Homosexuality in Chechnya: a step backwards for humanity

On April 4th 2017, Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta published an article containing allegations against the Republic of Chechnya — allegations of capturing, torturing, and killing of men in Chechnya suspected and accused of participating in homosexual behavior. From the outset, Chechen officials denied the allegations, even going so far as to dismiss the original article as an April Fool’s joke. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a known proponent of polygamy and adversary of the gay community, has spoken strongly against the Novaya Gazeta article, and his spokesman has dismissed the claims as slander and attempts at disinformation which shows the attitude towards homosexuality in Chechnya.

Despite the comments provided by the Chechen Republic’s Internal Ministry and their spokesmen, both Human Rights Watch and Novaya Gazeta have “numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground.” The situation is dire, though, and although their sources are trusted, the precariousness of their anonymity and safety must be preserved at all costs. You can read specific cases in the original Russian article, once translated, from three witnesses and victims of the abhorrent practices of the Chechen Republic.

Human Rights Watch followed up on the Novaya report on the same day the original article was published, echoing the concerns that Chechen authorities “have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims. Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.” Chechen officials continue to deny the claims. Moreover, Kheda Saratova, a member of Kadryov’s human right’s council, instead of merely denying the claims as falsehoods, goes further to say that the likelihood of homosexuals even existing in Chechnya is small. The Huffington post cites her claiming that in “Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and [will] do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

It would be hard to look at this particular instance of reprehensible behavior under a microscope; the tendrils of its foundations are linked with long standing conservative values born from Chechnya’s Sunni Muslim national religion and its ties with the Kremlin, whom they’ve waged war with intermittently over the past three decades. LGTB actions — actions described by the Kremlin as non-traditional sexual orientations — have only been decriminalized in Russia since shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and transgender individuals have only been able to legally change their gender since 1997. Putting this within the scope of Russia’s unofficial control over the Chechen Republic, it is not hard to believe that the long standing conservative values haven’t been realigned by a nearly-as-conservative entity like Russia.

In Chechnya, it is not uncommon for those accused or found to be “guilty” of committing homosexual acts to be subjected to “honor killings”, carried out by their families in the attempt to cleanse the family of the perpetrators sinful affairs. This belief and practice, however, is not exclusive to Chechnya. Pew Forum published a thorough survey in April of 2013 on the moral views of Muslims in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia, which almost unanimously rendered over 75% disapproval of homosexual behavior — 33 out of 36 countries surveyed resulted in over three-fourths of the sample sizes believing homosexuality to be amoral, with a shocking amount of people from those regions condoning honor killings.

Understanding this, we can dig further see an alignment in the practice of how Russia, and ultimately Chechnya, stifles its opposition, be it a terrorist or moral entity, in this instance. During the Second Chechen War, in the waning years of the 300 year conflict between Russia and Chechnya, controversial tactics such as chemical weapons, targeting civilians, and the threatening of nuclear waste deposits were all rumored to have been employed by both sides, particularly the Russians, who had monopolized information on the conflict. Human Rights Watch posted a transcript of the testimony given before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, detailing the atrocities committed during the Second Chechen War — such atrocities include denying an exit path for civilians on several occasions, indiscriminately bombing civilian bunkers and shelters, massacring throngs of civilians that came into contact with Russian forces, exterminating and raping refugees while simultaneously isolating them from resources such as food and running water. Drawing from both instances, although unique in their own right, there remains a common denominator in both belief and in practice — a conviction to erase a group of people from the earth, and dampening the sounds of their cries with deliberate disinformation. Human Rights Watch has been at the centerfold of both conflicts, imploring the US to get involved.

Although the Second Chechen war was indeed an egregious act of inhumanity, the means by which the methods were executed are less important with than the methods themselves, which are indicative of the way the Chechen concentration camps are being handled now. The Chechen conflict amassed somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 civilians, and the morally repugnant tactics employed then are being employed by the nation-state of Chechnya now — parallels abound. A stigmatized group of individuals have fallen victim to an unforgivable hate-crime, while information regarding these practices have been stifled by an entity — be it Russia or Chechnya — who has nearly monopolized all information in this region of the world. Russia has created the artificial luxury of being able to feign ignorance to the atrocities of its Chechen neighbors in part because of its control of information, but also due to the flimsy, fallacious assertion that homosexuals could not even exist in Chechnya, for its predominantly Muslim values would naturally exorcise that sin from society through honor killings or exile. It remains unclear how long this persecution against homosexuals has been practiced, but the spotlight is widening its lenses to illuminate a larger issue endemic to Russian and Chechen policy.

Edited by Maryam Elahi