National Profiles > Regions > South-Central Asia > Turkmenistan
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Turkmenistan - Major World Religions2

Turkmenistan - Largest Religious Groups2

  Preferred Religion (2015)1: Sunni

  Majority Religion (2015)2: Sunni Muslim (94.5%)

Religious Adherents, (2015)2

Turkmenistan South-Central Asia World
Muslim 95.47% 36.21% 22.98%
  • Sunni
  • 94.52% 27.28% 19.28%
  • Shiite
  • 0.95% 8.59% 3.44%
    Not Religious 3.23% 1.06% 12.1%
  • Unspecified Not Religious
  • 2.71% 0.93% 10.11%
  • Atheist
  • 0.52% 0.14% 1.97%
    Christian 1.19% 2.24% 29.88%
  • Orthodox
  • 0.92% 0.35% 3.05%
  • Protestant
  • 0.26% 0.97% 9.58%
    Bahai 0.03% 0.13% 0.11%
    Indigenous 0.02% 0.4% 2.5%
    Buddhist 0.01% 1.58% 6.65%

    Religious Demography3

    The country has an area of 188,457 square miles and a population of five million. Statistics regarding religious affiliation were not available. According to the Government's most recent census (1995), ethnic Turkmen constitute 77 percent of the population. Minority ethnic populations include Uzbeks (9.2 percent), Russians (6.7 percent), and Kazakhs (2 percent). Armenians, Azeris, and other ethnic groups comprise the remaining 5.1 percent. The majority religion is Sunni Muslim, and Russian Orthodox Christians constitute the largest religious minority. The level of active religious observance is unknown.

    Since independence there has been a tightly controlled revival of Islam. During the Soviet era, there were only four mosques operating; now there are 398, according to the Government's Council on Religious Affairs (CRA). Ethnic Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Baloch living in Mary Province are predominantly Sunni Muslim. There are small pockets of Shi'a Muslims, many of whom are ethnic Iranians, Azeris, or Kurds living along the border with Iran and in Turkmenbashy.

    Restrictive government control, indigenous Islamic culture, and 70 years of Soviet rule have meant that traditional mosque-based Islam does not play a dominant role in society. Local interpretations of Islam place a heavy premium on rituals associated with birth, marriage, and death, featuring music and dancing that more traditional Muslims view as unorthodox. Together with shrine pilgrimage, such rituals play a greater role in local Muslims' expression of Islam than regular prayer at mosques.

    While the 1995 census indicated that ethnic Russians comprised almost 7 percent of the population, subsequent emigration to Russia and elsewhere is continuing to reduce this proportion. Most ethnic Russians and Armenians are Christian. Practicing Russian Christians are generally members of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). There are 13 Russian Orthodox churches, 3 of which are in Ashgabat. A priest resident in Ashgabat leads the Russian Orthodox Church within the country. In October 2007 the Government began negotiations to have the religious jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Turkmenistan shifted from the Central Asian Russian Orthodox Church Diocese in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and placed under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. In May 2008 subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate became official as a result of an official meeting between President Berdimuhamedov and Russian Orthodox Church officials. There is one convent in Ashgabat, but there are no Russian Orthodox seminaries.

    Ethnic Russians and Armenians comprise a significant percentage of members of unregistered religious congregations; ethnic Turkmen are increasingly represented among these groups as well. There are small communities of the following unregistered denominations: the Roman Catholic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Shi'a Muslims, and several evangelical Christian groups including "Separate" Baptists, charismatic groups, Pentecostals, and an unaffiliated, nondenominational group.

    A very small community of ethnic Germans, most of whom live in and around the city of Saragt, reportedly includes practicing Lutherans. Approximately 1,000 ethnic Poles live in the country; they have been largely absorbed into the Russian community and consider themselves Russian Orthodox. The Catholic community in Ashgabat, which includes both citizens and foreigners, meets in the chapel of the Vatican Nunciature.

    An estimated 1,000 Jews live in the country. Most are members of families who came from Ukraine during World War II. There are some Jewish families living in Turkmenabat, on the border with Uzbekistan, who are known as Bukharan Jews, referring to the Uzbek city of Bukhara. There are no synagogues or rabbis, and Jews continue to emigrate to Israel, Russia, and Germany; however, the Jewish population remains relatively constant. The community gathers for religiou


    1.  The Religious Characteristics of States Dataset Project: Government Religious Preference (GRP) measures government-level favoritism toward, and disfavor against, 30 religious denominations. A series of ordered categorical variables index the state's institutional favoritism in 28 different ways. The variables are combined to form five composite indices for five broad components of state-religion: official status, religious education, financial support, regulatory burdens, and freedom of practice. The five components' composites in turn are further combined into a single composite score, the GRP score. The RCS Data Project would like to acknowledge, recognize, and express our deepest gratitude for the significant contributions of Todd M. Johnson, the principal investigator of the World Christian Database, the co-principal investigator of the World Religion Database, and co-author of the World Christian Encyclopedia series.

    2.  The Religious Characteristics of States Dataset Project: Demographics reports annual estimates of religious demographics, both country by country and region by region. It estimates populations and percentages of adherents of 100 religious denominations including second level subdivisions within Christianity and Islam. The RCS Data Project would like to acknowledge, recognize, and express our deepest gratitude for the significant contributions of Todd M. Johnson, the principal investigator of the World Christian Database, the co-principal investigator of the World Religion Database, and co-author of the World Christian Encyclopedia series.

    3.  The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report is submitted to Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. These State Department reports are open source.

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