CEDAW confirmed in point 23 that violence against women in the North Caucasus is increasing and practices such as child and/or forced marriage, abductions of women and girls for forced marriages, crimes in the name of honor, circumcision, polygamy and other crimes committed in the Russian Constitution to be classified as criminal, cause concern. These practices are socially legitimated and surrounded by a culture of silence and impunity. There would be no political will to tackle these crimes and to enforce the provisions of the Russian Constitution in the regions, ie the republics and autonomous circles of the North Caucasus. In Chechnya, the massive inequality, indeed the oppression of women, is part of the government policy. Even if Ramzan Kadyrov claims to lead a Muslim republic based on the rule of the traditional Chechen Adat and orientated on the Russian constitution, it is his own deeply chauvinist and anti-women policy that determines the everyday life of women in Chechnya.
More and more girls are married as minors. In mid-May 2015, the under-age Kheda Goylabiyeva and Nazhud Guchigov the local police chief, who is about 30 years older, took place. Guchigov, the groom, was initially said to be 57 but later claimed he was 46. (Neither forced, nor under-age nor polygamous marriages are permitted under Russian law.) The 17-year-old is the second wife of the policeman, who also has a son. In advance, this process had been sharply criticized in the Russian press. The well-known Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milaschina had visited the village of Gojlabijewas and reported on the planned marriage. But Kadyrov supported this wedding, to which the bride was obviously forced, and referred to the Chechen customs, the parents of the bride would have agreed. The journalist was threatened and had to leave Chechnya. Polygamy and the marriage of minors violated the Russian constitution, but several voices from the Russian government camp had defended the wedding.
This massive interference by Kadyrov in family affairs of the civilian population also disrupts the traditions in Chechnya itself. This closure is another step – after the introduction of a dress code for women 2010/2011 (headscarf, long skirts), the prohibition of long beards for men etc. – to a massive control of the private sector. Kadyrov is convinced that Chechnya and its citizens are his property, he said this in several television interviews.
The sociologist Irina Kosterina who conducted research on gender relations in the North Caucasus over a two-year period, explains in an interview that this marriage has once again massively contributed to women being afraid and at the mercy of others. »If you have the power and the necessary relationships, then you can take any girl as a woman, thereby breaking the laws of the Russian Federation, use force and get away with it.«
The number of honor killings has increased, as testified by witnesses from Chechnya and foreign sociologists working in Chechnya, even if there are no official figures. The rate of domestic violence is very high. In an interview with a lawyer specializing in cases of domestic violence in Chechnya whose names the Daptar website does not cite for security reasons, this lawyer and co-worker of a women’s rights organization in Chechnya states that women often approach lawyers only or a women’s rights organization if the domestic violence affects the children as well. Virtually every woman in Chechnya has already been beaten according to Irina Kosterina. The interviewee estimates that no more than ten percent of the victims seek help because they are afraid of their husband’s reaction. In December 2015, she herself represented four cases as a lawyer, one of whom eventually died as a result of her husband’s beatings. »Often the women are killed before they can seek help« says the interview partners.
»The State party should … ensure that all action of violence against women … are registered by the police and promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice, and in the event of the establishment of their guilt – were punished. The State party should also take the necessary protective measures to ensure the safety of victims«
honor killing – the traditional practice in some countries of killing a family member who is believed to have brought shame on the family. When women in the North Caucasus are murdered by their families for «immoral behaviour» justice is rarely done as the article of Maria Klimova and Yulia Sugueva illustrates. There are nearly no reliable statistics on killings of women whose families believe they have brought shame on them. Now the study «Killed by Gossip» from a Dutch NGO investigated this subject in the North Caucasus.
The report is the first to document and analyze the phenomenon of honor-based violence in contemporary Russia based on field research conducted in the North Caucasus region. Despite the difficulties in collecting data in this area, the study was able to identify 33 incidents over the period from 2008 to 2017 in which 39 people were killed – 36 women (92.3%) and three men. Some of these incidents are also additionally corroborated by publicly available materials such as media reports. Young unmarried girls were the most likely victims, followed by women aged 20-30, mostly divorced but in some cases married. They were usually the daughters, sisters, wives, nieces or step-daughters of the murderer.
An analysis of “honor killings” illustrates that they are motivated not by tradition, custom (adat) or the norms of Sharia law, but rather by the arbitrary and self-styled ambitions of individuals and clans. The practice is borne out of and incited by the pressure of public opinion, gossip, rumors and slander.
The report examines the following aspects of the problem:
- The depth, extent and enduring nature of practices that punish women for violating the behavioral norms and rules prescribed by society
- The perceptions of men and women of these murders, and the pretexts and/or justifications for committing them
- “Honor killings” from the point of view of applicable provisions in Russian criminal law
- The difficulties in investigating such crimes and prosecuting cases in the courts;
- The prospects for change in the near future and steps to eradicate the practice;
- Recommendations by international bodies to the Russian Government relevant to the situation
The study revealed that from 2008 to 2017, there were 33 cases, as a result of which 39 people were killed, of whom 36 were women (92.3%) and three men. An analysis of «honor» killings showed that the victims of such crimes are mostly young unmarried girls or divorced, less often married women aged 20 to 30 years. In relation to the murderers, they were daughters, sisters, wives, nieces, stepdaughters.
In the 33 cases that were identified and analyzed, only 14 cases (42.4%) went to court: in 13 cases, the accused was convicted, in one case he was acquitted. In different cases, the murderers were sentenced to 6 to 15 years of serving the sentence in a high security colony. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In practice, only a few of these crimes are known and become the subject of legal investigation and media attention. It can be assumed that there is a high dark figure.
One of the main obstacles to effective investigation and prosecution of cases of murder of women in court is the limited access to justice of victims due to unequal treatment and prejudice at the legal, institutional, structural, social and cultural levels. Even if equality exists before the law, everyday life can look different.
Chechen women complain: «Honor killings are not uncommon»
Excluded from the majority society many women go through a martyrdom. »We are caught in the 18th century.« Malika stays calm when she talks about the conditions in her community. »It is common among Chechens, that women have to obey their husbands, fathers and brothers – if they do not follow often even fatal consequences can be the result.« she says.
When it comes to Chechens in the media, mostly only men and possible crimes are making the headlines. The oppression that many women from this culture are exposed to in a private environment hardly penetrates the public. Malika is in her early 20s and from a – by Chechen standards – liberal family. She and her siblings enjoy many freedoms and live in many ways like the «normal» Austrian youth, but such a life is an exception in the community.
Worldwide there are about 2 million Chechens, about 30,000 of them live in Austria. The majority of them fled, as Malika’s family did, during the two Chechen wars in the 1990s and 2000s. Domestic violence and honor killings, often because of the girls‘ mate choice, are not uncommon, says Malika. »I’ve even heard my male relatives tell their friends to kill their daughters when they find out that the girls are in a relationship.« Maria Rösslhumer, managing director of the «Association Autonomous Austrian Women’s Shelters» (AÖF) knows the situation and says in the interview with Lukas Kreimer and Bernardo Vortisch »The young women are under strong family control, whereby not only the next blood relatives, but also the extensive family is involved. Families are well connected with each other.«
Breaking out of the system is almost impossible, and even if women manage to escape, they are not even safe in women’s shelters: »If a Chechen father feels the honor of his daughter in danger and does not want to let her stay alive, he will manage to find and kill her. They are incredibly well organized,« confirms Malika. Even if a girl gains a new identity and changes place of residence there is no guarantee for safety, »she just has to see some Chechen on the street« and [he] forwards this information to the family. »The name change does not help much,« says Malika.
But why did Chechen society – both at home and in the Diaspora – develop in this direction? Three factors are crucial: the traditional concept of honor, the Chechen wars and the resulting Islamic radicalization.
The concept of honor has a central position in Chechen community law «Adat». According to Kerstin Susanne Jobst, professor at the Institute for Eastern European History at the University of Vienna, the «Adat» strictly regulates the role of women and various social sectors of the Chechens. If the family honor is polluted, drastic measures such as blood revenge and honor killings are resorted to. In the debate, however, experts repeatedly point out that Chechens are not a homogeneous population group and that, as in every culture, there are different trends. Chechens have isolated themselves in the diaspora over the past three decades, making integration difficult, says University Professor Jobst.
The conflicts with Russia have also caused trauma among the population. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya has been shaken by two long wars that caused massive flows of refugees. In this chaos, many people found support in religion, but were also radicalized by external influences, according to Malika: »Since any Arabs moved to Chechnya and spread radical Islam there, the attitude of the Chechens has changed, not only in Chechnya but also here in Austria.« According to intelligence reports, about 1700 Chechens are among ISIS militants worldwide – Russian is the most widely spoken language in the Caliphate after Arabic and English.
But Malika also emphasizes the positive aspects of her culture and tells about the hospitality of the Chechens, where guests are naturally cooked a feast, or the great respect for the mother. She also sees hope for the future of young Chechens in Austria: There are quite a few girls – and also boys – who are dissatisfied with the current structures. Which shows that the community emancipates itself – albeit slowly.
Abduction after invented rape
Two brothers from Chechnya forcibly took their own sister to a car in August 2018 and kidnapped her. The reason: The young woman had led in the opinion of her family to a western-oriented lifestyle. Now the brothers were in court. And not only these two young men – they once came to Austria as refugees from Chechnya and grew up here – had to answer for themselves. A third man from Chechnya who assisted in the kidnapping by driving the car was also charged. And on top of that, an 18-year-old who works for the Vienna Student Aid Authority, as such has access to the central register of migrants and had passed the young woman’s address illegally to one of the brothers.
What has happened? The young woman, 22 years old, wanted to lead a self-determined life. She found the traditional rules of the family restrictive. Accordingly, she should have married a man from Chechnya and dressed in public in a certain way. Veiling was not required, but the skirts had to reach over their knees. Knowing that although she was an adult woman, she could not easily break away, she invented something: she wrote to her two brothers, the older one 23, the younger one 19 years old, she had been raped. Judge Daniela Zwangsleitner described the ulterior motive that the woman had with her on Wednesday in the Vienna Provincial Criminal Court: »She invented the rape because she hoped that she would be cast out, as is sometimes the case in these circles.« This stunt did not have the hoped-for effect.
As a next step, the 22-year-old capped all connections. She moved from Vienna to Saalfelden, Salzburg, where she lived with her Austrian friend. She gave up her Chechen name and assumed a common name in Austria. She even had her social security number changed as well as accepted a new job. All in vain. The younger brother brought the above-mentioned employee of the student aid agency to betray the – by note – locked information of her registration address. Then the brothers and their helper drove to Saalfelden, lurking on the victim and dragged her «cinematic», as the judge noted, in a car. Lying behind the front seats, the woman had to leave Saalfelden. She cried in the car and said, »You want to kill me« – this was what the woman said as a witness. The renegade, in the eyes of the family, landed in his parents‘ apartment in Vienna. She was released after nine hours by an access by the police unit Wega. In fact, the woman managed to send an SMS to a relative of her boyfriend in the car.
»We are ashamed of our actions« say the brothers now. The younger one said, »I just got emotional. I wanted my sister back.« The deeds themselves (even before the kidnapping they had taken the mobile phone from the sister and controlled) were confessed by all the brothers and their helpers – defended by Nicholas Rast and Alexander Philipp. The brothers were now given the court order not to contact the sister. All three men received because of severe coercion and imprisonment two years in prison. Two-thirds of the sentence was conditionally imposed. The accused 18-year-old, who had betrayed the reported data, was convicted for abuse of office. From a punishment the court however looked away because of the youthful age. The judgments are not yet final.
Fear of death even after the escape
Because the government of Kadyrov is also active within the EU for most in need there is only the possibility of assistance if the anonymity is guaranteed. One of the few exceptions is the fate of Aminat Avturhanova. Yelena Milashina of Novaya Gazeta reported that: »Following 17 December 2016, mass arrests began in Chechnya. In early January, special operations were carried out in Grozny and the Kurchaloy and Shali districts of Chechnya, during which mass arrests took place. The detainees, however, were not registered in any way, they were not charged, but instead were placed in the cellars and ancillary premises of police departments. The detentions lasted until the end of January. According to [our] newspaper’s information, about 200 people were detained«
This information about the murder of 26 men from this group on the night of the 26th to the 27th of January was reported by the «Novaya Gazeta» on the 9th of July 2017. Among the killed was also the husband of Aminat.
Shortly after the publication of this article, Avturhanova approached the «Novaya Gazeta» and said that she would report her husband’s disappearance to the Russian investigative authorities and the Human Rights Commissioner. Only little later the newspaper reported her disappearance. Similar to other cases before, after the article appeared an interview of her on Grozny TV aired.
In the broadcast of January 21, Aminat could be seen in a short excerpt how she proclaimed that she would be safe at home with her children as well as asking foreign media to not spread false information about her fate. As reported in the article of the «Caucasian Knot» several residents said, on the condition that their anonymity is ensured, that they doubt the voluntariness of these statements.
The correspondent of Novaya Gazeta, Olga Bobrova, had several times met with Aminat Avturhanova in Grozny and at these talks she had reported the reporter of death threats. Bobrova wrote about the fate of Aminat in the «Novaya Gazeta» and immediately after the disappearance of her on 8 January 2018, the newspaper appealed to the Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova, to find out more about the whereabouts of the disappeared. She was only released after intervention by Bobrova and a little later, the Chechen woman fled with her two children, two-year-old Sumai Avturhanova and one-year Saifullah Avturhanva, via Poland to Germany.
Currently the Chechen woman is threatened with the deportation from Germany to Poland. That a deportation to Poland is problematic, not only shows the interview of Bernahrd Clasen with Olga Bobrova in which she refers to the well-known fact »not only are among the refugees in Poland, the supporters in the majority, the risk of further deportation to Russia is much more serious» or the report of the Global Detention Project but also the case of Azamat Baiduyev.
For Taus Tasurkayeva the case is completely different. And yet, like Aminat, she must fear for her life. She fled in fear of her brother’s death threats. She has been living in Germany for four years and her application for asylum is still not granted. She only seems to be sure about one thing: after being deported to Russia, she would not have to live long. The Chechen woman had married a third time after the death of her second husband. But her brothers Jakub and Adam, members of the Chechen security forces of Republic chief Kadyrov, had rejected this marriage. In 2013, relatives murdered Taus’s husband. His body showed signs of torture. Taus was also abused by her brothers. For several months, they held her in a cellar. In 2014, she finally managed to escape. But it could have been different, as the fate of Rumis, the daughter of her brother Salam, shows. After she had declared against the will of her two uncles that she would marry a third time, she had disappeared a few days before the wedding without a trace. Taus is also threatened with death in Germany. This is reported by a relative living in a neighboring European country who does not want to reveal her name. Taus himself refuses any press contacts.
A pregnant woman is forced to pick up papers in Chechnya
Milana is also speechless about the incomprehension of the German authorities. In 2017 she was lured by her mother on the pretext that she had cancer and wanted to see her daughter one last time, from Germany to Chechnya. Once there, her brothers immediately took her passport. And they planned to forcibly marry her with a Chechen against her will. With the support of Russian human rights activists and the German Embassy in Moscow, she finally returned to Germany. In the meantime, she became pregnant and would like to marry her German friend. That’s why her relatives currently prosecute her even in Germany.
The German authorities show little understanding of their situation. She did not enter with a visa required for a marriage. The pregnant woman is therefore expected to travel back to Russia, apply for a new visa and must provide a certificate from Chechnya confirming that she is not yet married. But human rights activists warn »to send Milana back to Russia would be her sure death« said Svetlana Gannushkina. The Russian human rights activist was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2016 for her work with refugees in Russia. In the conversation with Bernhard Clasen she draws the alarming conclusion that Chechen refugees in Germany and other European countries are no longer safe. »Unfortunately, Russian authorities and Russian propaganda media have managed to paint a glossy picture of Chechnya. What’s really going on inside the republic is hard to find out. The people from there are afraid to report what is happening. This fear of not being safe even outside of Chechnya is not unfounded when you look at the list of crimes against Chechens outside of Russia.« Says Gannushkina. Even within the EU some Chechens are loyal to Kadyrov and punish alleged apostates.
The consequences include an increasing radicalization of Chechen Young people in Europe, says Gannushkina. She could also understand that some police officials in Germany developed an impulse to apply one standard to all Chechens and to view them with reservations. »Carry out your conflicts, but please do not do it in Germany!« This is not rightfully, so Gannushkina. Rather, Germany should do even more for integration, especially be more careful in conducting hearings with asylum seekers. Decision makers should strive to really understand the situation in Russia and not be guided by suspicion.
As funny as this sentence may sound, it reflects in reality a serious problem under which many Muslims today suffer. The isolation of the woman in a room in the mosque, in a society where the men and women interact with each other in everyday life, is an attitude that has schizophrenic features. Often, these so-called prayer rooms for women are smaller rooms, poorly equipped and totally isolated from the main prayer room. The separate women get what the Imam tells only by loudspeakers, which often do not correspond to the hi-end technology, so that one sometimes gets the feeling, the Imam would preach from a space mission!
Much worse, however, is when I see a generation of young men and women who understand this isolation as a sign of piety and believe that this artificial separation belongs to the self-evident of »Islam«. Often I have had the experience that young men are seriously asking me whether the women and men are sitting in a common room in the mosque. And I have often noticed that some men and women did not want to come to class because men and women were sitting in the same room, which in their opinion was a kind of sin. The schizophrenically aspect of this story is that there is no separation at school, at work, at university, in training, in a waiting room, on the train or bus, and you get clear with it and there are no orgies on the street or at work, just because man and woman work in a room. If you can »control« yourself in a bus or in other public spaces, then why not in the mosque?
The segregation of women, I would call it condemnation of women into separate rooms, is in itself a very modern development. If you look at the old mosques, you will surprisingly find out that there were no rooms for women. There were also no walls separating an area of women from one of the men. The women have usually either prayed at the back or at the sides and sat in the same room during the lesson. There was no kind of women’s club within the mosque. The best example here are the mosques of Mecca and Jerusalem.
I am almost certain that many Muslims today would be shocked if they learned how Muslims (man and women) were dealing with each other during the time of the Prophet ﷺ. That would be too much for some, and I would not be surprised if they would discredit how people were dealing with each other in the past as not pious enough. We read, for example, in Sahih al-Bukhari that Abdallah b. Umar – the prophet ’s companion – delivered the following: »In the time of the Messenger of God, the men and women carried out the ritual washing (‚Wudu‘).« In one version of this tradition, a translator added »from the same vessel« and in another one »In the time of the Messenger of God, we performed the ritual washing with the women from the same vessel, and we dipped (both) our hands in it.« Clearly, these traditions do not correspond to the perverted notions that many people today have from the »Prophetic time«. However, one must never forget that the action that the prophet ﷺ himself has confirmed is the standard and not the customs and traditions that contradict these actions.
In Sunan an-Nasa’i, we read that Asmaa, the daughter of Abu Bakr, once sat in the mosque and she did not hear the Prophet ﷺ acoustically correct – she asked a man who was sitting next to her. Yes, you read and wonder: Sitting next to her! It is well known that in the time of the Prophet ﷺ there was no separation between men and women. Yes, the women sat behind and the men in front, but even this rule was not binding. Nowadays we hear a pseudo-argument, which says that the Prophet’s companions were not like us.
Today, people have become »spoiled« and it is better for the sexes to be separated. This argument shows the ignorance towards the times of our ancestors. It shows how romantic the image of the past is drawn. For in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, not all men were angels and sinless. Yes, there were men who have looked at women voyeuristically, even in the prophets‘ mosque and during prayer, as we can read in a tradition, which is, among other things, in Sunan at-Tirmidhi. In the same tradition, a very beautiful woman prayed in the first ranks behind the Prophet ﷺ. And neither did the Prophet ﷺ separate his mosque with a wall, or »condemn« the women into a separate room, as it is the case today.
We also read in the biographies of hundreds of female scholars that they held their meetings in the mosque. In most cases the listeners were men. There was also the custom of visiting these female scholars at home and taking lessons with them. That men and women can sit together in a room and learn from each other does not mean disregarding the etiquette of intercourse between the sexes. But neither the excessive uptightness nor the libertarianism correspond to the Sunnah. It’s just not right at all, that the women have to listen to the teachings and sermons of the Imam in another room. Thus they are deprived of the opportunity to ask questions and to participate in the discussion, a possibility which, for example, the female companions had in the past. Furthermore, in the women’s rooms in the mosques, mothers sit with their babies and children, who can disturb the concentration. It does not correspond to the Sunnah to send women who are interested in listening directly to the words of the Imam, to a room where they only get half of what has been said. But the problem is sometimes with these imams and in the minds of many men … and women.