available, the
saleslady nodded and said that they usually do not have
copies of the Quran for sale.

QURAN IN IRANIAN SHOP



4. (SBU) The Iranian shop sells not only the Quran, but
other items of a religious character such as prayer rugs,
souvenirs with Arabic inscriptions, and shawls. It was
the only store in the city that had the Quran in
English. This translation, subtitled "The First American
English Translation" by T.B. Irving, was printed in
Tehran and cost 250,000 non-denominated Turkmen manats
(about USD 18). The book also included Arabic text on
each page. The salesman said the shop previously had
copies in Arabic, but they had already sold out. When
asked whether the store expected a new shipment, the man
said he did not expect any in the near future because "in
order to be sold in the store, importation of the Quran
requires approval by the [Presidential] Council on
Religious Affairs." However, he did not know precisely
who approves or disapproves religious literature coming
into the country's bookstores, nor did he know based on
which criteria.

PRIVATE BOOKSELLER



5. (SBU) Visiting another state bookstore that did not
have the Quran, Political Assistant asked the salesperson
where in the city one could buy a copy. The saleslady
provided the telephone number of an individual who might
have copies for sale. The person contacted was a Russian
man living in Turkmenistan who is a private book dealer
and often travels to Russia to attend book fairs. He
said he had several versions of the Quran: one version in

ASHGABAT 00000797 002 OF 002


Russian translation, one version with both Russian and
Arabic text, and three versions in Arabic in different
sizes, including a pocket size. His book prices ranged
from 150,000 to 1,400,000 non-denominated Turkmen manats
which is around USD 11-100. When asked whether there was
a Turkmen translation of the Quran, the book dealer said
he did not have any in Turkmen language. According to
him, "the Quran in Turkmen translation was published only
once in the 1990s," however, he noted that people say
"the translation does not correspond well to the Arabic
text."



6. (SBU) COMMENT: Officials of the Presidential Council
on Religious Affairs frequently mention during official
meetings that the majority of Turkmenistan's population
is Muslim. In a country where the majority of people are
Muslims, it seems to be an anomaly that it is so
difficult to buy the Quran in Arabic, not to mention its
Turkmen translation. The scarcity of the Quran suggests
that the government is concerned about the effect that
the holy book's widespread availability could have if
people were able to read the Quran themselves and compare
its teachings with current social life and state policy.
In addition, its unavailability could be related to the
authorities' policy of equally restricting access to
religious literature for all religious groups.



7. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: In general, the majority of
Turkmen have a Quran in Arabic in their homes. Even if
they cannot read Arabic, the fact of having the holy book
is believed to protect a family from evil and misfortune.
For an explanation of the Quran, most people rely on
imams, who are appointed by the Council on Religious
Affairs at national, provincial, city and district
levels. The scarcity of the Quran in a familiar language
leaves people little choice but to turn to the state-
appointed imams for the "correct" interpretation of the
book, a further sign of the government's policy of strict
control over religious life in the country. END COMMENT.

MILES