ACHXOY-MARTAN, Chechnya â€”Â Chechnya’s governmentÂ is openly approving of families that kill female relatives who violate their sense of honor, as this Russian republic embraces a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam after decades of religious suppression under Soviet rule.
In the past five years, the bodies of dozens of young Chechen women have been found dumped in woods, abandoned in alleys and left along roads in the capital, Grozny, and neighboring villages.
ChechenÂ PresidentÂ Ramzan KadyrovÂ publicly announced that the dead women had “loose morals” and were rightfully shot by male relatives. He went on to describe women as the property of their husbands, and said their main role is to bear children.
“If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of them should be killed,” saidÂ Mr. Kadyrov, who often has stated his goal of making Chechnya “more Islamic than the Islamists.”
In today’s Chechnya, alcohol is all but banned, Islamic dress codes are enforced and polygamous marriages are supported by theÂ government.
Some observers sayÂ Mr. Kadyrov’s attempt to impose Islamic law violates the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women and a separation of church and state.
“We are a traditional, conservative society, but theÂ governmentÂ has gone overboard,” saidÂ Lipkhan Bazaeva, head of theÂ Women’s Dignity Center, a nongovernmental organization promoting women’s rights in Grozny. “They are declaring unacceptable limits on women – as an individual, she has no rights even if her husband beats her, despite Russian laws.”
Though observers agree that honor killings are on the rise in Chechnya, the issue remains largely taboo among locals – making official statistics hard to come by.
“You hear about these cases almost every day,” said a local human rights defender, who asked that her name not be used out of fear for her safety. “It is hard for me to investigate this topic, yet I worked on it with [human rights activist] Natasha [Estemirova] for a while. But, I can’t anymore. I am too scared now. I’ve almost given up, really.”
Estemirova, who angered Chechen authorities with reports of torture, abductions and extrajudicial killings, was found in the woods in 2009 in the neighboring region of Ingushetia with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Her killer or killers have not been found.
Few dare to openly challengeÂ Mr. Kadyrov’s rule. But activists say some young Muslim women do so surreptitiously, placing themselves in a constant tug of war between two value systems.
Milana, a ninth-grader in Grozny, wears thick eyeliner, dons tight miniskirts, smokes cigarettes and dates boys: all things a proper Muslim girl is forbidden to do in Chechnya.
She said she has heard it from her father countless times: A Chechen girl who loses her virginity before marriage is a prostitute, and Allah will punish her.
“If only my parents knew some of the things I did,” she said with a giggle. “My parents are too strict with me, but it is like that here.”
Analysts say dating can be an escape for teenagers such as Milana who often live double lives.
Kadyrov has instituted a climate of terror in the entire country.
The Association for Threatened Peoples (APM) criticises the decision of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to nominate the current Prime Minister of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov as transitional president of the Chechen Republic. For APM, Kadyrov “should be brought before an international court and not receive a governmental assignation.” According to research conducted by the human rights organisation, Kadyrov and his personal militia are directly responsible for a large number of homicides, rapes and kidnappings of Chechen civilians, among which, many children. Kadyrov has set up various illegal prisons in which whoever is suspected of belonging to Chechen liberation movements disappears and undergoes torture. Under the regime of Kadyrov the number of disappearance of relatives of combatants and presumed combatants has skyrocketed â€“ thus reports the Â communiquÃ© of the APM.
The fear of the mass arrests of relatives and of other punishment induces the majority of the population to no longer denounce the disappearance of relatives or friends to the authorities or to report the abuses they have undergone. Even more than the Russian soldiers, the Chechen population fears the “Kadyrovtsy”, the guards who have sworn loyalty not to the State, but to the young Kadyrov. “While the propaganda praises Kadyrov as the man who has been able to launch the reconstruction of Chechnya after ten years of war, the social and humanitarian situation of the country continues to be catastrophic. According to official estimates, the widespread lack of health assistance finds more than half of the children being born with illness and unemployment afflicts 80% of the population,” APM stresses.
Since 2000 the Kremlin has decided to “Chechenise” the conflict, that is, it has transferred the struggle of the armed Chechen opposition into the hands of the Chechens who are loyal to Moscow. Since 2004 Putin’s man in Chechnya was Achmad Kadyrov, the former Mufti of Chechnya. Kadyrov created a paramilitary organisation of approximately 14,000 men who are directly employed by him and commanded by his son Ramzan. The loyalty towards Kadyrov is often obtained through brutal methods and the men are often asked to prove their loyalty by undertaking massacres, the so-called “ethnic cleansing” in their native villages. The “Kadyrovtsy” are not held responsible for the serious human rights violations and the violence that is now widespread in all of Chechnya.