Young women in Chechnya

Photojournalist Diana Markosian spent the last year and half covering Russia's volatile North Caucasus region. This year she started a personal project entitled "Goodbye My Chechnya" documenting the lives of young Chechen women as they come of age in the aftermath of war.  She writes, "For young women in Chechnya the most innocent acts could mean breaking the law.  A Chechen girl caught smoking is cause for arrest; while rumors of a couple engaging in pre-martial relations can result in her killing.  The few girls who dare to rebel become targets in the eyes of Chechen authorities.  After nearly two decades of vicious war and 70 years of Soviet rule, during which religious participation was banned, modern-day Chechnya is going through Islamic revival. The Chechen government is building mosques in every village, prayer rooms in public schools, and enforcing a stricter Islamic dress code for both men and women. This photo essay chronicles the lives of young Muslim girls who witnessed the horrors of two wars and are now coming of age in a republic that is rapidly redefining itself as a Muslim state."  Markosian, who is based in Grozny, reports that "It has been quite challenging working as a female photojournalist in Chechnya. The region is undergoing significant change as Islam flourishes. The Chechen government is trying to adopt Islamic law and strengthen Chechen traditions. The attitude towards women becomes more conservative and tradition-based. Females are considered submissive and are expected to act demurely in the presence of men.  This naturally makes it difficult to operate as many officials in male-dominated Chechnya don't take women seriously. It's something I try not to take personally and instead find ways to work around. There's also a certain level of fear you have when working and living in a region as unpredictable as the North Caucasus. Something I am still trying to get used to:  my phone conversations are listened to. I am often followed on my shoots by federal security forces; my images have been deleted and I've been detained now more than a dozen times."  Gathered here are images from the last several months of Markosian's reportage on the state of young women in Chechnya, a Russian republic of 1.3 million. [33 photos total]

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A Chechen teen, who considers herself emo, puts on pink lip gloss. Chechens who dress in emo style are identified by wearing pink and black clothing, Keds, and having punk-style haircuts. They are targets for local authorities. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Russia's southern region of Chechnya witnessed nearly two decades of vicious war - in which an estimated 200,000 Chechens were killed. The mountain region of Itum-Kale was used as a base for rebels during both wars. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Gym class at School No. 1 in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt. The schoolgirls, all dressed in skirts with their heads wrapped in scarves, say gym clothes violate the Muslim dress code. They have to be modestly dressed in front of boys. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Khedi Konchieva, 15, on a date with her boyfriend in the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Couples on dates must meet in public and sit a distance from one another. All physical contact is forbidden before marriage. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Party guests cheer as a couple dance during a party in Shali. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Half of the girls in the ninth grade at School No 1-- in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt, 30 minutes away from the Chechen capital Grozny - wear the hijab. The head and neck covering is a sharp break from Chechen tradition. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen girls study the Koran at an underground medrese in the village of Serzhen-Yurt, Chechnya. The new generation of youth are embracing Islam after decades of religious repression by secular Communist authorities in the Soviet Union. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen girls make their way to a mosque for Friday prayer in the small village of Serzhen-Yurt, Chechnya. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen girls after school in front of the Heart of Chechnya mosque, the largest in Europe. All Chechen girls, despite religion, must wear a head covering in public schools and government buildings. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Relatives of Chechen poet Ruslan Akhtkhanov mourn his death. The poet, known for speaking out against separatists in his volatile region, was shot in Moscow. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen dancers backstage at a concert hall in the Chechen capital, Grozny. A suicide bomb attack at the concert hall killed at least five people and wounded several more. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen artists backstage before their performance. In today's Chechnya, women must wear headscarves in public schools and government buildings. Local celebrities were among the first to conform, making the head cover a fashion statement. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Amina Mutieva, 20, a student at the Islamic University and the daughter of a local Imam, prays before her studies. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
In bright silk head covers, young women wait for their turn to dance in the town of Shali. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
First-graders during recess at a local school in Grozny. A poster in the back reads "Our Strength" with an image of Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Friends Seda Makhagieva, Kameta Sadulaeva and Khedi Konchieva gossipt during lunch hour at School No. 1 in Serzhen-Yurt. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
College students from the Chechen State University in Grozny watch dancers perform on Women's Day. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Female college students at an auditorium at the Chechen State University in Grozny. In Chechnya, all women are required to cover their heads in schools and government buildings. Females have reported being harassed, some physically harmed, for not wearing a head covering in Chechnya. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Elina Aleroyeva, 25, sits with her child at their home in Grozny. Aleroyeva says her husband was kidnapped by federal security forces on May 9, 2011, accused of being a militant. Disappearances used to be a signature abuse in both Chechen wars and continue to take place. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Seda Makhagieva, 15, wraps a pastel-colored head covering before leaving her home. Makhagieva says it's her duty as a Muslim to wear a hijab. Islam is quickly becoming the cornerstone of identity for youth in modern-day Chechnya. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Seda Makhagieva, 15 and Kameta Sadulaeva, 15, are among the first girls to cover their heads with a hijab. The teens have been wearing the Islamic head covering for two years despite their families' disapproval. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Diana Reshedova, 20, and Bekhlhan Yusoupov, 21, at their home. Reshedova's parents initially arranged her marriage. The night before her wedding, she ran away to Yusoupov, who she had been secretly dating. They've been married for 2 years. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
A Chechen teen smokes a cigarette in her bedroom. The 15-year-old was caught making out with her boyfriend. Chechen girls who engage in "illicit relations" are considered to have loose morals. This often will lead to an honor killing, a tradition publicly supported by the Chechen government. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
A teenage boy checks out a group of girls from his black-tinted window in the town of Urus-Martan. Young women are often kidnapped off the street and married to men they have never met. Bride kidnapping continues to be an endemic problem. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen boys at a wedding in downtown Grozny. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Chechen women stand on one side of the room during a party. At most social gatherings, men and women gather separately. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Young girls at their home before a wedding. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Layusa Ibragimova, 16, has her hair and nails done at her home in the Chechen town of Urus- Martan. Ibragimova's father finalized his daughter's marriage to 19-year-old Ibragim Isaev. The two spoke only a few times prior to getting married. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
In her bedroom, Layusa Ibragimova, 16, prays beside a Chechen religious leader before her wedding. She is asked to recite her vows separately from her spouse. The bride is then picked up by the groom's friends and escorted along with her suitcases to his home, where the ceremony takes place. Traditionally Chechen couples meet one another, at the spring or water pipe - a scene celebrated in countless folksongs and dances. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
At sunset on the outskirts of Grozny, Kazbek Mutsaev, 29, fires celebratory gun shots as part of an age-old wedding tradition in Chechnya. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
A party guest fires gun shots during a wedding. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Jamila Idalova, 16, on her wedding day. The teen bride was kidnapped and later returned to her home. Bridal kidnappings are outlawed - but still occur. Under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, bride kidnapping is outlawed and captors are liable, in theory, to receive a fine up to 1 million rubles. The groom and his friend kidnapped her after school (basically put her in the car) and drove away. His parents were aware of it. Her parents did not agree. They ended up returning the bride. The same day the parents from both sides met and agreed it made sense for them to get married. She was married a week later. The wedding takes place at the groom's home or at a restaurant. In this case, it was at Ramzan's home. Traditionally, the groom does not attend his wedding. The bride says her vows in her home (separately from the groom) and then picked up by the groom's friends - who she doesn't know. The celebration often lasts for 3 days. "She's a beautiful girl, the most popular in school. It is too bad she didn't finish school. It makes more sense for her future though. She will be better off married," said her teachers. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #
Jamila Idalova, 16, along with her sister and friends. The teen bride was kidnapped by the groom and his friends. Bride kidnapping is endemic in Chechnya despite official measure banning the tradition. (Copyright Diana Markosian) #

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