The Chechen woman and her role in the “new” society
Ruslan Isayev, special to Prague Watchdog
The Chechen woman, like all women in the Caucasus, has always been defined by her humility, which is expressed through respect and deference towards members of the “stronger” sex. However, despite living in a patriarchal society, women have a genuine role in it; they do indeed have rights and are far from being oppressed.
The man is always the head of the household; nearly all major or momentous issues in the family are decided by men. And until she marries, a woman lives under the guardianship of relatives; thereafter she is her husband’s total responsibility. But he also has the right to divorce her. However, if he does so without a valid reason, he might come up against strong opposition from his own family. The woman also represents the family’s honor, so when an injustice is done to her it can often only be washed off by a bloodbath.
Western culture has strongly influenced Chechnya within recent years. Values are now changing and it will be difficult for Chechens to preserve their identity. Nevertheless, situations such as a Chechen girl marrying a Russian “liberator” soldier are rare and highly condemned by society. Chechens are nationalists at heart although their manner, as a rule, is restrained.
Women in the marketplace
Nowadays Chechen women have to go to work to help support their families. Because of the lack of jobs for the men, the unsettled conditions in which they live and the difficulties entailed in travelling within the republic, women are often compelled to be the sole breadwinners in the family.
Selling is a common occupation here. One usually sees women at the numerous markets and small roadside stands where they earn barely enough to survive. Yet this is clearly better than anxiously sitting home every night, wondering whether or not their husbands and sons will safely return from their jobs.
Ayshat Mizayeva is a librarian who worked in the Chekhov Library before the outbreak of the first Chechen war. After the library burned down, she became a saleswoman at the central market in Grozny. There she sells children’s clothes obtained from a wholesale market in Pyatigorsk and is satisfied with the money she earns.
“I’ve been selling in this market for about seven years. At the beginning I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it; especially since I lived with books all my life. And just look around you, at all the squalor here. I guess it can be said that the state of the market reflects the state of the republic,” Ayshat sadly noted.
“With the money I’ve earned here, I managed to pay for my daughter’s wedding and to send my son to university. My husband is sick and cannot work, so I can only count on myself and Almighty God. And He does help me,” she added.
Ayshat’s story is typical of almost all the women in the markets. Their husbands are either ill or dead - or just sit idly at home. Many women do not want to admit that they are forced to stand all day long at their jobs, although their husbands are alive and healthy. And so they pretend to the world that they’re satisfied with the status quo.
Women suicide bombers
From the beginning of the second war in Chechnya, women got involved in it. Even the smallest fighting units had female health aid workers, whom the men respectfully called “sisters.” However, close liaisons were not permitted and any couple caught in this would be severely punished.
One of the first incidents in Chechnya involving a female suicide bomber occurred four years ago in the Alkhan-Kala village. Khava Barayeva drove to a military headquarters in a truck filled with explosives and blew herself up. A well-known Chechen singer and songwriter, Timur Mutsurayev, dedicated a song to her self-sacrifice, “A truck heading toward headquarters, loaded with plastic explosive and destiny. / Look at Khava’s gentle face behind the wheel; she chose to sacrifice herself.”
The second explosion took place in Urus-Martan in 2001. A local resident, Gazuyeva, strapped bombs to her body and managed to stand among a group of Russian soldiers; she killed them and herself. Her target was the military commander Gadzhiyev, an Avarian who was allegedly responsible for the brutal deaths of her husband and brother. Before blowing herself up, it seems she came up to him and asked: “Do you recognize me?” Bombings of the government building in Grozny, then in Iliskhan-yurt, Mozdok, Tushino, and many others followed soon.
Where do the suicide bombers come from? Why do they sacrifice their lives? The answer to this is threefold: a desire for revenge; hopelessness and anger at those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones; and patriotism. Within each person a sudden blend of all three comes together and moves them into action. No one would blow themselves up for money. Only people who see no other way out choose this method.
It’s very possible that in the future more women suicide bombers will appear on the scene. Conditions are ripe for this - the war continues on and many of their relatives will perish in it.
Ruslan Isayev is Prague Watchdog's North Caucasus correspondent.