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LOCATIONS: Samarkand; Uzbekistan
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Abstract:
Since repression of religion ended in the USSR, Baha'is in former Soviet territories resumed practice of their faith and become curious about their history, most of which had been destroyed. This article is an early step at rediscovering this history.
Notes:
This article written in English in 1997 and published in Dutch in 2004.

Preliminary History of the Bahá'í Community of Samarkand, Uzbekistan

by Duane L. Herrmann and Hasan T. Shodiev

published in Bahá'í Vizier
The Netherlands: 2004 Winter

The recent rise of independent nations in eastern Europe and central Asia has created the opportunity for Bahá'í communities in those areas to flourish. In many cases these Bahá'í communities had existed before the Soviet campaign to eliminate religion and are now getting a new lease on life. These Bahá'í communities, however, have lost much of their history, all records and traces having been destroyed by the Soviet authorities. One such example is the Bahá'í community of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Samarkand (earlier spelled: Samarqand) is the second largest city of Uzbekistan. The nation of Uzbekistan was created in the geographic region of Turkestan, the area of Central Asia primarily populated by the Uzbek people who speak an offshoot of Turkish. Samarkand lies in the Zeravshan River valley in the southeastern part of the country.

The city is one of the ancient capitals of the world. In the fourth century BCE, with a different name, it was the capital of Sogdiana and was captured and defeated by Alexander the Great. For the next thousand years its fortunes rose and fell as it was fought over, conquered and ruled by one outsider after another. It was conquered by Muslim Arabs in 700 and has remained Muslim to this day. It was a major city on the Silk Road that, for centuries, linked China with the west. The knowledge of papermaking was learned by Arabs of Samarkand from Chinese prisoners in the mid 700s and from there was taken to Europe. In 1220, the city was captured and destroyed by Genghis Khan. One hundred fifty years later it was ruled by Timur the Great and became a fabled city of the European Middle Ages. In the west Timur was known as Tamerlane. Beginning at this time and continuing for several centuries, Samarkand was the most important economic and cultural center of Central Asia.

It is from the time of Timur that the most magnificent of Samarkand's buildings date, most especially the mosque of Bibi Khanum (Timur's Chinese wife) and his own tomb. Other remarkable tombs and public buildings were built in succeeding years. Registan Square, remains an excellent example of Central Asian town planning, the square is formed with a different but equally magnificent medreseh (Muslim schools) on three of the four sides. Many public monuments in the city are known for their impressive portal entrances and decorations in mosaic, gold, marble and majolic. From this high point, over the next two hundred years, the city gradually declined.

In 1868 the modern history of Samarkand began with occupation by Russian troops and its incorporation into the Russian Empire. The Russians changed the character of the city by destroying its fortress wall with six imposing city gates, but could not change the city plan of the Middle Ages with the streets converging from the edge of the city to the center. Around the ancient city a new city was built including new industries, an opera house, theaters, a state university (founded 1933) and other institutions for higher education in agriculture, medicine and commerce.

For six years Samarkand was the capital of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan which had been created in 1924; after that the capital was moved to Tashkent, now the largest city of the country.

In 1991, for the first time, the area became independent of any outside authority. As the twenty-first century opens efforts are being made to develop the economy and integrate it into that of the rest of the world.

Some information about the early years of the Bahá'í communities formerly within the Soviet orbit did reach the west before the Iron Curtain fell and that information can help those Bahá'í communities recover their past. This in one such attempt.

When Dr. Hasan Shodiev of the State University of Samarkand visited Topeka, Kansas in 1999, he was surprised to find information which had been published in English about the Bahá'í community of Samarkand in the early years of the twentieth century. From those fragments, and his memories, the following brief outline of the history of the Samarkand Bahá'í community has been created. As further investigation continues more information will be found. Before coming to Kansas, Dr. Shodiev had not dreamed such a possibility as even this could exist.

This account is a gift of love for the Bahá'ís of Samarkand.

To reconstruct the history of a former time is always difficult. To reconstruct a history after more than half a century of oppression is even more difficult. It is hoped that this account will serve as stimulus for future research. Any really comprehensive history will take decades of research into such various places as personal and family archives and Soviet prison records.


Part I

The first Bahá'í known to visit Samarkand was Mirza Abu'l-Fadl-i-Gulpaygani. He had been born in 1844, the same year as the declaration of the Bab and the beginning of the Bahá'í Era. He was a noted Islamic scholar whose expertise was recognized by his appointment as Head of the Masrisiy-i-Marar-i-Shah (religious college of the Mother of the Shah). In 1876 he accepted the truth of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh as a result of the sterling arguments of a simple, though perceptive, believer.[1.]

In consequence, he was dismissed from the madrish and imprisoned for five months, the first of several periods of imprisonment, one being nearly two years in length. After release from his third arrest, he received a tablet from Bahá'u'lláh urging him to travel and teach; so he spent the rest of his days in that manner. His travels eventually took him to most of the Bahá'í communities of the world; in Asia he traveled as far east as China, north to Moscow and west to Egypt, then to western Europe and America. The first conversions of large numbers of Iranian Jews occurred as a result of his writing.[2.] His death in 1914, 'Abdu'l-Bahá described as a "mighty calamity."[3.]

In 1888 Gulpaygani was in Ishqabad where he assisted representatives of the Czar in the investigation into the murder of several Bahá'ís that year. When the government officials arrested the culprits and set punishment, Russia became the first civil authority in history to offer to Bahá'ís the protection of the law. The Bahá'ís interceded and the sentences were reduced. After the matter was closed Gulpaygani traveled from Ishqabad to Samarkand and other cities in the region.[4.] The result of his teaching efforts launched the Bahá'í community of Samarkand.

By 1890 Gulpaygani was in Samarkand. One western writer visualized him in these years as, "haunt(ing) the dusty book bazaars of once-golden Samarkand..."[5.] He remained there for several years nurturing and instructing the new Bahá'í community.

In his memoirs Gulpaygani recalled his literary work at the time, "in the year 1890, when in Samarkand, I revised it (Shar'ne-Ayate-Mowarrakhe), and manuscript copies were sent to different parts." [6.] This work (it's English title being: "An Accounty of the Texts, giving dates") was described by Gulpaygani as, "a brief treatise in reply to the request of the prince of the Jewish Bahá'ís," and contained, "an interpretation of those verses of the Heavenly Books, of the Old and New Testament, the Quran, the Zend Avesta of the Parsees, which contain indications of the date of the Appearance of the Cause of God."[7.] This work is not yet widely known in the West.

Gulpaygani involved himself in the intellectual life of the city. One episode he was engaged in was later described by him in the introduction to another work not widely available in the West. Information about this incident is related in the introduction to another book of his, "In 1892, Mirza-Abul-Fazl wrote, in Samarkand, the book entitled Fass-ul-Khetab (The Conclusive Proof), in answer to questions asked by Mirza-Heydar-Ali of Trabriz, one of the learned men of Azerbeyjan. This book he wrote in the style of the doctor's of theology, and in the introduction is given an account of the controversy in Samarkand between himself and Dr. Marcard Assadorian, a Protestand teacher, in a meeting held by men of learning."[8.]

In The Conclusive Proof, Gulpaygani proposed "the Proof of Stability" to demonstrate "the essence of the Self-existent One." This has been considered to be "one of the greatest and clearest logical arguments for proving the Divine validity of the religions and demonstrating the Essence of the Almighty. By a single rational proof, it demonstrates both the existence of God and the truth of the true Prophets."[9.] As yet it is little-known in the west. It was at this time that he also proved conclusively that The New History, a spurious document claiming to be a history of the Babi Faith, is neither accurate nor reliable. This literary productivity of Gulpaygani while in Samarkand gives the city a significant place in the literary history of the Bahá'í Faith.

In his survey of the first one hundred years of the Bahá'í Revelation, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith specifically hailed the establishment of the Bahá'í community in Samarkand as a significant achievement and result of the teaching and writings of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl and Fadil-i-Qaini, applauding "…the establishment of new outposts of the Faith in far-off Samarqand and Bukhara, in the heart of the Asiatic continent in consequence of the discourses and writings of the erudite Fadil-i-Qa'ini and the learned apologist Mirza Abu'l-Fadl…"[10.]

While many facets of the early Bahá'í Community of Samarkand may never be known, some activities and developments were reported to the West and can be known. By mid 1910 a Spiritual Assembly had been "recently formed," and, as with the Bahá'ís in Chicago for a brief time, a "woman's assembly," whose members were eager for news from the West, was also organized. During 1910 & 1911 seven letters from Samarkand were reported as being received by the editors of Star of the West, the Bahá'í magazine, as well as 15 subscriptions. Only eight other communities in "Russia" responded similarly; they were "Bakou, Mary, Batoum, Eshkabad, Cocand, Tiflis, Shamatchi, and Salcyan."[11.]

In these years a school for both girls as well as boys had been organized, a remarkable action considering the time and place. The school and regular community meetings (two each week for inquirers and two more for believers) were held in "a fine house." The house was considered only a temporary measure. Permission had been requested from the government to build a Mashirqu'l-Adhkar, the Dawning Place of the Praise of God, for the community to worship in. They were eager to follow the example of the Bahá'ís of Ishqabad who were nearly finished erecting the first House of Worship of the Bahá'í world.[12.]

The government of the time was well disposed toward the Bahá'í community. An American Bahá'í who had recently traveled though the region relayed an account of his trip to the "Third National Peace Congress," in Baltimore, Maryland on 6 May 1911. This was reported LATER in Star of the West. There Mason Remey, the American, recounted that, "In Southern Russia and Turkistan I have visited Assemblies of Bahais. In these territories the (Bahá'í) movement is protected by the Russian government, for it is understood that the Bahais stand for Peace and are in no way connected with the many revolutionary movements which continually keep those countries in a state of unrest."[13.]

The contents of two letters from believers in Samarkand were summarized in different issues Bahai News, and quoted in their entirety here.

In the 4 November 1910 issue: "God be praised! We are supremely happy to have lived in this day to see with our own eyes the actual realization of unity between the East and the West embodied in the appearance of the Occidental Messenger (the Persian language section of Bahai News/Star of the West). The distance between Chicago and Samarkand, Asia and America are thousands of miles, and yet the mighty words of Bahá'u'lláh have united the two continents. We hope that this publication will continue to shed its light upon the world for all the years to come. Lately a Spiritual Assembly has been organized here. A school for both boys and girls has also been started, and Mirza Mohamad Sabet has come to instruct them. We have applied to the Russian government for permission to buy land on which to build a Mashrak-el-Azkar, although at present we have a fine house where we hold our weekly meetings and where the school is conducted. God willing, it will be started soon."[14.]

In the 19 January 1911 issue: "Through the appearance of the Star of the West a new spirit has been infused into the hearts of the Oriental Bahais. Praise be to God! that the Words of Truth are promulgated, the friends and strangers become as one, and the principles of this Cause and the Teachings of this Universal Religion become known to all the inhabitants of the world. When this publication appeared among us we realized the foundation of the Bahai community had been laid, for a community without a literary organ is like the illiterate man who cannot express the thoughts of his mind and the emotions of his heart. We hope that through it, the East and the West, the North and the South become united, and that unity and love be established among the children of men, that all the believers of the earth become like links of one chain and perfume the nostrils like until a bouquet of hyacinths and roses.

"Although in the beginning, some difficulties may arise, yet with firmness great services will be accomplished, the seed will produce a harvest and the branch will grow into a mighty tree. God willing, the organizers of this publication should not encounter many difficulties for undoubtedly all the Bahais will endeavor to support it, that it may become the first publication in the world.

"We have four meetings a week, two for the public and two for the believers. Our woman's assembly is composed of energetic and loving souls and they are very anxious to correspond with their sisters in the West."[15.]

When 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote the individual letters and cards that comprise the Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1916-1917, calling the believers to arise and teach the Faith around the world, He mentions "Asiatic Russia," which includes Samarkand, as one region needing Bahá'ís to travel through to encourage and support the Bahá'ís there. He promised, "Likewise if some teachers go to other parts, such as the continent of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, also to Japan, Asiatic Russia, Korea, French Indo-China, Siam, Straits Settlements, India, Ceylon and Afghanistan, most great results will be forthcoming."[16.] Some few believers did respond but no reports have been found of any reaching Samarkand, in any case, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was concerned about the believers there.

He also wrote to them. One of His letters to the Spiritual Assembly of Samarkand was shared with believers in the rest of the world early in the twentieth century and included in Tablets of Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas. In the latter part of the twentieth century it was retranslated and published in Bahá'í World, vol XX. The tablet is very familiar to many readers: "O Friends of God!

"Do ye know in what cycle we are created and in what age ye exist? This is the age of the Blessed Perfection and this is the time of the Greatest Name! This is the century of the Manifestation, the age of the Sun of all horizons and the beautiful springtime of the Eternal one!

"The earth is in motion and growth; the mountains, hills and prairies are green and pleasant; bounty is overflowing; mercy universal; rain is descending from the clouds of compassion; the brilliant sun is shining; the full moon adorneth the etheral horizon; the great ocean-tide is flooding every little stream; gifts and favors follow one upon the other and a refreshing breeze is blowing, wafting the freagrant perfume of the blossoms.

"If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look?

"Boundless treasure is in the hand of the King of Kings! Lift up the hem of thy garmet to recieve it.

"This is the time for growing; the season for joyous gathering! Take the cup of Thy Testament in thy hand; leap and dance with ecstasy in the triumphal procession of the Covenant! Place your confidence in the everlasting bounty, turn to the presence of the generous God; ask assistance from the kingdom of Abha; seek confirmation from the Supreme world; turn thy vision to the horizon of eternal wealth; and pray for help from the Source of Mercy!

"Soon shall ye see the friends attaining their longed-for destination and pitching their tents, while we are but in the first day of our journey."[17.]

In light of later events, one wonders how much 'Abdu'l-Bahá knew about the rapidity with which many of the friends in the region would reach their "destination" beyond this life?

Strangely the Bahá'í community of Samarkand was not listed in the directory when the first volume of the Bahá'í World series was published which covered the years 1925-26. In the region of Turkistan, only the cities of Ishqabad, Tashkend, Qahqahih, Marv, and Tajan were mentioned. The second volume, for the years 1926-27, mentions Samarqand as one of seventeen cities of Turkistan where Bahá'í communities exist, no Assemblies were designated. The next five volumes, going to 1938, list Samarqand as being one of the eight cities of Turkistan with a Spiritual Assembly.

Because of changes and creation of new national boundaries, as well as changes in spelling of names of cities, it is not easy now to determine which of the previous cities with Bahá'í communities are part of which present countries. Some progress toward this determination has been made. Cities now in Uzbekistan which previously had Spiritual Assemblies include Bukhara, Samarqand and Tashkent. Smaller Bahá'í communities has been started in Andijan, Khawqand (added in 1931-32 and now spelled Kokand), and Marqilan.[18.] Research will continue in this area.


Part II

Beginning in the late 1920s the Soviet government turned against the Bahá'í community within its borders. One complaint was that most of the Bahá'ís were of Persian nationality and so they were considered "foreign agents." The other was the Soviet policy to suppress religion in all its forms. Most of the information to reach the west from this time came through the Spiritual Assembly of 'Ishqabad. The Assembly explained, "correspondence with these centers (in Turkistan) is more easily handled through 'Ishqabad, the central point."[19.]

That was effective as long as the 'Ishqabad Bahá'í community was able to function, but the Soviet authorities could not let it continue. Various measures were taken to discredit and destroy the Bahá'í community. In 1930, two years after the House of Worship in 'Ishqabad had been seized, two anti-Bahá'í pamphlets were published in the Soviet Union. One, simply called Bahá'íism was produced by a commercial publisher, the other: Bahá'íism – a New Religion of the East, was published by the Leningrad Oriental Institute (this arm of the government was later given the opportunity to redeem itself). The article in the Small Soviet Encyclopedia, which appeared three years later, also attacked the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh as being a puppet of western imperialism.[20.]

Through mass arrests, imprisonments, deportation and exile, the effectiveness of the Bahá'í community was crippled. After the House of Worship in 'Ishqabad was seized it was eventually leased back to the Bahá'í community under harsh restrictions requiring extensive financial expenses. The local community responded sacrificially until it was too weak to respond at all. In 1936, when the Spiritual Assembly there had to appeal to all the believers in Turkistan and Caucasus for financial assistance, we can be confident that the believers in Samarkand responded as much as they were able.[21.]

In 1938 the doors of the House of Worship in 'Ishqabad were closed permanently to Bahá'í use and more than 500 Bahá'ís were arrested. Many of these died, most of the rest were expelled to Persia, though some were sentenced to exile and camps in Siberia. The long dark night had begun.[22.]

After World War II, anti-Bahá'í articles continued to be published, including the entry in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. In it the Faith was charged with being too international. These attacks are evidence that even in its crippled and nearly extinguished state, the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh remained a threat.

The Bahá'ís of Samarkand were not exempt from this persecution. Many were deported to Iran while others were sentenced to periods of exile in Siberia for the crime of their belief. Those who remained could not meet together in groups of more than two or three at a time. Matters of belief became personal and very private, Feasts and holy days could only be observed by members of families together. To outward appearances the Bahá'í community of Samarkand had ceased to exist.

A western observer of the relationship between the Soviet government and its religious communities concluded that the Bahá'í Faith was "dangerous to Communism because of its broadmindedness, its tolerance, its international outlook, the attention it pays to women's education and its insistence on equality of the sexes. All this contradicts the communist thesis about the backwardness of religion."[23.]

Another Soviet concern was the Bahá'í community's success with youth. "A Bahá'í youth organization," it was observed, "which the communists nicked-named 'Bekhamol' was set up in Ashkabad. On account of its extensive cultural activities and supranational tendencies it was a serious competitor to Komsomal (the Soviet youth organization)."[24.]

These concerns justified Soviet action to crush the Bahá'í community. In addition the Bahá'í community was a threat to the Russian Orthodox Church because it spread not only among Persian immigrants in the Soviet Union, but to other population groups as well.[25.]

The Bahá'í world did not forget about their brothers and sisters shrouded in silence and oppression. The Directory of Bahá'í World vol.X,1944-46 lists Bahá'í communities surviving in Samarkand as well as Tashkent. Eventually direct contact ceased with the passage of years, not only with Bahá'ís in Uzbekistan, but many other areas under Soviet control. To ensure that these areas were within the orbit of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi listed Uzbekistan, and others, as needing to be opened to the Faith when he launched the World Crusade in 1953. The Bahá'ís who settled in these specific places would be listed on the Roll of Honor he had inscribed and would be known as Knights of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'ís of the world responded. Many went to the places listed, opened them to be part of the Bahá'í community and are now known as Knights of Bahá'u'lláh.

A few of these Bahá'ís were surprised on reaching their destination to find believers already there; this happened in several of the Soviet areas, Uzbekistan among them. For this reason, on the Scroll of Honor, listing the names of the Knights of Bahá'u'lláh, under Uzbekistan it reads, "Found to be already opened."[26.]

Shoghi Effendi, in planning the World Crusade knew the political restrictions involved, but he also knew that they would not be a permanent obstacle and included expansion of the Bahá'í community in those territories within the Soviet orbit. The populations in those regions would not be excluded from the divinely guided administrative order he was erecting throughout the world. He gave notice to the Bahá'ís of the world that, among other areas, they were now being called upon to "traverse the steppes of Russian or scatter throughout the wastes of Siberia..."[27.]

The Persian Bahá'í community was given the task of visiting and strengthening the Bahá'í community of Uzbekistan as well as that of four other Soviet Asian Republics. The specific goal for Uzbekistan was to have at least one functioning group of Bahá'ís in the country and individual believers in two other cities. This goal was achieved but that fact remained unknown until the time of this writing. In his Ridvan Message of 1955, Shoghi Effendi referred to the arrival of Bahá'ís in Uzbekistan, but their names and the cities to which they went could not yet be mentioned. At the end of the Crusade, in 1963, contact was reported with the small group of Bahá'ís in Tashkent and a lone believer in Fergana.[28.] Contact with the believers in Samarkand was not mentioned, though Baha''s did live there. Believers in these three cities indicate that the goal had been won.

During these decades of darkness, but not so often as to arouse suspicion, Mr. Ali-Akbar Nojee, a believer from 'Ishqabad, would visit Samarkand to see Mr. Tamhid Samarqandi and his son-in-law, Sadiq Monjazib, two of the few believers there. Together they would share such news as they knew of their fellow believers. Before these trips Mr. Nojee had spent twenty-five years in exile in the Siberian prison camp of Solovki; Tamhid Samarqandi himself, as well as his son-in-law, had been exiled for nine years. Their only crime was their faith. Isolated from the world, the individual believers of these Soviet areas struggled alone to maintain their faith borne up on prayers from believers in all other parts of the world who never forgot their struggle.

Aqa Muhammad-Sadiq Munjazeb was born born in 1902 in Mashad, Persia and embraced the Faith in Bahá'u'lláh in 1925. Four years later he pioneered to Samarkand where he spent the rest of his life except for two terms of imprisonment in Siberia which lasted a total of twelve years. When not in prison he traveled to encourage other Bahá'ís and teach the Faith in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. He had married Masiha Nekbat Samarkandi and together raised six children. He died a few months after witnessing his son-in-law, Hasan Shodiev, being elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of Uzbekistan in 1994.(29)

The first development plan of the Universal House of Justice (1964-1973) called for further strengthening of the small Bahá'í community in Uzbekistan with the goal of establishing one Spiritual Assembly and two localities. No Assembly was formed though there were Bahá'ís in Tashkent and Samarkand. The report of statistics at the end of the plan indicate one group and one locality, their names were not mentioned.

Outside observers of the Soviet Union continued to note the presence of Bahá'ís there. One reported that, "...the Ismailis, the Bahá'ís, the Yezidis and the Alli-Ilahis of Trans-Caucasia have no recognized administration. Nothing is known abroad of the internal life of these four bodies." [30.] It was not only the Bahá'í community that was aware of the plight of the believers behind the Iron Curtain.


Part III

To the astonishment of the world, communist governments, one after another, fell in the summer and fall of 1989. As the Soviet monolith began to crack hope for a different future began to emerge and Bahá'ís outside the Soviet Union were eager to respond. New and separate individual nations began to emerge from the former Soviet Union. For the first time in its history Samarkand belonged to an independent nation. One of the most ancient cities of the world was now a part of one of the youngest nations on earth.

With independence came many opportunities, one of the first to be seized upon was the re-formation of the Bahá'í community of Samarkand and the re-creation of the Spiritual Assembly after a lapse of some sixty years. The children and grand children of the earliest Bahá'ís who had clung to their Bahá'í identity quickly re-formed the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Samarkand in 1988.

In 1989 Mr. Muzaffar Nomdar, a member of the Finnish Bahá'í Community, made contact with Nargis Mondjazib, grand daughter of Mr. Tamhid Samarqandi, through the assistance of Professor Gertsinberg at the Oriental Institute in St. Petersburg. Dr. Gertsinberg was well acquainted with Mr. Tamhid Samarqandi as an eminent poet of Central Asia and knew his family was Bahá'í. Soviet authorities had once raided Samarqandi's home and taken away a truckload of papers and manuscripts in an attempt to stop his pen. As with many efforts of oppression, it failed. In 1995 a book of his poems was published in Tashkent with the help of a prominent physicist, Shavakat Vokhidov. Dr. Gertsinberg also knew there were other Bahá'ís in Samarkand and was willing to be the intermediary for contact. Needless to say, this contact was the cause of great rejoicing among the believers on Samarkand: the decades of darkness and isolation were ended!

Shortly after this, Zarifakhonum Taheri, with her daughter, Sapedeh, came from England to visit and encourage the Bahá'ís of Samarkand – further proof that the walls were truly down! Taheri's son, Sepher Tahiri remained in Uzbekistan to pioneer and build up the Bahá'í community. He is now an Auxiliary Board member there.

In 1990 the Universal House of Justice created a two year, auxiliary plan to the Four Year Plan then in progress. This supplementary plan assigned various western countries responsibilities for assisting the creation or resurrection of fledgling Bahá'í communities in the new nations emerging from Soviet control. Uzbekistan was among those assigned to Germany with the goal of establishing two Spiritual Assemblies (in Tashkent and Samarkand, both formerly had Spiritual Assemblies) and Bahá'ís in two other localities.[31.] In April of that year Hand of the Cause of God Ali Akbar Furutan visited Samarkand among many other cities during his return trip to Russia and met with friends who had been out of touch for decades. A photograph of this trip appears in The Bahá'í World vol. XX taken in the home of Mr. Mondjazib with Munavvar Ayatullakhonova also present (he is right of Mr. Furutan, she is on the left).[32.] Both were long-time believers who had held to their faith through the decades of darkness. Mr. Mondjazib died some time after the photograph but his wife and daughter and her family remain active believers.

Mr. Puzishkian was the first member of the German Bahá'í Community to visit Samarkand. He helped the local believers gather together and plan the election to reconstitute the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Samarkand. He also helped organize the first teaching projects to expand the membership of the Bahá'í community and encouraged those Bahá'ís who, for decades, had learned to fear open mention of the Faith, to overcome that fear. This is a healing process that will take a longer time for some than others. Mr. Puzishkian also helped find and finance the purchase of a suitable, though unfinished building to serve as a Bahá'í Center for the area. The efforts of local believers working together to renovate and finish the structure served as a unifying activity for the new community.

Lacking information about guiding principles, procedures or any experience, that first Assembly did not thrive. In 1991 the National Spiritual Assembly of the U.S.S.R. asked Dr. Ezzat Safapour to travel to central Asia to meet with the believers in several cities in the same situation – they knew they were Bahá'ís but knew very little about what it meant. This was the first contact of Bahá'ís in Samarkand with anyone from the Bahá'í community outside the Soviet Union.

Herald Mix, of Munich, Germany also helped to revive the Samarkand Bahá'í Community. He was a member of the translation committee appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Germany to translate and publish Bahá'í scripture and other literature into Uzbek and other languages of the Soviet Union. One of the first items to be translated was Pathway to Peace.[33.] Barnhardt Westerhoff was another German Bahá'í who helped in his capacity as a member of the international Bahá'í Esperanto League. During the next years the Bahá'í community of Samarkand was officially recognized by the government as an independent religion, a very significant development in this Muslim nation. The Bahá'í Faith is so highly regarded in some circles that the former President of Uzbekistan was reported to be, "deeply impressed and highly interested in the Faith after visiting the House of Worship in India then visiting Bahá'ís back in Uzbekistan."[34.]

A National Spiritual Assembly for the Soviet Union had been elected in 1991. The next year its territory was split due to the rise of independent nations from Soviet Republics. A Regional Spiritual Assembly for Central Asia (with its seat in Ishqabad) was created and included Uzbekistan with four other central Asian nations. A separate National Assembly was elected for Uzbekistan in 1994 with Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyah Khanum, wife of Shoghi Effendi, representing the Universal House of Justice.

The revived Bahá'í community of Samarkand quickly grew in size to more than 100 members. Now the Assembly is looking ahead to further growth and development. One project in that direction was launched in June 1995 when many believers gathered in Samarkand to teach the people of Karakalpakstan, its officials and other prominent people. This regional project attracted Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Turkmen & Kyrgyz Baha's.

During the summer of 1999 Dr. Shodiev, of the State University of Samarkand, undertook a business trip to the state of Kansas. He was surprised to find there a vibrant Bahá'í community almost as old as that of Samarkand with Bahá'ís who welcomed him into their hearts and homes. The Spiritual Assembly of Shawnee County invited Dr. Shodiev into its consultation about a possible partnership between the Spiritual Assemblies of Shawnee County and Samarkand. This may open a new field of international fellowship and cooperation. One unexpected result of the trip was this history.

The Bahá'í Community of Samarkand has overcome obstacles that would test any soul. These are history now - the future is unlimited.

Dr. Hasan Shodiev was Head of the Department of Intellectual Property and Scientific Information at Samarkand State University in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. He is one of the very few people who lived under Soviet domination to have embraced the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh while the Faith was still proscribed. He has been Bahá'í since 1986. When independence was achieved for Uzbekistan and the Bahá'í community could be reorganized, he was elected to the first Spiritual Assembly of Samarkand, and later to the first National Spiritual Assembly of Uzbekistan. He and his family now (2012) live in Waterloo, Canada where he has a position with Gaulph University.


SOURCES

    1. Star of the West, 2 May 1914 p.317

    2. ibid. p.318

    3. ibid. p.315. For more information on the life of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl see: H. M Balyuzi, Eminent Bahá'ís in the Time of Bahá'u'lláh (George Ronald, Oxford) 1985: p. 263-265; Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: Mazra'ia and Bahji, 1877-1892, (George Ronald, Oxford) 1987: p. 258-270; The Bahá'í World.

    4. Balyuzi, p.265.

    5. Juan R. Cole "Forward to Facsimile Edition," Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, The Bahá'í Proof (Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1983) p. vi.

    6. ibid. p.15.

    7. ibid.

    8. ibid. p.12 and Star of the West, 2 Mar 1914, p.318.

    9. The Bahá'í Proof, p.13.

    10. God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1965) 195.

    11. Star of the West, 8 Sept 1911 p.2

    12. For information on the House of Worship of Ishqabad see: Bahá'í World vol. XXII.

    13.Baha News, 5 June 1911, p.12.

    14. Bahai News 4 November 1910, p.9.

    15. Bahai News19 January 1911, p.18.

    16. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan (Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1977) 40 and Star of the West, Jan 19, 1920 (vol 10 #17) 308-09.

    17. Bahá'í World vol. XX, p. 27

    18. Bahá'í News (letter from Ishqabad re: correspondence)

    19. source of anti-Bahá'í articles

    20. Bahá'í News (appeal from Ishqabad for funds)

    21. Report of Iran NSA.

    22. Kolarz, Walter, Religion in the Soviet Union, (St Martins Press, New York: 1961) 470-473.

    23. ibid.

    24. ibid.

    25. ibid.

    26. Roll of Honor, insert to The Bahá'í World: Vol XX, 1986-1992, (Haifa, Bahá'í World Center: 1998).

    27. Messages to the Bahá'í World: 1950-1957, (Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1958) 37.

    28. The Bahá'í Faith, 1844-1963: Information, Statistical and Comparative, (Haifa, Bahá'í World Center: no date) p. 127.

    29. The BW 1994-95 (Haifa, Bahá'í World Center: 2000) p.315

    30. Alexandre Bennigsen, "Islam in the Soviet Union: The Religious Factor and the Nationality Problem," in Religion and Atheism in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, ed. Bohdan R. Bociurkiw and John W. Strong (London, Macmillan: 1975) p. 92-93.

    31. The Bahá'í World XX, p. 224.

    32. ibid. p.206.

    33. ibid. p 211.

    34. ibid. p 209.

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