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

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid