‘When a daughter is killed for an offense, I stand and applaud’ What do Chechen activists who harass women online actually want?
Since the beginning of the year, Chechen activists from the “Carthage” movement have harassed young women who share supposedly “immoral” photos on social media. Members in this group publicize these women’s addresses and post the contact information of their relatives. One of Carthage’s targets recently tried to flee Chechnya, after receiving political asylum in Norway, but police detained her in Minsk and handed her over to her father. A similar online community called “TTM” is active in Tatarstan, sharing photographs of local women who date non-Muslim men and men from outside the region. Meduza special correspondent Daniil Turovsky contacted activists from the Carthage movement and tried to learn what these chastity warriors want.
Hours after this story first appeared in Russian on Meduza, Vkontakte announced that it has blocked the “Carthage” community on orders from Russia’s state censor, Roskomnadzor, following the Russian Attorney General’s decision to blacklist the group for disseminating extremist materials.
What is the “Carthage” movement?
On September 4, 2017, police officers at Minsk’s airport detained a Chechen woman named Luiza Dudurkayeva, who fled her home after receiving threats from activists from the Carthage movement. Open Russia learned that unknown persons wrote her messages saying that she “doesn’t behave like a Chechen woman,” warning that “women like her should be buried.” According to Radio Svoboda, the attention of Carthage activists online precipitated harassment of Dudurkayeva in person, as well: when she was leaving a store in Argun, she was approached by a man driving a black car with tinted windows, who told her to take a seat. Dudurkayeva says she ran away and sought help from human rights workers, who brought her to Murmansk for two months, while they managed to win her asylum in Norway. Before she could reach safety, however, Belarusian police detained her in Minsk during a layover, and handed her over to her father, who brought her back to Argun.
The “Carthage” community appeared on Vkontakte in February 2017. The group’s administrators upload photographs found on local women’s social media pages that they believe depict immoral behavior, such as women without headscarves, women in short skirts, and women who expose their shoulders, legs, and necks. When sharing these photos, the group’s activists blot out the exposed hair and flesh, leaving the faces visible. In addition to sharing hyperlinks to these women’s social media accounts, Carthage activists often post home addresses and the contact information of their relatives, calling for their targets’ “reeducation.” In comments on images they share, community members write things like “There can be no loose communication between a man and a woman. Your classmates are off limits for the opposite sex.”
In addition to this community, the movement runs another group called “Al Farouq” (a reference to a former Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, where the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks reportedly trained). In this community, users share quotes from the Quran.
The activists call themselves a “youth movement for the purification of the Vainakh people.” The Vkontakte community’s rules are simple: “women are forbidden from commenting,” and “other nationalities will be banned.” In early September, the group’s administrators kicked out roughly 5,000 users they identified as “belonging to other nationalities.” Carthage administrators share photographs of Chechen women, but activists say they plan to turn their attention to women in Dagestan and Ingushetia, as well. At its peak, this closed group had 55,000 members. According to the “Anti-Carthage” community, a Vkontakte group set up to investigate the youth “purification” movement, the man behind Carthage might be a 19-year-old Chechen who uses the pseudonyms Arthur, Mairbek, Lars Windorf, and Lom-Ali.
Carthage isn’t the first Chechen movement to threaten women for supposedly “immoral” behavior. In May 2017, Meduza reported on an armed group that threatens Chechen refugees in Berlin. In May, the group distributed a video on WhatsApp channels featuring a voice speaking Chechen, saying, “Here in Europe, some Chechen women and men who look like women are doing terrible things. [...] Having lost their nakhchalla [national identity], they’re flirting with men of different nationalities and marrying them. Chechen women and these creatures calling themselves Chechen men are choosing the wrong path, and we must ‘correct’ them whenever possible. We left, swearing on the Quran,” the Berlin activists said, without identifying themselves.
Meduza has uncovered a similar group operating in Tatarstan called “TTM,” where members share photos of local young women known to be dating men from other regions. Earlier this summer, administrators shared a hyperlink to a young woman’s Vkontakte account with the caption: “She’s left [us] for a Russian. You know what to do.” In July 2017, the community posted a cartoon with the caption: “I’m a modern Tatar woman, and I don’t want to marry a Tatar Muslim man and have children. I want to party with rooskies, and then take it out on all men and become a lesbian feminist.” Meduza was unable to determine if any women in Tatarstan have been harassed after being targeted by TTM activists.
“Carthage” answers Meduza’s questions
Earlier this summer, Carthage activists announced that they would begin carrying out raids on the streets of Chechnya, targeting women dressed or behaving “inappropriately.” Speaking to Meduza, one of Carthage’s activists explained that these plans were now on hold, after an intervention by anti-extremism police. “We decided not to put our activists at risk, and we’ve got quite a lot of them. It would be stupid to conduct raids without the approval of the Chechen authorities, so we’re looking for a resolution to the situation,” he said.
Carthage activists refused to meet in person with Meduza, agreeing only to answer our questions in writing. A few days later, they uploaded several of their responses to their closed community on Vkontakte, indicating to members that the text contained answers to questions by journalists.
In his letter to Meduza, Carthage’s administrator said that he created the movement “by the will of Allah” because “Muslim society has come into contact with infidel society.” He says he decided about a year ago that he wouldn’t allow his children to access the Internet or watch television, which he says are designed to raise “amoral and stupid nonbelievers.” “It’s actively promoting a nonbeliever lifestyle and the ideology of pairing off with anyone you want, like animals,” he argues. “Like any decent Muslim, I’m disgusted by the worldview of nonbelievers, their ideas, their aims, and their values.”
“We don’t want our people to be Russified, [but] Chechnya is currently a subject of the Russian Federation, and it would be foolish of me to promote separatism among the masses,” the activist wrote to Meduza. “You’re trying to distort our religion, publicly promoting the slogan ‘Islam is a religion of peace and good.’” According to him, Muslim youths have been waiting a long time for a movement like Carthage.
“There are no authoritative communities on the RuNet that would appeal to the morals of lost souls,” the Carthage administrator told Meduza, complaining that there are, on the other hand, many groups that “promote immorality among young people,” such as 4ch, “seedy groups like ‘Atypical Makhachkala,’ and corny, juvenile groups likes ‘Kuntu Maitan.’”
Carthage activists say they have the right to harass women who share their photographs on social media: “Where is it written that we don’t have this right? The girls are publishing these photos themselves in the open, so they’re ready to listen to public opinion.”
The movement’s leaders say it doesn’t concern them that their actions could lead to “honor killings,” where family members murder their own relatives for breaking with conservative cultural traditions. For example, at a trial in April 2015, a lawyer defending a Chechen man accused of murdering his own daughter told the court that his client “had removed her from this world, so she couldn’t disgrace herself, her father, or her other close relatives,” according to the website MediaZona. There are no reliable statistics on “honor killings” in Russia, and human rights activists say these murders often go unrecorded as homicides. “They have a funeral for the girl, or maybe they just bury her somewhere,” and the neighbors know, but they don’t tell anyone.
“You say that our women have no rights, because we control them. Our women dress modestly, and don’t leave the house, if they don’t have to,” the activist told Meduza, before writing in all capital letters: “IF I FIND OUT THAT SOME VAINAKH FAMILY HAS KILLED THEIR OWN DAUGHTER FOR SOME SERIOUS OFFENSE, THEN I WILL STAND UP AND APPLAUD, BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.”