Saturday, September 11, 2004

The New York Times > International > From Dismal Chechnya, Women Turn to Bombs

The New York Times > International > Europe > From Dismal Chechnya, Women Turn to Bombs:
"In Russia, such women are known as shakhidki, the feminine Russian variant for the Arabic word meaning holy warriors who sacrifice their lives. In the media, they are known more luridly as black widows, prepared to kill and to die to avenge the deaths of fathers, husbands, brothers and sons in Chechnya. But the circumstances that bring women to suicidal attacks are not so simple."

Their participation - despite Chechnya's deeply patriarchal society, or perhaps because of it - reflects the radicalization of a war that began as a separatist struggle but has turned increasingly nihilistic.

It has also exposed the deep schisms that are tearing apart Chechnya, where few people interviewed here spoke warmly of Russia or the Kremlin, but where all expressed horror at the bombings, the school siege and other attacks carried out for the sake of Chechnya's independence. "We were so shocked," one woman who worked beside Ms. Dzhbirkhanova in Grozny's central market said, speaking only if she were identified by her first name, Yana. Her eyes reddened with tears. "How could she?"

Chechens themselves have not embraced a cult of religious martyrdom, as have, for example, many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, insurgents in Iraq or militant groups like Al Qaeda.

Here in Grozny, there are neither posters nor graffiti celebrating shakhidki. Chechnya's imams, leaders of a moderate Islam in an outwardly secular society, do not preach fiery sermons revering them. And those who knew the four women said they simply could not believe they were involved in any way.

Instead, rumors swirl. Some other fate has befallen them, their neighbors said: kidnapping, arrest, death perhaps - anything but suicide.

"It is not normal," said Khozh-Akhmed Israilov, a security guard in Grozny's market who knew Ms. Dzhbirkhanova, echoing many others interviewed here. "How could someone do this to themselves? Only God can take life. She knew very well that to take her life was a sin."

Unheard of when war ravaged Chechnya the first time, from 1994 to 1996, female suicide bombers have taken part in at least 15 attacks since the war erupted again, in 1999. Among those were the hostage siege of a Moscow theater in October 2002, where 19 of 41 captors were women. The women apparently involved in the plane bombings were not, technically, black widows. Ms. Dzhbirkhanova, said to be in her early 40's, was divorced. So were the Nagayeva sisters, 26 and 24. All three divorced, neighbors said, because they could not have children, something deeply stigmatized in Chechen life.

The Nagayeva sisters did lose a brother, Uvays Nagayev. On April 27, 2001, he and a friend were badly beaten by Russian soldiers, according to a report compiled by Memorial, a human rights organization. He escaped, but on May 2, he was arrested at the family's home by soldiers in a Russian armored vehicle. He has not been heard from since.…
con·cept: The New York Times > International > From Dismal Chechnya, Women Turn to Bombs