Staunton, September 19 – Many discussions of Chechnya ignore the role of women, and even now, treat them as appendages of their husbands. But while Chechen society remains traditional in many ways, women encouraged by the changes during perestroika and then the period of Chechen independence have been extremely active in fighting for dignity and justice.
And despite the harsh and repressive neo-traditionalism of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen women activists who emerged during the difficult years of the 1990s and early 2000s are continuing the struggle, helping those who have been victimized by both Moscow and Grozny and promoting a very different Chechen future than many imagine.
Most of their activities have been below the radar screens of outside observers, but Taus Serganova, a journalist for the independent Dosh news agency, opens a window on their activities, one that shows how they arose and also how they continue to operate in Chechnya (doshdu.com/tradicionnoe-chechenskoe-obshhestvo-i-zhenskij-aktivizm/).
Her article consists of two parts, a history of women’s movements in Chechnya since perestroika times and brief biographical sketches of some of those who have led and continue to lead these actions now despite all the efforts by Russian and Chechen officials in the last decade to stop them.
The public activism of Chechen women arose during perestroika and intensified during the 1990s when women sought to help those who were suffering because of the Russian invasion and mistreatment of Chechens as despised “persons of Caucasus nationality.” That became the seedbed for subsequent activity, Serganova says.
In the early 1990s, they established the first Chechen women’s journal, Malkha Azni and Malika. Both were private efforts. During the wars, they sought to limit the violence, to help those who had lost relatives to the fighting or did not know what had become of them, and helped women who often had been left as widows make their way in society.
According to Serganova, “human rights, which were cruelly violated not only in Chechnya itself but throughout the Russian Federation, regarding Chechens, accelerated the involvement of women into human rights organizations.” They continued their actions despite increasing official pressure against them after 2005.
Many of these groups were forced to restrict their activities especially after the murder of Natalya Estemirova, the head of the Grozny office of Memorial, in 2009, to personal aid rather than social and political programs. Despite that, the journalist says, they have continued to work in areas like psychological assistance where they can.
Nonetheless, they remain committed “to the acquisition or more accurately the return of freedom of choice in new conditions” and the evolution of Chechen society.
Serdanova’s profiles are especially interesting. Her first concerns Madina Magomadova, who was 25 years has headed the Mothers of Chechnya organization which seeks to find those who have gone missing as a result of military actions and kidnappings. She began this work in January 1995 because her brothers fell into this category.
Libkhan Bazayeva heads a group that was originally established as Women’s Dignity but now is called Women for Development. She says she was inspired to become activity because of “the unprecedented cruelty” of military actions during the two post-Soviet Chechen wars and the need to help surviving widows.
A trio of Chechen women, Asya Ganayeva, Inna Ayrapetyan, and Kheydi Omarkhadzhiyeva founded the Sintem (“Harmony”) group to help survivors of the war. And Sapita Khaydukayeva created the Women’s Resource Center which has devoted particular attention to those orphaned by the conflict.
Suleykhan Bagalova, an actress established in 1995 the Center for Research and Popularization of Traditional Chechen Culture. Luiza Khazhgeriyeva, a TV journalist, who lost 11 members of her family in a single Russian raid, has worked to help others who have had similar losses.
And Asya Isayeva, a pharmacologist whose son was arrested and tortured, continues to seek justice for other Chechens detained by Russian forces and suffering similar fates.