100 Words: Photographers Speak

100 Words: Chechen Girls And The Rise Of Islam

  • Chechen girls study the Quran at an underground madrassa in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt. The new generation of youth are embracing Islam after decades of religious repression by secular Communist authorities in the Soviet Union.
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    Chechen girls study the Quran at an underground madrassa in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt. The new generation of youth are embracing Islam after decades of religious repression by secular Communist authorities in the Soviet Union.
    Diana Markosian
  • Seda Makhagieva, 15, wraps a pastel-colored head and neck covering. Makhagieva fought to wear the hijab — a sharp break from her family's traditions.
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    Seda Makhagieva, 15, wraps a pastel-colored head and neck covering. Makhagieva fought to wear the hijab — a sharp break from her family's traditions.
    Diana Markosian
  • A couple on a date in Serzhen-Yurt. Couples must meet in public and sit at a distance from one another. All physical contact is forbidden before marriage.
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    A couple on a date in Serzhen-Yurt. Couples must meet in public and sit at a distance from one another. All physical contact is forbidden before marriage.
    Diana Markosian
  • Half of the girls in the ninth grade at a school in Serzhen-Yurt wear a hijab, a departure from Chechen tradition.
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    Half of the girls in the ninth grade at a school in Serzhen-Yurt wear a hijab, a departure from Chechen tradition.
    Diana Markosian
  • Gym class in Serzhen-Yurt. The schoolgirls, who are dressed in long, flowing skirts and head covers, refuse to wear their gym pants because they say it violates Muslim dress code.
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    Gym class in Serzhen-Yurt. The schoolgirls, who are dressed in long, flowing skirts and head covers, refuse to wear their gym pants because they say it violates Muslim dress code.
    Diana Markosian
  • Chechen girls after school in front of the Heart of Chechnya mosque, the largest in Europe. All Chechen girls, despite their religion, must wear a head covering in public schools and government buildings.
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    Chechen girls after school in front of the Heart of Chechnya mosque, the largest in Europe. All Chechen girls, despite their religion, must wear a head covering in public schools and government buildings.
    Diana Markosian
  • A Chechen teen, who considers herself "emo," puts on lip gloss in her room. Chechen youth who are influenced by the Western "emo" subculture are targets of violence by authorities.
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    A Chechen teen, who considers herself "emo," puts on lip gloss in her room. Chechen youth who are influenced by the Western "emo" subculture are targets of violence by authorities.
    Diana Markosian
  • Amina Mutieva, 21, prays before her class at the Islamic University in Grozny.
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    Amina Mutieva, 21, prays before her class at the Islamic University in Grozny.
    Diana Markosian
  • A Chechen boy checks out a girl from his black tinted window. Despite official measures, bride kidnapping continues to be an endemic problem: Young women in Chechnya are kidnapped off the street and married to men they may never have met.
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    A Chechen boy checks out a girl from his black tinted window. Despite official measures, bride kidnapping continues to be an endemic problem: Young women in Chechnya are kidnapped off the street and married to men they may never have met.
    Diana Markosian
  • Jamila Idalova, 16, on her wedding day. The teen bride was kidnapped by her boyfriend. Idalova's family eventually approved the marriage. Bridal kidnappings are outlawed under Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.
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    Jamila Idalova, 16, on her wedding day. The teen bride was kidnapped by her boyfriend. Idalova's family eventually approved the marriage. Bridal kidnappings are outlawed under Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.
    Diana Markosian
  • 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.
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    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.
    Diana Markosian
  • At sunset in the outskirts of Grozny, Kazbek Mutsaev, 29, fires celebratory gunshots as part of an age-old wedding tradition in Chechnya.
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    At sunset in the outskirts of Grozny, Kazbek Mutsaev, 29, fires celebratory gunshots as part of an age-old wedding tradition in Chechnya.
    Diana Markosian

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More than 70 years of Soviet rule, followed by two decades of frequent warfare, inflicted a heavy toll on Chechnya, a small, mostly Muslim republic in southern Russia.

Russia has effectively crushed the rebel movement in Chechnya; the main city, Grozny, has been rebuilt; and the Chechen government has embarked on a campaign to promote Islam.

Today, alcohol is all but banned, polygamy encouraged, and single-sex hair salons and gyms are becoming the norm. Some Chechen women say their rights are being curtailed.

With these images, I hope to reveal a more intimate perspective of the personal lives and choices of girls who are grappling with questions of identity as they come of age in a place that is redefining itself through Islam.

Diana Markosian is a documentary photographer working out of Russia and the former Soviet Union. She holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. More of her work can be found on her website; a version of this post is on FotoVisura.


100 Words is a series in which photographers describe their work, in their own words. Curated by Graham Letorney

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