A few years ago seven Chechen women were shot in the head by male relatives who later abandoned the dead bodies on the side of a road. Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov openly supported the killings by blaming the women for having committed a serious crime and deserving to die. The crime they committed was interacting with men. Verbally charged on the grounds of “loose morals” Kadyrov defended the honour killings which are only one example amongst many in recent years.

Dead bodies of young women on roadsides or alleyways are not an uncommon sight in Chechnya’s capital Grozny and surrounding areas these days. Chechnya’s government is vehemently promoting strict Islamic rules in the region which leaves room for honour killings and both public and private oppression of female citizens. While Islamic law is welcomed by Chechnya’s politicians, Islamic terrorism isn’t. Chechnya’s desire to create a “moral” Muslim society has therefore become part of a broader moral battle for its Russian patrons. In the course of honour killings Moscow struggles to find a balance between the protection from instability caused by terrorist groups in the North Caucasus and the securing of Chechen women’s rights.

The Chechen Republic is officially part of Russia, however its predominantly Muslim population and the fact that Chechens had been recognised as a distinct people since the seventeenth century has led to separatist aspirations throughout history. Being suppressed under Soviet rule the conflict between Russia and Chechnya escalated in two Chechen wars in the 90s (1994-96 and 1999). The initial strive for independence has gradually become a broader Islamic movement and Islamist insurgencies culminating in terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare in the hands of Chechen rebels continued after the second Chechen War. The situation has indeed calmed down, especially after the killing of rebel leader Shamil Basayev in 2006. However, the fear of terrorism remains which was considerably demonstrated by tight security measures during the Sochi Winter Olympics this year and the threatening messages sent by Chechen militants prior to the games. Putin has made clear since 1999 that negotiations with terrorists are out of the question. He has ended his official anti-terrorism campaign in 2009, handing over more power to Chechnya’s current president Kadyrov, a former rebel who is now a close ally to the Kremlin. Security in the name of Russian state stability remains a priority and Chechen terrorism can still be seen as a thorn in Moscow’s eyes.

One cannot blame Putin for making efforts to try and prevent another disaster such as the 2004 crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia, when Islamists were ordered by Basayev to take hostage of a school in which over 300 children and parents were killed.

One can blame him for both financially and morally supporting the power of a Chechen president who imposes Islamic laws that make women victims of torture or murder and take away every trace of their dignity.

Kadyrov’s loyalty to Moscow is seen as important since he proved strategically successful in creating more stability in Chechnya by winning old rebels over and making an effort to reconstruct the war-torn region. Given that the whole of the North Caucasus is highly unstable and Islamist insurgencies are on-going there, a stable and pro-Russian Chechen leadership is strongly favoured by Russian policy makers. It seems, therefore, that Kadyrov’s imposition of Islamic law in Chechnya appears to be the lesser evil when it comes to keeping Putin’s manufactured peace alive through subsidies that amount to around 90 percent of the Chechen government budget. Avoiding unemployment in Chechnya is believed to avoid further terrorist catastrophes. And that is still one of Russia’s top priorities.

To avoid such catastrophes, however, means granting the Chechen government a significant amount of autonomy – which means for Putin to give full rein to Kadyrov’s idea of a moral society based on Islamic principles. A society that makes it compulsory for women to wear headscarves in public buildings, where wives become the property of their husbands and honor killings are supported by the government. Chechnya’s president openly affirmed that “if a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of them should be killed”. More and more aspects of Islamic Sharia law have entered the everyday lives of Chechen people which leaves no room for women who try to embrace a more open-minded attitude which would allow them to protest and live their lives outside a patriarchal cage.

This form of oppression contradicts the equality of men and women as well as the separation of religion and state affairs enshrined in the Russian Constitution. But aspects such as these are often easily overlooked when a state like Russia needs to secure power over a certain (oil-rich) territory such as Chechnya. It is therefore unlikely that Russia will intervene in Chechen affairs in order stop the so-called “virtue campaigns” that romanticise a form of Islam which makes women slaves and even justifies their death in the name of ‘morality’. It is further unlikely that Kadyrov and Putin’s close bond will break over an issue such as women’s rights. After all, Putin himself has often preferred to present himself as a strong statesman who uses force if necessary rather than a defender of the voiceless.

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