Chechnya's leader tightens grip on power
- GROZNY, Russia (AP) February 28, 2009 The bullnecked president of
Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with
chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot
in the head deserved to die.
Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the
roadside, had "loose morals" and were rightfully shot by male
relatives in honor killings.
"If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of
them are killed," Kadyrov told journalists in the capital of this
The 32-year-old former militia leader is carrying out a campaign to
impose Islamic values and strengthen the traditional customs of
predominantly Muslim Chechnya, in an effort to blunt the appeal of
hardline Islamic separatists and shore up his power. In doing so,
critics say, he is setting up a dictatorship where Russian laws do not
Some in Russia say Kadyrov's attempt to create an Islamic society
violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees equal rights for
women and a separation of church and state. But the Kremlin has given
him its staunch backing, seeing him as the key to keeping the
separatists in check, and that has allowed him to impose his will.
"Kadyrov willfully tries to increase the influence of local customs
over the life of the republic because this makes him the absolute
ruler of the republic," said Yulia Latynina, a political analyst in
Kadyrov's bluster shows how confident he is of his position. "No one
can tell us not to be Muslims," he said outside the mosque. "If anyone
says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy."
Few dare to challenge Kadyrov's rule in this southern Russian region
of more than a million people, which is only now emerging from the
devastation of two wars in the past 15 years. The fighting between
Islamic separatists and Russian troops, compounded by atrocities on
both sides, claimed tens of thousands of lives and terrorized civilians.
Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says
their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more
than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and
girls are now required to wear headscarves in all schools,
universities and government offices.
Rights activists fear that Kadyrov's approval of honor killings may
encourage men to carry them out. Honor killings are considered part of
Chechen tradition. No records are kept, but human rights activists
estimate dozens of women are killed every year.
"What the president says is law," said Gistam Sakaeva, a Chechen
activist who works to defend women's rights. "Because the president
said this, many will try to gain his favor by killing someone, even if
there is no reason."
Sakaeva also said she worried that Chechen authorities would now be
less willing to prosecute men suspected of killing women.
Kadyrov inherited his position from his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, a
Muslim cleric and former rebel commander who fought the Russians
during Chechnya's war of independence in 1994-1996. Shortly after war
broke out again in 1999, the elder Kadyrov switched sides and brought
Chechnya back into Moscow's fold.
Ramzan Kadyrov worked as the head of his father's security force,
which was accused of kidnapping, sadistic torture and murder. After
Akhmad Kadyrov was killed by a terrorist bomb in 2004, power passed to
Vladimir Putin, then president and now prime minister, embraced the
younger Kadyrov, who has succeeded in ending a wave of terror attacks
that haunted the early years of Putin's presidency. But as Kadyrov has
consolidated his power, many of his critics and political rivals have
been killed. Some have been gunned down on the streets of Moscow,
including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose death in 2006 shocked
In one of the most recent killings, a Chechen who had accused Kadyrov
of personally torturing him was shot last month as he walked out of a
grocery store in Vienna, Austria.
Kadyrov has denied any involvement in the killings.
The Kremlin appears willing to continue allowing Kadyrov to rule as he
wishes, as long as he prevents another outbreak of violence. And
Kadyrov has won the grudging respect of many Chechens for bringing a
measure of peace and stability.
"People want to believe that things are getting better," said Sakaeva.
"They are tired of war."