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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid