Goodbye My Chechnya

For young girls in Chechnya the most innocent act could be seen as a violation of the rules. 

A Chechen girl caught smoking is cause for arrest; while rumors of a couple having sex before marriage can result in an honor killing. 

The few girls who dare to rebel become targets in the eyes of Chechen authorities. 

After nearly two decades of war and 70 years of Soviet rule, during which religious participation was banned, modern-day Chechnya is going through an Islamic revival. 

The Chechen government is building mosques in every village, prayer rooms in public schools, and enforcing a stricter Islamic dress code for both men and women. 

I traveled to Chechnya over the course of two years and watched as the republic transformed with Chechen authorities enforcing a compulsory Islamic dress code for women and condoning violent attacks on women deemed immodestly dressed.

This is an exploration of the lives of young Muslim girls who witnessed the horrors of two wars and are now coming of age in a republic that is rapidly redefining itself as a Muslim state. 

2011-2012

 A young girl wraps a head scarf in her home. The head covering is a sharp break in tradition from the previous generation.

A young girl wraps a head scarf in her home. The head covering is a sharp break in tradition from the previous generation.

 A couple on a date in the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Couples must meet in public and sit a distance from one another. All physical contact is forbidden before marriage.

A couple on a date in the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Couples must meet in public and sit a distance from one another. All physical contact is forbidden before marriage.

 Half of the girls in the 9th grade wear a hijab. The head and neck covering is a sharp break from Chechen tradition.

Half of the girls in the 9th grade wear a hijab. The head and neck covering is a sharp break from Chechen tradition.

 Chechen teens study the Koran at an underground medrese. In today's Chechnya, youth are quick to embrace Islam after decades of religious repression.

Chechen teens study the Koran at an underground medrese. In today's Chechnya, youth are quick to embrace Islam after decades of religious repression.

 Gym class at School No.1 in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt. The schoolgirls, all dressed in skirts, say gym class violates Muslim dress code.

Gym class at School No.1 in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt. The schoolgirls, all dressed in skirts, say gym class violates Muslim dress code.

 Seda Makhadzheva, 15, sits beside her friends as they adjust her hijab. She started wearing the head covering a year ago.

Seda Makhadzheva, 15, sits beside her friends as they adjust her hijab. She started wearing the head covering a year ago.

 Chechen girls after school in front of the Heart of Chechnya mosque, the largest in Europe.

Chechen girls after school in front of the Heart of Chechnya mosque, the largest in Europe.

 Layusa Ibragimova, 15, has her hair and nails done before her wedding. Her marriage to 19-year-old Ibragim Isaev was finalized by her father just weeks before.

Layusa Ibragimova, 15, has her hair and nails done before her wedding. Her marriage to 19-year-old Ibragim Isaev was finalized by her father just weeks before.

 A group of Chechen men at a party, standing at the opposite end of women. In Chechnya, under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, gender segregation is being enforced.

A group of Chechen men at a party, standing at the opposite end of women. In Chechnya, under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, gender segregation is being enforced.

 A group of Chechen women at a party. This image was made before the government enforced a strict dress code, enforcing women to cover their hair.

A group of Chechen women at a party. This image was made before the government enforced a strict dress code, enforcing women to cover their hair.

 Jamila Idalova, 16, on her wedding day. The teen bride was kidnapped by her boyfriend. Bridal kidnappings are outlawed under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Jamila Idalova, 16, on her wedding day. The teen bride was kidnapped by her boyfriend. Bridal kidnappings are outlawed under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

 Chechen girls wait to be picked up for a party in the village of Achkoy-Martan.

Chechen girls wait to be picked up for a party in the village of Achkoy-Martan.

 For several years now, the Chechen authorities have been engaged in a “virtue campaign” for women, demanding all women to cover their heads.

For several years now, the Chechen authorities have been engaged in a “virtue campaign” for women, demanding all women to cover their heads.

 Amina Mutieva, 21, a student at the Islamic University in Grozny, prays in the prayer room for women.

Amina Mutieva, 21, a student at the Islamic University in Grozny, prays in the prayer room for women.

 Chechen dancers backstage at a concert hall in the Chechen capital. A suicide bomb exploded in front of the concert hall in 2009.

Chechen dancers backstage at a concert hall in the Chechen capital. A suicide bomb exploded in front of the concert hall in 2009.

 At sunset, Kazbek Mutsaev, 29, fires celebratory gun shots as part of an age-old wedding tradition in Chechnya.

At sunset, Kazbek Mutsaev, 29, fires celebratory gun shots as part of an age-old wedding tradition in Chechnya.