Reaching the Nations

Regional Profile - Central Asia and the Caucasus

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 4,189,494 square km.  A region of stark contrasts in geography and climate, Central Asia and the Caucasus primarily consist of deserts, grasslands, rugged mountains, forest, lakes, and inland sea coastline.  Continental climate prevails in most areas and is characterized by little precipitation and extreme temperature variations.  The greatest precipitation occurs in mountainous areas.  Notable deserts include the Kyzyl Kum and Karakum.  Northern areas of Central Asia are primary semi-arid grasslands called steppe.  Major mountain ranges include the Caucasus, Tien Shan, Altay, Pamir, and Alay.  The Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea, Lake Balkhash, Lake Issyk-Kul, and Lake Sevan are the largest bodies of water whereas the Naryn, Syr Darya, Amu Darya, and Ertis are major rivers.  Earthquakes, drought, and flooding are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include excessive pesticide use, increasing soil salinity, pollution, fresh water scarcity, and the shrinking size of the Aral Sea caused by the redirection of rivers for irrigation.

Peoples

Uzbek: 33%

Kazakh: 12%

Azeri: 10%

Russian: 10%

Tajik: 10%

Georgian: 5%

Kyrgyz: 5%

Turkmen: 5%

Armenian: 4%

Karakalpak: 1%

Tatar: 1%

Ukrainian: 1%

German: 0.5%

other: 2.5%

Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Azeris, Kyrgyzs, Turkmen, Karakalpaks, and Tatars are Turkic ethnic groups.  Indo-European ethnic groups include Russians, Tajiks, Armenians,  Ukrainians, and Germans.  Georgians are Caucasian.  Other ethnicities include Uighur, Dagestani, Dungun, Kurd, Talysh, Greek, Belarusian, Korean, and Polish.

Population: 77,134,392 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.78% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.05 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 66.45 male, 74.09 female (2010)

Languages: Uzbek (32%), Kazakh (13%), Azerbaijani (11%), Russian (10%), Tajik (9%), Georgian (5%), Kyrgyz (5%), Turkmen (5%), Armenian (5%), Ukrainian (1%), Tatar (1%), German (1%), other (2%).  Official languages in the region include Armenian, Azerbaijani, Abkhaz, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek.  Up to 75% of Armenians in Armenia speak Russian as a second language.[1]  Russian is spoken as a first or second language by 95% of the population in Kazakhstan.  Russian is commonly used in business and government in most countries of the region.  Languages with over one million speakers in the region include Uzbek (24.4 million), Kazakh (10.8 million), Azerbaijani (8.6 million), Russian (7.9 million), Tajik (7.2 million), Georgian (3.9 million), Kyrgyz (3.6 million), Turkmen (3.6 million), Armenian (3.6 million), Ukrainian (1.3 million), Tatar (1.2 million), and German (1.2 million).  Languages spoken by over 100,000 speakers but less than one million include Talysh (800,000), Karakalpak (510,000), Mingrelian (500,000), Uighur (380,000), Lezgi (370,000), Korean (304,000), Kurdish dialects (219,000), Belarusian (183,000), Polish (120,000), Osetin (105,000), and Abkhaz (101,000). 

Literacy: 98.8-100%

History

The Caucasus has a long and complex history.  Genesis states that Noah's Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4) which is identified with the mountain of the same name in modern Turkey near the Armenian border.  Greeks and Romans invaded areas of the Caucasus before the birth of Christ.  Nomadic tribes primarily of Turkic origin populated Central Asia since ancient times.  Persian tribes began populating and influencing Tajikistan and Azerbaijan as early as the birth of Christ and Azerbaijan was an ancient Zoroastrian center.  Islam began to spread into Central Asia during the seventh and eighth centuries.  The Samanid Empire was based in present-day Uzbekistan and heavily influenced much of Central Asia from the ninth to the thirteenth century.  The Mongols conquered Central Asia and the Caucasus during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, laying waste to once powerful Georgia.  Russian Tsar Alexander I defeated Napoleon's armies and conquered much of the Caucasus in the early nineteenth century.  Russia and Persia divided the Azeri homeland in half in 1828.  The Russian Empire conquered Central Asia in the nineteenth century, placed the region under colonial administration, and encouraged Russian settlers to colonize the territory and cultivate cotton.  During the late 1910s, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia each enjoyed a brief independence from Russia until becoming integrated into the Soviet Union.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the Central Asian republics became Soviet Socialist Republics.  Russian immigrants began arriving and settling Central Asia especially in the 1950s and 1960s when the USSR sought to rapidly increase agricultural output through the "Virgin Lands" program.  The program increased agricultural productivity somewhat but with drastic environmental consequences which continue today.  All nations in the region declared independence in 1991 upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Since independence, nations in the region have experienced a cultural, linguistic, and religious revival that been dominated by the predominant ethnic group of each nation; consequently many Russians have emigrated.  Relations with Russia remain positive for most nations in the region except Georgia.  Kazakhstan has enjoyed greater stability and economic prosperity than other former Soviet Republics in Central Asia since independence.  Political conditions remain the most unstable in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan due to ethnic conflicts, corruption, and recent civil war in Tajikistan.  Revolutions occurred in Georgia in 2003-2004 (the Rose Revolution) and in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 (the Tulip Revolution) and again in 2010.  Armenia and Georgia have attempted to strengthen their relations with the West in recent years.  Most nations have highly centralized governments and retain many of the societal controls, regulations, and infrastructure inherited from the Soviets.

Culture 

Zoroastrianism  and Christianity initially influenced areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia prior to the introduction of Islam.  In Central Asia, Turkic ethnic groups originally lived nomadic lifestyles on the steppes relying on livestock for survival.  Islam traditionally shaped local culture and customs, but decades of former Soviet rule have heavily influenced attitudes toward religion.  Russian and Soviet rule heavily influenced contemporary government, art, and theater. 

A revival of faith and indigenous cultural identity has begun to gather momentum in recent years.  Surrounded by Muslim nations or ethnic groups, Armenia and Georgia are among the world's oldest Christian nations and their cultures have endured for thousands of years.  The influence of The Armenian Apostolic and the Georgian Orthodox Churches remain strong in these nations today.  Commonly eaten foods in the Caucasus include soup, bread dishes, and vegetables.  Cuisine in Central Asia includes plov (pilaf), meat, green tea, nuts, fruit, meat, and soup.[2]  Azerbaijan continues to retain some aspects of the Zoroastrian faith notwithstanding the predominantly Muslim population as evident by the celebration of Novruz.  Several nations in the region are internationally renowned for carpet weaving, especially Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.  Cigarette consumption rates vary by nation from among the highest in the world to rates comparable to the world average.  Polygamy is illegal in all nations in the region.

Economy

Average GDP per capita: $6,100 (2009) [13% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.661

Corruption Index: 2.4

Most nations in Central Asia have underdeveloped economies and national infrastructure, which combined with a landlocked location and high rates of corruption seriously restrict opportunities for trade and foreign investment.  Russia remains a major economic power in the region due to close proximity, usage of the Russian language in business, and a shared Soviet legacy.  The population overall is among the most well educated among non-industrialized nations, offering opportunities for future growth with skilled labor.  Tajikistan has the lowest HDI whereas Kazakhstan has the highest. 

Governments have struggled to diversify and privatize the economy, with the greatest success occurring in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.  Remittances from workers abroad often comprise a sizeable portion of the economy.  Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan rely heavily on oil, natural gas, and mineral exploitation for revenue leading to sporadic economic growth that is dependent on world prices.  Several new oil pipelines were completed since 2000 which has made Central Asian and Caucasian oil more available internationally.  Oil, natural gas, valuable minerals, precious metals, farmland, and hydropower are abundant natural resources.  Agriculture and services employ approximately one-third to one-half of the labor force in all nations in the region.  Fruit, vegetables, livestock, cotton, grains, tea, and tobacco are primary agricultural products.  The percentage of the GDP generated by industry is generally twice the percentage of the work force employed in industry generally due to high prices for exploited natural resources.  Major industries include oil, natural gas, mining, machinery, food processing, metallurgy, steel, iron ore, diamond processing, cement, chemicals, textiles, and aircraft manufacturing.  Primary trade partners include Russia, China, Ukraine, and Turkey.

Corruption is perceived as widespread and a serious issue that has destabilized the economy on all levels and has instigated political turmoil.  A few individuals, their families, and close associates often control national and local economies.  There has been little improvement in addressing corruption in the region and Georgia appears to have experienced the greatest progress.  Governments often control civil liberties and maintain economic regulations that dissuade foreign investment.  In Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, corruption is most apparent in the police force and the judicial system.[3][4]  Most governments lack transparency regarding legislation and expenditures.  Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are regarded as the most corrupt nations in the region and are transshipment points for illicit Afghan drugs.  In Uzbekistan, regional human trafficking of girls and women for commercial sexual exploitation and of men for forced labor in construction, cotton, and tobacco industries is a major problem.  Child labor is a serious concern, especially in cotton harvesting.[5] 

Faiths

Muslim: 72%

Christian: 24%

other: 4%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Russian Orthodox  ~10,600,000

Georgian Orthodox  ~4,000,000

Armenian Apostolic  ~3,000,00

Catholic  403,450

Jehovah's Witnesses  55,000+  262+  

Greek Orthodox  15,000

Seventh Day Adventists  8,335  117

Latter-day Saints  3,300  20

Latter-day Saint and Jehovah's Witness figures are approximations.

Religion

Virtually all ethnic groups in the Caucasus and Central Asia have strong ethno-religious ties with Orthodox/Apostolic Christianity or Islam.  With the exception of Armenia and Georgia, nations in the region are traditionally Muslim.  Nearly 90% of Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church whereas over 80% of the Georgian population is Georgian Orthodox.  Muslims comprise 75% or more of the population in Azerbaijan (93%), Tajikistan (90%), Turkmenistan (89%), Uzbekistan (88%), and Kyrgyzstan (75%).  The Kazakhstani population is approximately half Muslim and half Christian.  Few Muslims are active in their faith, but a revival of Islam has occurred since independence in many of these countries through the funding and support of Islamic missionary groups from the Middle East.  Governments in several nations have attempted to limit their influence out of fear of the spread of fundamentalist Islamic ideals.  Success of Muslim proselytism efforts has been strongest among youth.  Slavic ethnic groups are Christian whereas Turkic ethnic groups are generally Muslim.  Christians are generally concentrated in the largest cities of predominantly Muslim countries and demonstrate low levels of religious participation.  Protestant Christians are concentrated among Germans and Koreans.  Nontraditional Christian groups are often marginalized and ostracized by society and the government.  Yezidi - a monotheistic religion which incorporates some aspects of nature worship - is followed by many Kurds in the region.[6]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitutions of all countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia protect religious freedom but most governments restrict this right.  Government restrictions on religious freedom are generally motivated out of desire to maintain social order and control and fear of the spread of militant Islam rather than for theological reasons.  Most countries require religious groups to have a minimum number of members to register, ranging from as few as five to as many as 200.  In Armenia and Georgia, the Armenian Apostolic and Georgian Orthodox Churches maintain special relations with the government and influence government policies and laws,[7][8] which has eroded some freedoms for religious minority groups regarding proselytism and assembly.  The status of religious freedom in Azerbaijan has steadily declined since independence as the government has prohibited proselytism, demanded re-registration for all religious groups, selectively granted registration to religious groups, required the registration of all individual congregations, and conducted raids on religious groups deemed a threat to society.[9]  In Central Asia, religious freedom is most severely limited in Turkmenistan as registered and unregistered religious groups alike are subject to restrictions on proselytism, owning property, the visits of foreign religious leaders, and the dissemination of religious material.[10]  Restrictions of religious freedom have also been severe in Uzbekistan as proselytism, importation or distribution of religious literature, private religious instruction, the wearing of religious clothing in public places by non-clergy, and teaching religious subjects in public schools are illegal.  Many unregistered religious groups have been subject to harassment, raids, and imprisonment, especially those that allegedly proselyte.[11]  In Kyrgyzstan, legislation protecting religious freedom has steadily eroded since independence, such as prohibiting the switching of one's religious affiliation, and barring youth and children from involvement in religious organizations.  In recent years, the government of Tajikistan has gained greater power in regularizing religious activities and legitimizes religious bans, surveillance, and restrictions to reduce the spread and influence of Islamic extremism.[12]  Several religious groups have been banned in Tajikistan, including Latter-day Saints.[13]  Religious freedom appears most prevalent in Kazakhstan as the only major requirement for religious groups is that they must register each individual congregation.  Generally Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Christians are the most heavily persecuted religious groups in the region, and most of this persecution has been instigated by local and national governments.  There have been few reported societal abuses of religious freedom in the region, although the media in most nations portrays nontraditional religious groups in a negative light.

Largest Cities

Urban: low (26% - Tajikistan); high (64% - Armenia)

Tashkent, Baku, Almaty, Yerevan, Tbilisi, Ashgabat, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Astana, Shymkent.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Four of the ten cities with over half a million inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  16% of the regional population resides in the ten most populous cities.

LDS History

The first LDS missionary activity to commence in the Caucasus and Central Asia or among ethnic groups indigenous to the region were Armenians in Turkey in the late nineteenth century.  These efforts were sporadic due to conflict in the region and by 1950 most of the Armenian converts lost contact with the Church or emigrated to the United States.[14]  In 1989, the Church announced that it would begin long-term assistance in Armenia rebuilding and distributing humanitarian aid following the severe 1988 earthquake.[15]  In June 1991, Elder Dallin H. Oaks dedicated Armenia for missionary work.[16]  The Armenia Yerevan Mission was created in 1999 from the Russia Rostov Mission.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Georgia for missionary work in March 1999.  Georgia was assigned to the Armenia Yerevan Mission shortly thereafter.[17]  In 2005, the Church registered with the Georgian government, allowing the first full-time proselytizing missionaries to be assigned in March 2006.  In 2008, missionaries assigned to Georgia were withdrawn for a nearly three months due to conflict with Russia.  As of early 2011, Azerbaijan remained unassigned to an LDS mission and was assigned to the Europe East Area.

The LDS Church was first introduced to Central Asia through American expatriate LDS families who first arrived in the late 1990s and lived in Almaty.  The first convert baptism occurred in November 1999[18] and Kazakhstan was included in the Europe East Area in 2000.  The Church received official recognition from the Kazakhstani government in December 2000[19] and the first branch was organized in 2001.  In 2002, half a dozen members serving in the United States military stationed in Kyrgyzstan held meetings in a tent used for religious services on a US military base.[20]  Elder Russell M. Nelson visited Central Asia in 2003, met with government leaders, and dedicated Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for missionary work.[21]  Full-time missionaries were first assigned to Kazakhstan in the early 2000s.  In the late 2000s, Kazakhstan was reassigned from the Russia Moscow Mission to the Russia Moscow West Mission.  Elder Paul Pieper represented the Church at a world religions conference held in Kazakhstan in the late 2000s.  The Church attempted to register with the Kyrgyzstani government in 2004 but was remained unregistered in early 2011.[22]  In 2007, Europe East Area President Elder Paul B. Pieper reported to the Inter Press Service News Agency that the LDS Church had a congregation in Dushanbe.[23]  In early 2010, Tajikistani government authorities reported that they banned the LDS Church as the request for re-registration was apparently not granted.[24]  In 2010, the Church reported that a small group for American military personnel met in Turkmenistan.[25]  As of early 2011, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan had not been assigned to a mission and were under the administration of the Europe East Area.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 3,300 (2009)

There were no known Latter-day Saints in the region in 1990.  In 2000, all countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia had fewer than 100 members with the exception of Armenia (792).  In 2009, there were approximately 3,300 members in the region, including 2,833 members in Armenia (86%), 184 members in Georgia (6%), and 141 members in Kazakhstan (4%).  Countries with less than 100 members in 2009 included Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan (4%).  In 2009, one in 23,400 was LDS in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  At the time, one in 1,047 was LDS in Armenia, one in 25,000 was LDS in Georgia, and one in 109,600 was LDS in Kazakhstan. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 18 Groups: 5+

In early 2011, the LDS Church reported independent branches operating in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.  Only home groups for expatriate members were operating in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  The first branch in the Caucasus was organized in Yerevan, Armenia in 1994.  In 1995, the first district was organized in Yerevan.  Additional cities opened for missionary work in Armenia during the 2000s included Ararat, Ashtarak, Charentsavan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Alaverdi.  The first home group in Georgia was organized in Tbilisi in 2001 and the group became a branch the following year.  A second branch in Tbilisi was organized in 2007.  By early 2011, there were two districts, 15 branches, and several home groups in Armenia and two mission branches in Georgia.  There have been no reports of an LDS group ever operating in Azerbaijan.

A home group began functioning in Almaty, Kazakstan in the late 1990s.  The group became the first LDS branch in Central Asia in 2001.  During the 2000s a home group operated periodically in Astana.  In early 2011, four full-time missionaries opened Astana for missionary work but faced delays obtaining government accreditation.  Home groups operating in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are for expatriates and American military servicemen.  A home group functioned in Dushanbe, Tajikistan for a period in the 2000s but did not appear to operate in early 2011.

Activity and Retention

LDS convert baptisms appear to have only occurred in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.  Nationwide church meetings in Armenia have been traditionally well attended.  800 of the 2,000 Latter-day Saints in Armenia attended a meeting with Elder M. Russell Ballard in 2006[26] and in 2008, 700 members assembled to witness the creation of a second member district.  The number of active members varies by branch in Armenia from as few as 20 to as many as 75.  There were approximately 70 active members in Kazakhstan in early 2011.  During the 2009-2010 school year, 231 were enrolled in seminary and institute in Armenia (8% of total church membership) and 19 were enrolled in Georgia (10%).  Kazakhstan appears to have the highest percentage of active church members (50%) whereas Armenia appears to have the lowest (20%).  Active LDS membership for Central Asia and the Caucasus is estimated at 700, or 20% of total church membership. 

Finding

Missionaries serving in Kazakhstan in 2010 reported that many investigators were found through  teaching English, piano lessons.  Missionary street contacting has also been helpful in finding new investigators in Kazakhstan, whereas in Armenia finding new investigators generally occurs on a member referral and self-referral basis as street contacting is prohibited.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Armenian (East), Russian, German, Arabic, Korean, Armenian (West), Farsi

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Armenian (East), Russian, German, Arabic, and Korean.  The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon selections, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are translated in the western dialect of Armenian, which is spoken outside of Armenia.  Georgian LDS materials include Gospel Fundamentals, several church declarations and proclamations, Book of Mormon stories, the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Articles of Faith, and limited numbers of family history and teaching resources.  Kazakh LDS materials are limited to the sacrament prayers, a basic unit guidebook, the Articles of Faith, and hymns and children's songs.  The Church has translated all LDS scriptures and many church materials into Russian, German, Ukrainian, Arabic, and Korean.  Book of Mormon selections are available in Farsi.  Although spoken Farsi (Persian) and Tajik are mutually intelligible, Farsi is written in the Persian script which most Tajiks cannot read, whereas Tajik is written in Cyrillic.   Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are available in Farsi.  The Liahona magazine has 12 issues a year in Russian, Ukrainian, German, and Korean, and four in Armenian (East). 

Meetinghouses

In 2002, the Church dedicated its first meetinghouse in the region in Yerevan.[27]  In early 2011, there were 12 LDS meetinghouses in Armenia, most of which were renovated buildings or rented spaces.  The first church meetings in Georgia were held in the humanitarian missionaries' home.  Shortly thereafter, the Church began renting facilities for Sunday meetings.  In 2010, each of the Tbilisi branches met in separate rented facilities.   The Almaty Branch meets in a large rented facility.  Any church meetings in other countries occur on US military bases or in the privacy of members' homes. 

Health and Safety

Threats of violence or physical intimidation directed towards nontraditional Christian groups and political instability are greatest in Azerbaijan, outside of Georgia proper (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  In Azerbaijan, non-traditional Christian groups report frequent government surveillance, arrests, and police raids.  In Turkmenistan, many religious groups which do not comply with the law are heavily persecuted by the government and have many of their members imprisoned in harsh conditions.  In Uzbekistan, many religious groups which do not comply with the law are heavily persecuted and have many members imprisoned in harsh conditions.  Health care infrastructure is moderate in most large cities in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but is underdeveloped in small towns and rural areas.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Limited LDS humanitarian work has occurred in every country in the Caucasus and Central Asia with the exception of Turkmenistan.  There have been 33 projects in Armenia, 23 in Kazakhstan, 19 in Georgia, 7 in Kyrgyzstan, 6 in Tajikistan, 3 in Azerbaijan, and 2 in Uzbekistan.[28]  In Armenia, the Church donated 10,000 pounds of powdered milk in 1989.[29]  In addition to large amounts of food donated, the Huntsman family constructed a cement plant in the late 1980s and early 1990s which provided concrete to rebuild homes for the 500,000 homeless following the earthquake.  Humanitarian missionaries participated in a private aid relief effort which feed over 200,000 needy Armenians.[30]  In 2008, the Church conducted clean water projects[31] and donated wheelchairs.[32]  In Georgia, humanitarian projects have primarily consisted of donating powdered milk and orphanage modules, appliances for the needy, emergency relief for victims of conflict, computer equipment for the deaf, and hospital equipment.[33]  Most projects carried out in Kazakhstan have consisted of donating supplies to orphanages, emergency relief to conflict victims, neonatal resuscitation training, and medical equipment and furnishings to hospitals and other agencies.  In Kyrgyzstan, the Church has donated clothing for the needy, 250 new wheelchairs to the disabled in Osh and Batken, and furnishings for special needs schools for children.[34]  Humanitarian efforts in Tajikistan provided clothing and food to the needy.[35]  LDS humanitarian projects in Azerbaijan provided clothing or hygiene kits to the needy.[36]  In 2001, the LDS Church shipped winter clothing to Afghan refugees in Uzbekistan.[37] 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church enjoys the privileges of a registered religious group and assigns proselytizing missionaries to Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.  Recent proposals in amending religious freedom laws in Armenia and Georgia may restrict future LDS missionary efforts.  Past humanitarian projects have fostered cooperation with the government and the many who benefited from church assistance.  Current laws and government policies severely restrict any prospective LDS activity in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as LDS meetings in these nations must occur in private.  Foreign missionaries are specifically barred from proselytism in Azerbaijan or face restrictions in several Central Asian countries, which create an insurmountable obstacle for the LDS Church as these countries have no indigenous Latter-day Saint communities to staff local missionary needs.  LDS military personnel and expatriate members in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan do not appear to face any major restrictions on their private worship.

The Church appears unable to meet the minimal requirement for the number of members needed for registration in all unreached nations in the region at present.  Some nations like Azerbaijan prohibit foreigners from establishing religious communities, which continues to delay any prospective LDS presence.

Kyrgyzstan experienced a window of substantial religious freedom in the 1990s during which thousands of Protestant missionaries were sent and built up strong indigenous churches, but LDS missionaries were never assigned as the nation as it was not deemed a priority for outreach at the time.  The Church was denied registration when it finally applied in the early 2000s, likely because of lacking the ten native members required at the time.  A law implemented in 2009 increased the requirements for religious groups to register from 10 to 200 adult citizen members, presenting a presently insurmountable barrier to registration as there are fewer than ten known native members in Kyrgyzstan today.  The Kyrgyz expatriate community is small in cities like Moscow and Almaty with LDS mission outreach, leaving the LDS Church with no present opportunity to enter Kyrgyzstan after missing a substantial opening during the 1990s.

In Turkmenistan, the number of members needed to register a religious group declined to five in 2003 and increases the likelihood of an official Church establishment one day.  A window may therefore exist for the establishment of the LDS Church in Turkmenistan which does not appear to exist in some other Central Asian nations, but few if any Turkmen had joined the Church as of early 2011, and there are very few Turkmen abroad in nations with LDS missions. 

In Uzbekistan, the LDS Church would face significant challenges importing religious literature, conducting member-missionary work, and would likely be unable to place any foreign full-time missionaries even if their assignment was for humanitarian purposes.  Uzbek LDS converts baptized abroad returning to their homeland appear to be the only realistic means of establishing a church presence among the native population in the face of religious freedom restrictions. 

Cultural Issues

Strong ethno-religious ties and low levels of church and mosque attendance in the region are the primary cultural barriers to LDS mission outreach.  Any prospective outreach would need to address the potential needs of a population which has little familiarity of religious principles such as prayer, scripture reading, and church service.  The marginalization of non-traditional religious groups challenges the prospects of many considering membership in the LDS Church, as investigators would likely face social reprisal and potential government harassment.  Religious practice and identity have undergone a revival in recent years as ethnic identity, traditional faiths, and nationalism have been rediscovered.  Strong societal and family ties of Christians to the Armenian Apostolic, Georgian Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox Churches and to Islam create challenges for missionaries to find investigators and for potential converts to be baptized and remain active.  Negative societal attitudes regarding non-traditional Christian groups and Latter-day Saints are common in the Caucasus and often reinforced by the media.  High rates of smoking and green tea consumption in most nations in the region are opposed to LDS teachings. 

National Outreach

Armenia is the most reached nation by the LDS Church in the Caucasus and Central Asia as LDS congregations provide potential outreach to 48% of the national population.  LDS congregations in Tbilisi, Georgia provide potential opportunity to 25% of the national population whereas LDS congregations in Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan can potentially reach 12% of the national population.  Actual outreach is a tiny fraction of these figures due to most missionary work relying on word of mouth of local members; community-based outreach has been minimal. Yerevan is the only large city in the region  with potential for widespread mission outreach as six of the twelve neighborhoods have an LDS congregation, but this potential is largely unrealized due to restrictions on open proselytism.  Tbilisi, Astana, and Almaty receive extremely limited outreach and many must travel long distances to attend church meetings.  No LDS mission outreach occurs in breakaway de facto states such as Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia.  With the exception of a very few with close personal associations with Latter-day Saints, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan remain totally unreached by the Church.    

Limited missionary manpower, reservations and low priority assigned by mission planners to commencing missionary work in predominantly Muslim countries, no LDS missionary approaches tailored toward Orthodox Christians and Muslims, government restrictions, a lack of LDS materials in local languages, few or no indigenous Latter-day Saints, ethnic strife, political instability, war, and distance from established mission outreach centers have contributed to a lack of LDS mission outreach in the Caucasus and Central Asia today.  Georgia has the strongest potential for increased national outreach due to the close proximity of the Armenia Yerevan Mission, few restrictions on religious freedom, a sizeable population, and the mission's small stewardship limited to just Armenia and Georgia.  With greater religious freedom than most nations in the region, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan could have been opened for missionary work in the 1990s if mission planners had desired as the Church frequently opened new missions in nations with large populations and very few members and missionaries regularly during this period.  Small numbers of missionaries have been assigned to Georgia and Kazakhstan in the 2000s.

The Church's presence today in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan is largely fortuitous, having entered each country only after congregations were built up through member-missionary efforts of expatriate members rather than through any action of the Church missionary program, notwithstanding wide religious freedoms in these nations throughout the 1990s.  In nations which did not benefit from the efforts of LDS expatriates in the 1990s, especially Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, remain without LDS congregations today.  This limitation is serious, as it has hindered the opportunity to build up a membership base in nations with religious liberties that could be instrumental in outreach to neighboring, currently unreached nations due to ties of language, kinship, and geographic proximity.  The Church has been unable to enter Kyrgyzstan due to recently increased requirements for registration which now exclude groups without a large base of native members, notwithstanding continued large-scale activities of many Protestant churches, and Christians in Azerbaijan have faced increasing restriction and harassment.  Other groups, especially Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, have built strong native memberships in nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus which today with the exception of Armenia have only a small LDS presence.

Few are aware of the LDS Church in countries with an LDS presence in the region as the Church performs only small-scale outreach in the largest cities.  Cottage meetings in Georgia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan may be a useful means of reaching isolated members or investigators and encouraging them to invite friends and family to meet with missionaries to discuss Church doctrines and principles.  Over time, this may lead to the opening of additional cities to missionary work and expansion of national outreach.  LDS missionary work in Kazakhstan will be crucial toward expanding a church presence in unreached Central Asian nations.  The majority of the Central Asian population resides in rural areas, presenting additional challenges in extending extremely limited missionary resources to sparsely populated, remote areas. 

There were no LDS internet websites for any countries in Central Asia or the Caucasus in early 2011.  Launching websites for Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan in native languages with the assistance of local members may facilitate the expansion of missionary outreach and provide correct information about the Church for those with access to the internet.  Only Armenian has some online LDS materials available.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Low levels of participation in traditional religious faiths throughout the region and traditions of liturgy rather than active member participation in church service create major challenges for Latter-day Saint missionary efforts to instill long-term church attendance and other aspects of member activity into investigators and new converts.  Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan have each demonstrated low member activity and poor convert retention rates in recent years.  Quick-baptism tactics in Armenia and the emigration of active members are primary reasons for low member activity in Armenia, although in the late 2000s one-year convert retention rates have significantly improved to over 50% as a result of consistently applying greater standards for converts to be baptized.  Burnout of active members who sometimes hold two or three callings and missionary overreliance on the few active members to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for finding investigators have also generated challenges for fellowshipping and keeping members active..  Full-time missionaries were first introduced to the Almaty Brach in Kazakhstan in the mid-2000s but church attendance increased only slightly despite membership nearly doubling between 2003 and 2010 as most converts were not retained during this period .  In Georgia, the 2008 conflict with Russia resulted in significant member attrition ldue to heavy member reliance on foreign missionaries for church administrative tasks and testimony-building support.  The lack of Georgian-language Church materials may have further contributed to low convert retention and member activity rates due to limited understanding of second language materials in Russian and English and possible resistance to use such materials.  Similar language challenges may impact the retention of converts in other currently unreached nations once an LDS presence is established.  Seminary and institute may be effective programs for facilitating testimony building, providing fellowshipping, and addressing language barriers.  As of early 2011, there had  been no LDS convert baptisms, no organized congregations, and no LDS missionaries assigned to Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Ethnic integration issues vary by country in Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Armenia have exhibited little ethnic strife since independence whereas Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Georgia have demonstrated considerable ethnic conflict.  Ethnic groups remain highly segregated in the Caucasus, reducing ethnic integration challenges at church as many ethnic groups are geographically separated.  Many ethnic groups in the region have never received LDS mission outreach and have no known Latter-day Saints, such as the Abkhaz, Ossetians, Karakalpaks, and Dagestanis.

Language Issues

With few or no LDS materials translated into most native languages, ls Central Asia and the Caucasus are among the least reached by Latter-day Saint scripture and materials as only Armenian and Russian have a sizeable quantity of LDS materials and LDS scriptures translated.  The Church has relied heavily on Russian LDS language materials for outreach in Central Asia and the Caucasus as Russian was commonly spoken during the Soviet era.  LDS mission outreach in currently unreached nations in the region will likely initially occur in Russian due to a current lack of LDS materials in the most commonly spoken native languages.  The utility of Russian materials in many of these countries today is diminishing as many of the younger generation are not fluent in Russian, which is the case in Georgia.  Russian is much more functional in Kazakhstan for LDS mission outreach as it is spoken by 95% of the population as a first or second language, but increasing Kazakh nationalism and the aging of the generation educated during the Soviet era will diminish Russian language usage in the coming years. 

Nearly three-quarters of the population in Central Asia and the Caucasus are native speakers of languages spoken by over one million people with few or no LDS materials and no available LDS scriptures (Uzbek, Kazakh, Azerbaijani, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen).  Lack of priority assigned to translating church materials and LDS scriptures into even widely-spoken languages with few Latter-day Saints is the primary reason for the lack of LDS materials in the most commonly spoken languages of Central Asia and the Caucasus today.  The lack of any LDS language materials in Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Azerbaijani, and very few materials in Kazakh and Uzbek, has reduced receptivity to the Church by speakers of these languages who are unable to obtain a proper understanding of LDS teachings in their native language.  Delaying the translation of LDS materials and scriptures into the major languages of the region until sizeable numbers of speakers of these languages join the Church is counterintuitive as the lack of even basic doctrinal and proselyting materials which would allow individuals to learn about the church and gain a personal testimony in their native language is a major reason why there are few or no Latter-day Saint speakers of these languages.  Postponing language translations produces many challenges for full-time missionaries and regional church leaders to open countries in which the most commonly spoken language has no LDS language materials, such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan.  Waiting to translate LDS materials until a sizeable number of speakers join the Church has resulted in missed opportunities to reach ethnic populations at a time in which they are most receptive, such as during the 1990s.  Languages spoken by over one million speakers are in the greatest need for translations of LDS materials and scriptures, including Uzbek, Kazakh, Azerbaijani, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen.  The increasing number of LDS materials translated into Georgian during 2010 and the early 2010s and the translation of the Articles of Faith into Uzbek in 2010 are encouraging developments that may indicate increasing awareness and  effort by LDS mission planners and the translation department to expand the body of LDS materials among commonly spoken languages in the region.

Missionary Service

LDS missionary activity only occurs in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan with small numbers of missionaries.  Missionaries dedicate a large amount of their time to reactivating less active members in Armenia and Georgia.  Armenians regularly serve full-time missions, but not in sufficient numbers for Armenia to become self-reliant in its full-time missionary force.  Few if any Georgian members have served as full-time missionaries.  A lack of youth converts and male members reduces the availability of local missionaries.  Prospects to increase the size of the local full-time missionary force will depend on increases in retained converts who are mission-aged.  Kazakh members have willing served missions despite their small numbers.  In mid-2008, four missionaries were serving from the Almaty Branch.  The first LDS member to serve a mission from Uzbekistan was a Korean who began his mission in 2010.  No members from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are known to have served a full-time mission and full-time missionaries had never been assign to serve in any of these countries as of early 2011.  Limited receptivity, few LDS materials in only a couple native languages, and the lack of native Latter-day Saints in these nations will likely further delay the introduction of missionaries for many years to come.

Leadership

Limited native leadership remains the primary obstacle for greater church growth.  In Armenia, emigration of returned missionaries has reduced potential leadership and set back long-term growth.  Available leadership appears to be well-trained and dedicated.  Arayik V. Minasyan from Artashat became the first Area Authority Seventy from Armenia in 2010.[38]  In Georgia, prior to the calling of the first local branch president in 2006, senior missionary couples served as the branch president.[39]  In 2010, both Tbilisi branches had foreign missionaries serving as branch presidents due to few active priesthood holders.  .  In Kazakhstan, the first Melchizedek Priesthood ordinations occurred in early 2001.[40]  A traveling Patriarch visited Kazakhstan in 2008 and gave 18 Patriarchal blessings.  Local members have led the Almaty Branch through most of its history although the congregation was initially led by expatriate members.  Any church leadership in other Central Asian and Caucasian nations has been limited to expatriate Latter-day Saints as any native church members remain unable to staff leadership positions due to their limited numbers and lack of training.  As most current membership is non-native in nations without an official LDS presence, foreign members will likely constitute the local leadership for the foreseeable future.

Temple

Central Asia and the Caucasus are assigned to the Kyiv Ukraine Temple district.  Organized temple trips appear to only occur from Armenia twice a year whereas temple attendance in other nations likely occurs on an individual basis.  Prior to the completion of the temple in Kyiv, members attended the Bern Switzerland and Helsinki Finland temples.  The costs of travel, lodging, and document preparation were largely paid by the Church for Armenian members in the late 2000s, as few local members would be able to afford such trips on their own.  Long distance to temple and inadequate funds for travel result in many being unable to attend the temple.  There are no realistic prospects for the construction of a closer temple in the foreseeable future.     

Comparative Growth

The Caucasus and Central Asia are among the least reached regions in the world by Latter-day Saint missionary efforts as most nations do not have an official church presence. Except for Armenia, the church presence in nations with congregations is limited to only one city (Georgia) or two cities (Kazakhstan).  Uzbekistan is among the most populous nations in the world without an official LDS presence.  With over 75% of LDS members in the region, Armenia ranked eighty-first in LDS membership worldwide in 2009.  Since the establishment of the Church in the 1990s, membership growth rates have compared to Eastern Europe although Eastern Europe has approximately ten times as many Latter-day Saints today.  Member activity rates are low and comparable to most regions. 

Many Christian denominations report slow to moderate growth and consistent problems with government regulations and restrictions on religious freedom.  Most Christian groups experienced the greatest growth in the 1990s when conditions were most favorable for missionary activity due to greater religious freedom and societal interest in foreign religious groups.  The revival of Islam among Turkic peoples in the region appears to have reduced receptivity to most of these groups in recent years.  Evangelicals and Jehovah's Witnesses have experienced the greatest growth since independence from the Soviet Union.  Seventh Day Adventist membership and congregations have generally remained stagnant or slightly declined over the past decade due to emigration and few convert baptisms.  Most missionary-oriented Christians report indigenous communities of believers in all nations in the region.  Some nontraditional Christian groups reported small numbers of followers in several areas prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Many of these groups struggle to import, print, and distribute religious literature due to bans and tight government regulation of printed religious materials.

Future Prospects

Having missed the window of opportunity in the 1990s when laws and government policies regarding nontraditional Christian groups were most liberal, there are no realistic prospects of establishing an LDS Church presence in unreached nations in the region due to proselytism bans, government restrictions on religious freedom in most nations, a lack of native Latter-day Saints, no government recognition, distance from the nearest mission, and a lack of church materials in native languages.  Barriers to greater growth in countries with an LDS presence include low member activity rates, the ongoing emigration of active members, challenges developing larger numbers of self-sufficient priesthood leadership, limited national outreach, poor public image, small numbers of full-time missionaries assigned, few local members serving full-time missions, inconsistent pre-baptismal preparation, low member activity rates, and few LDS materials translated into Georgian.  Prospects for future growth of the LDS Church in Central Asia appear highest in Kazakhstan as evidenced by member involvement in missionary work, native members staffing leadership for the Almaty Branch, and government registration.  Significant obstacles for growth remain, including the lack of a culturally-tailored missionary approach to Orthodox Christians and nominal Muslims, extremely poor national outreach by the Church partially due to challenges gaining government approval to open additional cities, and no nearby LDS mission.  Increasing the LDS humanitarian presence in unreached nations, where possible, may provide a means of establishing a positive relationship with government officials and pave the way for a future LDS presence.  The translation of LDS scriptures and some church materials into Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen is warranted to extend functional LDS mission outreach in coming years.


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[4]  "Kazakhstan country profile," Business Anti-Corruption Portal, retrieved 24 April 2010.  http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/en/country-profiles/europe-central-asia/kazakhstan/show-all/

[5]  "Background Note: Uzbekistan," Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, 19 August 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2924.htm

[6]  "Armenia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127297.htm

[7]  "Armenia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127297.htm

[8]  "Background Note: Georgia," US Department of State, 21 June 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5253.htm

[9]  "Azerbaijan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127299.htm

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[11]  "Uzbekistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127374.htm

[12]  "Tajikistan," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127372.htm

[13]  "Tajik Court Suspends Baptist Church's Activities," Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 10 February 2010.  http://www.rferl.org/content/Tajik_Court_Suspends_Baptist_Churchs_Activities/1954581.html

[14]  "Armenia," Deseret News 2010 Church News Almanac, p. 423-424.

[15]  "Church will help Armenian homeless," LDS Church News, 19 August 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18894/Church-will-help-Armenian-homeless.html

[16]  "Two republics in USSR are dedicated," LDS Church News, 28 September 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20974/Two-republics-in-USSR-are-dedicated.html

[17]  "Gospel taking root in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 25 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49785/Gospel-taking-root-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[18]  "Kazakhstan," Country Profiles, retrieved 23 April 2010.  http://lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/kazakhstan

[19] "Kazakhstan recognizes Church," LDS Church News, 17 February 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39339/Kazakhstan-recognizes-Church.html

[20]  Swensen, Jason.  "Fellowship in a far-off land," LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42253/Fellowship-in-a-far-off-land.html

[21]  "Elder Nelson Dedicates Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic," Ensign, Nov. 2003, 124-25

[22]  http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/uploads/images/qmR4HIg4Aunwg4bnNBClyA/Kyrgyzstan_IRFR09.pdf .  Accessed 17 May 2010.

[23]  "Mormon Church Spreads Out in Russia," IPS.com, 18 July 2007.  http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=38583

[24]  "Tajik Court Suspends Baptist Church's Activities," Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 10 February 2010.  http://www.rferl.org/content/Tajik_Court_Suspends_Baptist_Churchs_Activities/1954581.html

[25]  "Church Organization in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Isolated Areas," Military Relations, retrieved 8 November 2010.  http://lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,9138-1,00.html

[26]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Preaching gospel that gospel is hard," LDS Church News, 16 September 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49438/Preaching-gospel-that-gospel-is-hard.html

[27]  "Armenia," Deseret News 2010 Church News Almanac, p. 423-424.

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[29]  "Church sends dry milk to Armenia," LDS Church News, 2 December 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18595/Church-sends-dry-milk-to-Armenia.html

[30]  "Assistance proffered in Armenia," LDS Church News, 1 April 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26295/Assistance-proffered-in-Armenia.html

[31]  "Clean water," Humanitarian Services, retrieved 11 May 2010.  http://www.lds.org/library/page/display/0,7098,6212-1-3216-1,00.html

[32]  "Wheelchairs," Humanitarian Services, retrieved 11 May 2010.  http://www.lds.org/library/page/display/0,7098,6213-1-3215-1,00.html

[33]  "Projects - Georgia," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 8 March 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-46,00.html

[34]  "Projects - Kyrgyzstan," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 8 March 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-46,00.html

[35]  "Projects - Tajikistan," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 1 November 2010.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-53,00.html

[36]  "Projects - Azerbaijan," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 8 October 2010.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-49,00.html

[37]  "Winter clothing shipped to Afghan refugees," LDS Church News, 10 November 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40853/Winter-clothing-shipped-to-Afghan-refugees.html

[38]  "New Area Seventies," LDS Church News, 24 April 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59238/New-Area-Seventies.html

[39]  "Gospel taking root in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 25 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49785/Gospel-taking-root-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[40]  "Kazakhstan recognizes Church," LDS Church News, 17 February 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39339/Kazakhstan-recognizes-Church.html