News / Europe

Amid Chechnya's Islamic Revival, Some Women Live in Fear

Young women pray in the Heart of Chechnya mosque during Friday Prayer
Young women pray in the Heart of Chechnya mosque during Friday Prayer

At the entrance to a school in Grozny, the capital of Russia’ s Chechen republic, two security guards grip their guns as they order a woman to cover her head before walking into class.

“ You can’ t go inside with your head like that,” one of them yells, tapping his AK-47.

The young student rumbles inside her purse before pulling out a black silk scarf.

“Is this better?” she asks, covering up her entire head with the scarf, matching her kohl-lined
eyes.

Under the Russia-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya is swiftly becoming a conservative Muslim state, a sharp change from the officially atheist Soviet Union when women in the Caucasus burnt their headscarves. Many Chechen women here are the first in three generations to cover their heads.

Slideshow of Diana Markosian's photos

This has coincided with the almost complete disappearance of the ethnic Russian population in Chechnya. At the time of the Soviet collapse, 20 years ago, ethnic Russians account for 30 percent of Chechnya's population. Today, they are less than one percent.

But now, “the headscarf is a symbol of purity and worth,” says Malika Omarova, head of the
Union of Chechen Women in Grozny. “ When I was a student, I never wore a headscarf, not one person forced me. But, I want our women to wear them - it is in our blood. That is what makes us Chechen.”

The Russian republic of Chechnya has seen two brutal separatist wars in the last two decades, with atrocities committed by both rebels and Moscow’ s federal forces.

Strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who changed sides after the first war, has brought a semblance of stability to Chechnya, helped by massive investment by the Kremlin. But this stability is matched with a resurgence of Islamic belief and practice.

In today’s Chechnya of cafes and fashion boutiques, the mandatory headscarf symbolizes this Islamic revival.

“ Chechnya is already among one of the world's most repressive societies, with the state
controlling almost every aspect of daily life," wrote Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House in a
report on Chechnya.

The battle is being played out in universities, state buildings and now in the street, where a wave of attacks last year took place on women for not wearing headscarves. Kadyrov denies his men were involved.

“ I don’ t know [who they are], but when I find them I shall announce my gratitude,”  Kadyrov told the state-run regional television channel Grozny. He called the victims of the paintball attacks “ naked women” who had most likely been forewarned. “ Even if they were carried out with my permission, I wouldn’ t be ashamed of it,” he said of the paint-ball attacks.

Kadyrov’ s efforts to enforce a dress code have angered rights activists in Moscow who say such rules violate Russia’ s constitution.

But few women dare to challenge Kadyrov's rule in this southern border region of more than one million people.

Zalina, a 19-year-old student and hair stylist, says wearing a headscarf is not really a choice.

“ I don’ t see the point in wearing it,” says the student, whose long dark hair flows out from under her head covering. “But if I don’ t, I know I will be punished. I am scared of that.”

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid