Honor Killings of Women in the North Caucasus
Women in the region of the North Caucasus face abuse and violence from members of their own families due to rumors of immorality in a cultural practice known as honor killings. In April 2015, Sultan Daurbekov of Chechnya stood trial in the District Court of Grozny Staropromyslov for the alleged honor killing of his daughter, Zarema. The court learned about Zarema’s life with multiple witnesses telling of her divorce, alcohol consumption and how she wore her hair uncovered. On a night in 2013, Daurbekov sat in the back of his daughter’s car, strangling her with a rope around her neck while she struggled in the driver’s seat. Daurbekov’s lawyer, Timishev, stated “A father who killed his child after enduring 20 years of humiliation from her, the amoral behavior of a Muslim daughter, cannot, in principle, face responsibility for murder.” Daurbekov received a seven-year sentence in prison, but while his crime is common, punishment for honor killings of women in the North Caucasus is a rare instance.

About Honor Killings

Honor killings are a common occurrence worldwide, particularly widespread in regions of Iran, Pakistan and Russia. Honor killing is a cultural practice including close male relatives (fathers, brothers, husbands, etc.) murdering women because of the rumored violation of certain cultural boundaries.

Concerningly, honor killings of women in the North Caucasus are spreading at an alarming rate. The U.N. Human Rights Committee reports that relatives and intimate partners conducted a total of 1,447 femicide crimes in 2020. In 2018, the number of known cases was only 39 for the passing decade.

A source of constant fear for many women, these killings occur frequently and often go unpunished. Honor killings stand as one of the cruelest and most extreme forms of gender-based violence. This violence can take many forms, including direct murder, stoning to death, disfigurement with acid and forcing women into unwilling suicide.

A Project Justice Initiative study was the first to investigate honor killings in the context of a respected cultural practice. According to the report, tradition or Sharia law do not motivate these killings; rather the ‘self-styled’ ambitions of an individual or family drive them. Facts of transgression are often not necessary for justification; the suspicion of possibly disgracing a family’s honor is enough reason in and of itself. In cultures of regions of the North Caucasus, a woman’s honor has strong connections with that of her entire clan due to her duty of passing on values to the clan’s children. Male members of the family control a woman’s entire existence, and therefore, many believe it is in their right to commit the murders.

The Victims

Victims of this tradition are most often young, unmarried girls, as well as women from ages 20 to 30, either divorced or married. In 100% of honor killings, the perpetrators of the crimes are men. Project Justice Initiative’s study revealed that 33 incidents resulting in 39 murders occurred between 2008 and 2017. Among these murders, only 14 underwent trial in court. This custom, a violation of women’s rights to freedom, life and self-expression, escapes the attention of media and local law enforcement due to the belief that this is a cultural practice deserving of respect.

Field researchers find it difficult to determine the rate and frequency at which these killings occur due to a number of factors including:

  • The taboo nature of the crime within close communities.
  • The fact that many consider the crimes a ‘family affair.’
  • The fact that villagers are frequently unwilling to risk implicating themselves by disclosing information about crimes that their relatives and neighbors commit.

Reasons for Limited Justice

Many factors contribute to the lack of judicial and media attention regarding honor killings. Oftentimes, the absence of gender-sensitive initiatives is due to the perseverance of harmful gender stereotypes in these regions. The North Caucasus rarely implements punishments for these murders and the rare sentences that it executes are significantly less harsh than those for crimes that are equally serious.

Women of this region lack access to justice because of their unequal status in society and courts often mitigate the murders as crimes committed as a result of provocation by the victim and emotional distress from the perpetrator. This discrimination occurring at the social, cultural and legal levels of society, sends the message of tolerance and acceptance of male violence against women.

The most important factors that may contribute to the eradication of honor killings in the North Caucasus include the intensification of human rights activities, the enforcement of inevitable punishment for such crimes and the reinforcement of non-harmful religious structures and government.

General Comment No. 28, Article 3

In the 68th session of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in 2000, the HRC established General Comment No. 28, Article 3, proposing that honor crimes that the legal system does not punish serve as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, in 2011, Rashida Manjoo, a special rapporteur working on behalf of the United Nations, held a meeting in New York to address the issue of gender-related killings of women. During her time reporting the killings, she sent press releases to various governments detailing current instances of discrimination and violence against women in respective countries.

The Russian Justice Initiative

The Russian Justice Initiative is a nonprofit organization that concentrates on legally deterring human rights violations associated with counter-terrorism operations, torture, armed conflicts and gender-based violence in the Russian territory.

On a domestic level, the organization advocates for systemic reformation of policy and the legal system. According to the Russian Justice Initiative, the organization won more than 120 cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by 2014, regarding violations in Chechnya and Ingushetia of the North Caucasus. It has developed a program focused on enforcing a judgment in the North Caucasus region, which includes international advocacy and domestic litigation for human rights cases.

Honor killings of women in the North Caucasus are one of the most violent forms of gender-based crime, but few details surrounding the exact number of cases exist. It is important for these cases to gain media attention and for projects like the Russian Justice Initiative to advocate and champion women’s rights in the North Caucasus.

– Nina Eddinger
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Child Marriage in Russia
The minimum marriageable age in Russia is 18 years old. However, in some regions, it is common practice for teens to marry before the age of 18. Some may even marry as young as 14 years of age. For instance, in Moscow, the legal marriageable age is 16 and in Bashkortostan, it is 14, with underage marriages in Chechnya as well. In recent years, the idea of child marriage in Russia has sparked legal and social disputes between various communities.

In 2015, Putin lowered the legal age of marriage to 14 in Bashkortostan. This dropped the age of consent for special circumstances like teen pregnancy. However, the number of marriages is reportedly rising as teen pregnancies are increasing. Moreover, the public has agreed to the lowering of the age of consent. This brings up the issue that lowering the age exploits children. The problem extends in regions across Russia that are predominately traditionalists in their views and do not have close monitoring like in the northern and southern Caucasus regions.

Child Marriage in Chechnya

In Chechnya, reports indicated that an underage teen unlawfully married a man that was three times her age and already had multiple wives. The bride was 17 years old while the man was either in his late 40s or early 50s. The leader of the Chechen Republic attended the marriage even though Russian law does not permit polygamous marriages and child marriages. This highlights the pervading difficulties in enforcing laws across different regions.

Bride kidnappings have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell, Russia monitored other forms of social control, such as law enforcement, less. In addition, under Chechen rule, there has been a decrease in woman’s rights. Some even view bridal kidnappings as a tradition in Chechnya. The day of the wedding is often the last day brides see their families.

Many Caucasus states have reverted back to traditional social roles; women stay at home, especially in small towns and villages. In these small villages, people have accepted child marriage for hundreds of years. Some communities believe that their religion mandates it.

In Chechnya, there is no protection against forced marriage for young women, despite its illegality. The lack of control across the region explicitly inhibits the rights of women. Since the Chechnyan government runs locally, authorities’ biases influence women’s rights and child marriage. Enforcing laws in the North Caucasus region is difficult for Russia because of a lack of both executability and accountability.

Reports on Child Marriage in the South Caucasus Region

According to a UNICEF estimation, 7 percent of Armenian girls entered into marriage by 18 years of age in 2014. Unfortunately, this number may be much higher, since many underage marriages do not undergo registration. Women have little access to higher education. Moreover, people treat them unequally so others make decisions for them without their consent. Poverty and the familial need to ensure social status makes child marriage especially prevalent in small villages since marriage (and having children) can raise a girl’s standing and relieve financial burdens on her family. In Yezidi communities, children rarely seek out help for fear of suffering exclusion from their families. Soviet exceptionalism is a problem in this region, where Yezidis do not have to abide by Russian laws concerning the minimum age of consent.

In Azerbaijan, 2 percent of girls entered marriage by age 15 and 11 percent by 18, yet some believe that these statistics are underestimated. Bridal kidnappings are even more common. There is a direct link between bridal kidnappings and child marriages since early marriage is a threat to bridal abduction. Most families are more willing to marry their child off young than to have someone eventually abduct their daughter.

Russia’s Steps Forward

Despite the ongoing issues, Russia has taken multiple steps towards ending child marriage. According to girlsnotbrides.org, Russia has aimed to end forced child marriage by 2030. The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination on Women, adopted in 1979, is an international bill consisting of 30 articles that define what constitutes discrimination against women. CEDAW has also taken charge of the issue by spreading awareness, for instance during Russia’s review in 2015. The bill ensures equal opportunities and equal access to public life including education, health and employment. In 1990, the minimum age of consent was age 18. In addition, the CEDAW Committee states that partners must have full consent for marriage.

UNICEF is leading the way towards support for women in the Caucasus regions. The organization offers youth grants supporting education for women, hotlines and supportive services to girls, strengthens legal protections and promotes awareness. Along with the government’s initiatives to stop child marriage, Russia is taking the initiative to guide communities across all regions, providing solutions toward a brighter future for girls.

Joelle Shusterman
Photo: Flickr

Circassian genocideThe facts of the Circassian genocide haunt the region today. Following the 101-year-long war, led by the Russians against the Circassians in the Caucasus, the Russian army finally succeeded in subduing the region. The result of this incredible period of resistance, however, was the development, in the Circassian social consciousness, of an undeniable hatred for the foreign invaders who sought total control of their homeland.

It was for this reason that the Russian army commenced a campaign, now seen by most of the world as a genocide, to oust the Circassians from the conquered region. The Circassian Genocide of 1864 is now remembered all over the world as one of the most gruesome genocides of the 19th century. The campaign utilized tactics, such as deportation, resource deprivation and mass murder. The idea was simple, conquer the land – extinguish the people. Prior to the Genocide, the region had roughly 1 million residents – by the end, all but 80,000 were either forcefully expelled or murdered.

Top 10 Circassian Genocide Facts

  1. Who are the Circassians? Since the fifteenth century, Circassians have adopted Islam as their religion, though most were Christian prior to then. They are a group native to the Caucasus.
  1. How long did the Russian campaign in Caucasia take? The Russians fought to take control of the Caucasus from the mid-eighteenth century until 1864. The genocide was perpetrated between March 6 and May 21, 1864.
  1. How did the Circassians hold the Russians back for so many years? The Circassians, unwilling to bow to the authority of a Christian foreign power, united with the forces of Chechnya and Dagestan. This alliance allowed for years of successful resistance, but it could not be maintained forever against the Russian Empire.
  1. Who decided to utilize this method of expulsion to conquer the Caucasus region?Count Dmitri Milyutin decided, after assuming his new role as Alexander II’s Minister of War in 1861, to implement a strategy presented in 1854.
  1. How many Circassians were killed? According to Russian government accounts of their final campaign in the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Circassians were murdered.
  1. How many Circassians were displaced? 497,000 were forced to leave the empire.
  1. Where were they sent? They were sent into the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, many perished of starvation and/or from drowning in the Black Sea, after leaving from the Port of Sochi.
  1. How many Circassians survive today? The diaspora populations are biggest in Turkey and Syria. Worldwide there are roughly 1.5 million ethnic Circassians.
  1. How does Russia view 1864? Russia officially denies the campaign as being a genocide. However, many citizens do recognize their nation’s actions as extremely devastating for the Circassian population.
  1. How do Circassians remember this day in their history? Ethnic Circassians observe a day of remembrance for their murdered ancestors each year, on the 21st of May.

Today, these events are classified, internationally, as a genocide. In this case, the qualifier was that the actions taken by the Russian army had the clear intent of extinguishing the presence of Circassians from the region, so as to ensure little resistance to their rule. This explanation is in line with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’s definition.

Despite the international recognition of the nature of these events, the Russian government refuses to do the same. What’s more, they continue to exercise autonomous control over the affairs of the region and have since divided it into five administrative districts with little regard to the ethnic divisions in the area.

The government’s primary reason for not recognizing the Circassian genocide is, of course, political in nature. If the Russian government were to officially recognize the Circassian genocide, it would likely result in a push by Circassian diaspora communities to return to the land their forefathers were forced to flee from. This could result in a massive shift in demographics, and power, in the Caucasus.

– Katarina Schrag
Photo: Flickr