‘This video is about Russia’ A new documentary about Chechnya’s LGBTQ crackdown is now available on YouTube
Russian journalist and host of the YouTube project, “Straight Talk with Gay People,” Karen Shainyan, has released a new, hour-long film about the persecution of LGBTQ people in Russia’s Chechnya. In the film, titled The Chechen War on LGBT, Shainayan talks to the main subjects and creators of the documentary film Welcome to Chechnya, which followed activists who worked to secretly evacuate LGBTQ people from Russia’s repressive Chechen Republic.
Shainyan’s film focuses on the torture, kidnapping, and forced “treatment” of suspected gays and lesbians in Chechnya, as well as the fact that many of the region’s LGBTQ people have simply been killed. Moreover, Shainyan looks at why queer people continue to return to Chechnya, regardless of the abuse they’ve faced, and threats to their lives and health. The film’s main subjects talk about how Chechen gays are working to accept themselves, and seek to answer the question of why the persecution of LGBTQ people is so widespread in Chechnya, but not in neighboring regions of the Russian North Caucasus, like Dagestan. In their opinion, the influence of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov isn’t the only factor.
Amin Dzhabrailov — who is considered Chechnya’s first openly gay man — was involved in filming. He recalls how for a two week period in 2017, he was tortured in a secret prison in the Chechen village of Tsotsi-Yurt: “They [would] give me a piece of paper and a pen, and say, ‘Remember those you’ve slept with, [the people] you’ve dated, write it all down on the piece of paper — and give it to us. Every time they came, I hadn’t written anything, and they beat me […] Then they started using us for forced labor. Washing cars, finishing up construction work that they didn’t want to complete […] They mocked us a lot, [saying] that we wouldn’t get out of there alive. They oppressed us this way every day.” Dzhabrailov now lives in Canada.
“I was digging quite shallowly, but familiar, solid ground instantly disappeared from beneath my feet,” Sainyan explains. “Even my superficial analysis saved me from the colonial template by which both foreigners and Russians judge Chechnya. Many of the heros in my video say: don’t forget that Chechnya is Russia. Now I understand the meaning and consequences of this basic fact. So this video isn’t about a far-away Muslim land with its own harsh traditions. This is a video about Russia. About the fact that everything that we do, from the First Chechen War, to the latest hashtag on Instagram, influences the lives of the people there. In order to understand what’s happening in Chechnya, just take a hard look at yourself in the mirror.”