|Mennonites on the Great Trek|
Pacifism is a core value of the Mennonites' Christian beliefs: over 10,000 left Russia for America, and a group of a 100 families headed east under the leadership of preacher Claas Epp, who predicted Christ would meet them there on 8 March 1889. General Kaufmann, the Russian Governor-General of Turkestan (of German descent) helped them to travel to Central Asia on what has become known as The Great Trek.
Unfortunately when they arrived in Tashkent, General Kaufmann had had a stroke and soon died. The Emir of Bukhara expelled them from his territories and finally Khan Mohammad Rakhim of Khiva rescued the Mennonites from the raids of Turkoman tribes when he invited them to settle at Ak Metchet. (This means 'White Mosque', the name their neighbours gave to the white-washed church the settlers built).
|Oven at Nurullah-bai palace|
Craftsmen made windows, doors, parquet floors, developed the ornamental designs for 10 tiled heating ovens installed at the Nurullah-bai palace and painted intricate designs with brightly colored paints for the Khan’s summer palace. On a decorated ceiling there Mennonite artists painted a landscape which evoked memories of their distant homeland - the green banks of the Volga and a mill.
The Khan recognized the skill and integrity of the new settlers: he engaged them not only as craftsmen on his architectural projects but also as palace administrators and tutors.
The community thrived in Ak Metchet until 1935. They had no need of Communist rhetoric, as the Mennonites already modelled a successful collective. Continuing to refuse Soviet attempts to move them into separate collectives, the elders were shot and the rest of the community deported to Tajikistan in 1935, where they stayed for more than 50 years in difficult circumstances.
Mennonites all over the world today participate in 'The Great Trek' tours and revisit the Central Asian outposts of their ansectors. Walter Ratliff has made a documentary and written a fascinating story Pilgrims on the Silk Road: A Muslim-Christian Encounter in Khiva, about this episode of history. Watch the preview clip below (1:24 mins) of Through the Desert to see footage of the Mennonites' journey.
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