Chechen immigrants living in Germany form an insular group. Their Islamic faith, plus the stern and violent traditions imported from the Caucasus, form a mixture that can be dangerous and deadly — especially to Chechen women.
Many thanks to JLH for translating this report from Der Tagesspiegel:
Chechen “moral guardians” in Berlin
“Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned!”
When nude photos of a Berlin Chechen woman reach the internet, her family intends to kill her. The 19-year-old escapes. But her flight is just beginning.
by Dmitri Vachedin (with the assistance of Hannes Heine)
On an evening in late November last year, the furious uncle telephones, calls his 19-year-old niece “a whore,” demands to speak with the parents, and makes suggestions of how to proceed now that these photos are in circulation. These suggestions are such that they are entered the following day on a form in the Berlin police district. Under “crime” is handwritten “Threat in the name of honor.”
As the niece tells it, she was supposed to be killed. Her mother was to get her out of Berlin to Chechnya, where the family came from. There, she was to die at the hands of her uncle, who had also gone there from Germany.
She says: “If I don’t change my name and appearance, they will find me.” She is now living temporarily in another German city, distant enough from Berlin that she will not coincidentally encounter her family. Anyone who wishes to meet with her must do it under the condition of not giving up her name, and much more. Data and details have been altered for her protection. But she does want to talk. Her story has been told in the Russian-language, online portal, Meduza. The young woman, whose name here is Madina, has escaped, but she is not safe.
When Madina left her parental home, her “case” ceased to be a family affair and became one for the Chechen community. Now, says Madina, it is the duty of any Chechen man to find her and punish her. It is a kind of code of behavior, she says, and there are men in Berlin who are prepared to act on this obligation.
Chechens living in Germany agree in reporting about a Berlin hit group, comprising up to 100 men, who are said to be armed and led by people with battle experience.
There is a video going around the Chechen community by way of WhatsApp that is attributed to this group. A quote from the video: “Here in Europe, a number of Chechen women — and men who look like women — do unspeakable things.” When there is the opportunity, “we will discipline them.” The group runs through the streets, speaks to Chechen women; in the best cases there is just a reprimand. “You look like a slut.” Madina says she has had that experience. Lipstick is enough. Unspeakable. Discipline. What for?
On that November evening, when her uncle phoned, called her a whore and demanded that her parents be brought to the telephone, Madina says, she went pale immediately. She sensed what was going to happen. That evening, her cell phone had been stolen. There were photos stored on it — pictures of her in a club with a bottle of beer in her hand. In a bar with a cigarette. Pictures of her nude. They turned up quickly in WhatsApp chat groups that Chechens use to communicate with one other.
The uncle pronounces Madina’s death sentence and her parents agree. He instructs the mother to fly to Moscow with her daughter the next day, and then on to Chechnya. They would meet him there.
A known, but rare, procedure, say Chechen experts. Although the drastic solution is rare, the tendency to and occasions for violence are familiar. Problems — even those that are really nothing — are taken care of inside the family. Supposed codes of honor play a large role. People are shaped by war, terrorism and religion. Older Chechens are often moderate Muslims; younger ones are finding radical Islam attractive. Many of them have archaic concepts of morality. There are reports of prisons in which gays are tortured. Because of that, a homosexual man from Chechnya was, for the first time, given the rarely granted “humanitarian asylum” in Germany.
The Mother Guards the Daughter, Locks Her Papers Up
Chechen society follows three laws, says Ekkehard Maaß, chair of the German-Caucasian Association. The first — and least important — is the Russian constitution. The second is Sharia. And then there is Adat, which is deeply rooted in Chechen mentality — the traditional norms. Several of them collide with German law.
Whether it is translators in state agencies for refugee affairs, social workers, prisoners, police or state’s attorneys — they all report that Chechens in Berlin are especially noticeable. Chechens often set the tone in the city’s Salafist mosques. Chechens were also active in the Fussilet mosque in Moabit. That is where the Tunisian asylum seeker, Anis Amri, stayed, shortly before the massacre in Breitscheid Square. That is where Chechens attacked Christian asylum seekers in shelters in December, and Amri killed 12 people. In Marienfelde, in 2014, almost 100 Chechens hunted down 30 Syrians. In May, it was presumably Chechens who shot up a biker bar in Wedding.. The word from prisons is that Chechens are pressuring other prisoners. “The Chechens have strict hierarchies,” says a Berlin ex-prisoner of Arab descent. “And they keep coming at you with God.”
Investigators report that Chechens from Berlin, and also Brussels and Copenhagen, have been encountered regularly on the German-Polish border. Men are traveling not only from the Caucasus to Germany, but also out again, only to return in a few weeks. “We don’t know why,” says a Berlin policeman. It could be smuggling of all kinds. “They are not afraid of German officials — they are used to controlling everything.”
The uncle hangs up and books the flights. Madina’s mother guards her daughter, seeks out her papers, locks them away. There is silence for the rest of the night. Close to 6:00 AM, the uncle calls — he has the tickets to Grozny.
At 6:31, the mother has left the room to wake the father. Madina takes her mother’s cell phone and calls the police. She says she is a Muslim girl whose parents have just found out she has a boyfriend — it’s not true, but it seems to her a better explanation in the short term — and that they want to kill her. In six minutes the police are at the door.
Her Hair is Cut, She is Sent to a Gynecologist
Madina says that her mother began to embrace her, when the police entered the apartment. In her pajamas and without her papers, Madina is taken to a house for abused women.
After a week, she speaks with her parents by telephone. They say that they are sorry to have so frightened their daughter. They regret their threats and the harsh language. Madina leaves the home for abused women and goes back to her parents’ house.
Bad mistake! The minute she is in the house, her mother beats her silly and cuts off her hair. Then a trip to the (woman) gynecologist. When the doctor confirms that Marina is a virgin, her mother relaxes. Madina need no longer be punished with death.
Instead, she gets a head scarf and house arrest. Now she must await her fate, which, she suspects, will be marriage to an older Chechen. A week later, she manages to escape. She calls the police. They come and take her on the pretext of investigating the theft of her cell phone. Then comes her escape from Berlin. Madina is neither a feminist nor an anti-Islamic activist. More than anything, she wants to lead a life that is taken for granted by young, German adults. She likes partying, she wears colored contact lenses and a striking hair style, has a gay best friend and just recently got some tattoos. But she spends most of her time in her room in her fear.
Not only she should be afraid. A man in a balaclava can be seen In the video circulating on WhatsApp channels used by the Chechen community. He aims his pistol at the camera and a masculine voice speaks. “As-salam-alaikam, Muslim brothers and sisters, you know it, I know it, everyone knows it.” The unspeakable things.
The Threat Posed by the Group is Known to the Police
The voice says: “Those who have lost our national identity, who flirt with men from other ethnic groups and marry them, Chechen women who have taken the wrong path, and those who call themselves Chechen men — we will fix that.” Approximately 80 agree and “are prepared to join.” They are the ones who have sworn on the Koran: “We are going onto the streets. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Don’t say you didn’t know.”
The message ends with the words: “May Allah grant us peace and set our feet on the path of righteousness.” In recent weeks, the group has beaten at least two young women.
The group’s video message is known to the police. Meanwhile the security police have become involved on account of “disturbance of the public peace through threat of violence” — against persons unknown. No further details are offered because of ongoing investigations.
Fatima knows the details. She just escaped herself. Fatima is not her real name. It is possible to speak to her, so long as not too many details of what she reports become public. The meeting takes place in a café in Berlin’s inner city.
An attractive young women with elaborate make-up and a knee-length skirt is sitting at the table. She looks like someone who both wants to be noticed and not to be noticed. “When I was 14, my future husband ‘stole’ me,” she says. Fatima lived at that time in a small Chechen town and a 20-year-old man and his friends kidnapped her. The man wanted to marry her.
As soon as a woman spends a night outside the family home, she loses “her honor,” says Fatima. The only solution for her and her family is to marry the kidnapper.
Dozens of Chechen Men Gather in Front of Her House
The couple had a child and emigrated to Germany. Her husband had had problems with someone in the Chechen government, she says. In Germany, he “turned into an animal.” He beat his wife regularly, and was banned from the refugee domicile. Fatima and her child were given a subsidized apartment in a Berlin suburb. She took a German course. But she stayed in the Chechen community in Berlin — in a parallel society, where almost everyone knows everyone and no secret seems to remain undiscovered. No matter how banal.
For example: In November, Fatima was filmed not far from her house by an acquaintance. She had been walking and talking with a man who was not a Chechen.
That did it. On the evening of that day, several dozen Chechen men gathered in front of her house who wanted to call her out. Fatima fled to a neighbor. The man who had been walking with her was tracked down and beaten to a pulp. He lost almost all his teeth. Fatima says: “.”I don’t know these men, and I don’t want to know them. I would like to be left in peace.”
Madina says: “If you don’t change your name and your face, they will hunt you down and kill you.” She is considering plastic surgery, and changing her name. For that, she would have to appear before a Chechen recording bureau. The danger of delivering herself to the authorities of the society she had fled would be great.
Chechens are considered an especially shuttered society. After the Chechnya wars waged against the separatist (constituent) republic by the Russian army after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the young people were radicalized. Many joined the Islamic State. The more than 1.5 million Chechens also live in the constituent republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan as well as neighboring country of Georgia, and even in Kazakhstan.
Violence Against Women Declared an Act of Patriotism
The society seems to be more liberal in their home territory than in Berlin exile. Madina says that at least it is easier for young woman in Chechnya than here. There, even mini-skirts could be worn. This is also affected by the competition between those remaining who are loyal to the regime, and the asylum seekers in Western Europe who despise President Ramsan Kadyrow and his followers. Both sides want to show the other that they are the better Chechens. It’s about protecting the old traditions which helped the small populace to survive the difficult battles with Russia. And so, violence and threats against women are declared to be acts of patriotism.
Things are slow to clear up in Berlin. The police say that thus far, “no facts have been entered in a complaint, that contribute to establishing a solid connection to so-called moral guardians in the Chechen communities.” Medina too, does not want to make an official complaint. She is afraid. For her mother.
1. District (or area) in Berlin.