"Regrettably, we have women among us who started forgetting the code of conduct of women – mountain dwellers. In respect of such women, their male relatives who regard themselves to be insulted commit acts of mob law."
Thus spoke Nurdi Nukhajiyev, the human rights ombudsman in Chechnya when asked by journalists to comment on the assassination of six young Chechen women on the night of 26 November (the newspaper Kommersant No. 216(4033) of 27 November 2008).
The bodies of three women were found in the Staropromyslovski district of the city of Grozny, two women were found shot dead near an abandoned kindergarten along the road from Grozny to Shatoj, and the body of the sixth woman was found on the road to the Cossack village Petropavlovskaya.
The women were shot in the chest and in the head from close range away. The cartridge cases were nearby.
Within a matter of two days a seventh body of a young woman, also shot in the head, was found burnt near the village Enguenoj of the Gudermes district.
The journalists called this series of brutal murders executions.
Everybody decided without any doubt that the women had been punished for misbehaviour, although executions without trial are nothing new in Chechnya. Quite recently they had other causes, and would give rise to a burst of indignation.
How could it happen that the only cause for regret the defender of human rights in Chechnya found in all this tragedy was contempt of the "code of conduct of women – mountain dwellers" by these women? And not a word of sympathy for the victims?
The investigation into the murder of these women has just started. We don't know who shot these defenceless women.
Yet the reaction of the Chechen ombudsman and of many others has a reason: women in Chechnya have ceased to be considered as human beings with equal rights and respect, able to deciding for themselves how to live life and what destiny to choose.
Ramzan Kadyrov's comment on the assassination of these women was more civil. According to his spokesperson, the president of the Chechen Republic said at a meeting of the cabinet of ministers and heads of district and city administrations on 28 November:
"This is an outrageous fact. This has never happened in the republic before. Whoever they might be, the murderers cannot be justified by any traditions. All the more so because there are no such traditions in either our people's customs or in Islam. This is why now, as before, I call for the strengthening of preventive action aiming to ensure early warning of this kind of crime, as well as of activities aimed at moral and spiritual education and rehabilitation of society." (GroznyInform, http://www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=8&PubID=9845).
But what does Ramzan Kadyrov mean by moral education? In his interview placed on the same web-site on 11 November he denounced those young women who wear European clothes:
"I am concerned today about the clothes our young women wear. Our brides sometimes appear before their mother-in-law, the bridegroom's relatives, if you will excuse me, almost naked, bareheaded. They appear in mini-skirts in the streets, with loose hair. Our people's mentality does not allow this. I wish very much that Chechen young woman would look like a true Muslim respecting the customs and traditions of her nation.
The Committee for Youth Affairs are planning to retain well-known fashion designers to make a single uniform for educational establishments where young people study."
These may seem to be quite innocent wishes. But the president of Chechnya has been quite explicit more than once about his attitude towards the woman.
Here are excerpts from an interview Ramzan Kadyrov gave to Alexander Grymov of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on 24 September (http://www.kp.ru/daily/24169/380743/print/ ):
"I am entitled to criticize my wife. She is not. Here in Chechnya the wife is a housewife. A woman must know her proper place. … A woman should give us her love… A woman should be property. And the man is the proprietor. Here, if a woman is not behaving herself, it is her husband, father and brother who are responsible. In our tradition, if a woman is unfaithful, she is killed… It may happen that a brother kills his sister, a husband his wife. Our boys are imprisoned for this… as the president I cannot allow people to be killed. So let them [women] avoid wearing shorts."
Thus, the woman is a piece of property destined to gratify the man, daring not to criticize him or provoke violence by wearing shorts. (To be honest, I have never seen a Chechen woman wearing shorts!) And the owner encouraged from above will have himself several wives, and should any one of them misbehave, he will get rid of her and acquire a new one.
Women had better acquiesce, stay home, do the house work and not attract fire against themselves, literally, not figuratively.
And was it long ago that a brutal war was waged in the land of Chechnya, with cities and villages destroyed and people killed in bombardments? Young men would be rounded up in cleansing operations, and, without finding out who was right and who was wrong, they would be subjected to torture and killed. Who tried to openly confront this arbitrariness? Who would come out and block the passage to tanks on the highways? Who would stand for hours on end near the offices of the prosecutors and military commanders trying to rescue their sons, husbands, brothers? Who, finally, found ways to tell the world about the crimes that were committed in Chechnya? Who helped the people to survive?
It was the Chechen women that did it. Without arms, they openly fought for their people, for their very existence and for their honour.
Zeinab Goshayeva who stood with us in all anti-war rallies, returning to Chechnya time and again to testify afterwards to what was going on there.
Elisa Mousayeva, Lida Yusupova, Lipkhan Bazayeva who, in the most horrible years, set up reception rooms for human rights, who had the courage to confront armed people, often drunk, during the cleansing operations and to speak the truth in the face of the top representatives of the federal government.
Natasha Estemirova who brought the photographic film to Moscow, with pictures of destructions, murders, burial places. That same Natasha whom the president has recently expelled from the Grozno City Citizens' Board for Promoting Human Rights and Freedoms because she had stated in a television interview that she did not always wear the headscarf and did not put it on in public places.
And ordinary women, mothers and wives, who would take their families out from under the bombs to other regions of Russia. When men could not go outdoors without running the risk of being put in the dock for a pack of drugs, arms or explosives that would be miraculously found in their pockets, (even if their pockets had been carefully sewn-up beforehand), all the burden of supporting the family would fall on the women's shoulders. In the morning, having managed, with difficulty, to feed the family they would stand in the market for hours in the cold, selling vegetables, cleaning bus stops, moving huge garbage bins.
A girl from a refugee camp managed to get a place in an exclusive university in Moscow, and graduated from it with flying colours. And what for? Only to be married off forcibly to a stranger, upon her return to the now peaceful city of Grozny. The "romantic Caucasian tradition" of abducting the bride in reality looked like this: the young woman was seized in the street, dropped on the ground, had her head hit against the pavement, and shoved into a car, almost unconscious. She came to herself in her future husband's home, hardly realising what was going on but certain that there was no one to help.
Here I am, receiving a woman during my visiting hours – a woman who holds a rather important position in today's Chechnya. She came to attend to some health-related business, but she wants to tell me something else: "You may think it is not a big deal – to wear or not to wear a headscarf. But it is not a question of the headscarf, it is the humiliation that we have to go through every day. Young armed men may break into my office any day to check whether all the young women wear headscarves, or whether their clothes are too revealing. They rebuke me too, and interfere with my work. Never before could strange men dare treat a woman like that, especially a woman who is their superior both in her age and in her position." All of a sudden fear appears in her eyes: "Please, don't ever mention me by name, and never repeat this conversation, or else they will figure me out."
And I promised to keep silent, and I kept silent about the girls abducted to become wives and concubines, underage daughters taken away from mothers who cannot enlist help of the officialdom. One of such particularly active mothers has been told in strict confidence, " There is no one to help you. They are the people who themselves take underage girls for wives."
I cannot keep silent any longer. Not that I believe that the seven women have been murdered by their relatives (this theory does not seem to be supported by any evidence), but because I have seen the reaction of society in Chechnya to this event, and read some feedback on Chechen sites. I am scared, I fear for those whom I came to like and whom I wish happiness and liberty. Personal liberty regardless of gender, religion, race or nationality, as prescribed by the Constitution of Russia, of which the President of Chechnya speaks so often.
3 December 2008