The Brutalized women of the Caucasus Strike Back

The "other" Sharipova

Ace Russia reporter Megan Stack, writing in the Los Angeles Times:

The last time Patimat Magomedova saw her daughter, she was puttering around the house, manicuring her nails and using henna to dye her hair bright red.

It’s high time we take care of the garden, the mother remembers Mariyam Sharipova saying that Friday. Let’s plant raspberries, cucumbers, greens. And we have to do something about the kitchen, maybe get some pretty new dishes. By evening, the young woman had vanished from the house in this remote mountain village in the Russian republic of Dagestan. Magomedova didn’t see her daughter’s face again until somebody showed her a photograph of a severed head. At that moment, she said, “I knew there was no mistake.”

Sharipova, 27, had traveled a thousand miles to Moscow and climbed onto a crowded subway train at rush hour with an explosives-packed belt strapped around her waist. She was accompanied by a 17-year-old girl, also from Dagestan, who blew herself up at another station.

In the Russian news media, the women were immediately dubbed “black widows.” Their assault on the subway was taken as proof that the country had been shuttled back to the fearsome days when hollow-eyed female militants stalked Moscow and other cities far from the wars where their men fought Russian forces.

The subway bombings also sent ripples of unease across the turbulent, mostly Muslim republics strung along Russia’s southern edge. There was angst over the slaying of civilians and fear of retaliation.

But it came as slim surprise that women were ready to die. This, after all, is a landscape of damaged women, grieving losses they dare not dwell upon.

The closer you get to the fighting in the Caucasus, the murkier it appears. The violence in Dagestan, and in neighboring Chechnya and Ingushetia, is not easy to classify — it’s a mix of rebels who want independence from Russia, Islamist extremists bent on waging jihad, local clan and gang warfare and sectarian strife.

And as the fighting intensifies, it is the men who disappear. Masked agents pound on the door and cart them off for questioning. They come back beaten, or not at all. Sometimes the men are rebels; other times, their affiliations are bafflingly vague.

It’s the women who are left behind, their status and material comforts tangled up in the choices of their fathers, sons and husbands.

Sharipova lived in a spacious, gated house with grape trellises and dizzying views up the mountainsides. Her mother teaches biology; her father is a self-described “patriot of the motherland” who teaches Russian literature.

She was a serious young woman who studied mathematics, psychology and computers. She was also a homebody who, in the words of her mother, “didn’t mix well.” When not working as the deputy principal of the village school, she busied herself with home improvement projects, cooked pilaf and fussed over clothes.

The fighting crept into the village. Security forces periodically staged “cleanup operations,” swarming Balakhani with armored personnel carriers, helicopters and legions of ground troops, cutting off access to the mosque and searching house by house for signs of rebels.

Sharipova’s two older brothers were accused of supporting the rebels. They were close to her; the three had shared an apartment when their parents sent them to study at the university in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala.

Her elder brother was in a dentist’s waiting room in 2004 when masked men burst in, threw an overcoat over his face and carried him away. He was held all night, tortured and finally dumped, beaten and bruised, in the forest, his parents say.

The men never identified themselves, he told his family, but they were security agents of some stripe.

“Our problems started from that kidnapping,” said the father, Rasul Magomedova.

Security forces came after midnight or at dawn to ransack the family’s rooms, looking for the brothers. The extended family took turns staying up all night to keep watch for troops.

The older son eventually fled to Moscow. The younger is also in hiding. The family says neither is tied to the rebels.

Sharipova, meanwhile, withdrew deeper into Islam. A madrasa,or religious school, opened in the village mosque two months ago, and she spent hours there. She set herself the task of memorizing the entire Koran.

A few weeks ago, police warned her father that Sharipova had secretly married a notorious rebel commander. It was a rumor they had heard before, floating around the village, but had not taken seriously. After all, they reasoned, she was still in the house with them. Nevertheless, the parents confronted her — and were unnerved by her reaction.

“She was very uneasy. She didn’t like it,” Patimat Magomedova said. “She became very nervous and very frightened, and turned away from us.”

Some of Sharipova’s friends refuse to believe she set out to kill. They insist that she was kidnapped, that she was drugged.

Her parents make no such justifications. They are grieving their daughter, and grieving what she did. They are indignant that Russian state television refused to air their condolences to the families of the dead.

“I’m ashamed. People died because of her, and that hurts me,” her mother said. “And it hurts me that I lost my daughter. I have this double hurt on me.”

There’s a tendency in Moscow to describe the troubles in the Caucasus as black and white — either a righteous battle against terrorists or an indiscriminate campaign of human rights abuses from the security forces.

In truth, it is a war of attrition, with dirty fighting and civilian deaths on both sides. And there is a swelling group of widows, too, whose husbands were police officers killed by rebels.

But if Moscow’s goal is stability, its methods appear to be falling short. The kidnappings, torture sessions, extrajudicial executions and secret prisons documented by human rights groups throughout the region are breeding a new depth of animosity — and, critics say, sowing the seeds for a fresh bout of war.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has made little apology for its hard-line anti-terrorism tactics. Only in the wake of the recent bombings have some voices in the government begun to raise the question of whether abuses and economic despair need to be addressed in order to quell the rise of extremism.

In Dagestan, as in Chechnya and Ingushetia, there is a sense of being hemmed in to Russia, and yet rejected by the state. Prime Minister Putin’s face shines down on the town square in the capital, emblazoned with words of love for Dagestan. But people here tend to remember the time he said he’d hunt terrorists down into the toilet.

Once Russian security forces target a man, family members may be stripped of their jobs and wind up struggling to put food on the table, human rights workers say.

“Here they persecute the whole family,” said Gulnara Rustamova, head of Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, who advocates for families in their clashes with security services.

If the husband dies in a “special operation,” she said, authorities often refuse to give the widow a death certificate, so she cannot collect welfare for the children.

Corrupt investigators also force the families to buy back the bodies of their men, human rights monitors say. In a land where Muslim funeral rites are highly important, many families are forced to pay as much as $14,000 to claim the bodies.

Rustamova said she has spent hours persuading grief-stricken women not to take bloody revenge.

“They talk about hanging explosives on themselves . . . and blowing themselves up,” she said. “These women are really driven to the point of despair.”

Asiyat Aliyeva used to moon over love stories on television. They spun out in the corners of the house she was building for her only son, his wife and the five children he promised to have. Melodramas, she calls the programs. Light, romantic trifles.

Now she has patience only for war movies. Ever since security troops killed her son, she wants to see blood.

“I would like to see the blood of the person who killed him,” she said. “Let them tell me why they killed him. If they can say to me that he did something and that’s why they killed him, I can forgive them.”

Aliyeva is a successful businesswoman who, with her sisters, imports and sells fashionable clothing to the Dagestani elite.

Her family is secular. She travels to France and Italy to choose fashions. The house she was building for her son was to stand three stories tall, with high ceilings and airy views over the rooftops of Makhachkala.

Aliyeva has little in common with the black widows of the Russian imagination, but she too is damaged.

Her son, Kerim Asadulayev, was 27, tall and baby-faced, the father of a 9-month-old girl. He and his wife were studying law in Moscow.

Asadulayev was home on a school break in January. The morning he died, he drank coffee with his mother, dropped her off at work and then went to meet a friend from Moscow in a cafe.

As the two young men left the restaurant and headed for Asadulayev’s car, the shooting began. Asadulayev had just started the engine, and the friend was heading for the passenger door, when masked gunmen appeared on all sides, firing into their bodies.

A man whose windows overlooked the street recorded the attack on his cellphone. The video shows gunmen drawing closer and closer, shooting point blank into already prone bodies.

Then it shows them rearranging the bodies. They planted a hand grenade and a gun in their hands, Aliyeva says.

Police later said the two were terrorists, and that they were killed in a shootout. Aliyeva said her son’s body was riddled by 42 bullets.

She paused, and started to cry again.

“They should tell us, don’t give birth to boys. They should tell us, we will kill your boys.”

17 responses to “The Brutalized women of the Caucasus Strike Back

  1. As unspeakable as the Russians are, that cannot excuse bombing innocent people on a subway. I am not surprised it happens and have no doubt that Putin cares less for Russian victims than for Chechen ones but blowing up people on their way to work only strengthens their resolve to come back and kill you.
    Just saying.

  2. Russians die… Muslims die…

    They deserve each other.

    If muslims were not killing Russians they would be killing each other.

  3. Here’s “president”Medvedev recently lying to the American public about Umalat Magomedov, the husband Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova and (like her) the native of Dagestan:

    MEDVEDEV: That woman is virtually a child. She’s just 17. But she has taken the decision for herself which brought the deaths of many people. Why? That’s the main question. Why? She grew up in the Caucasus region. As far as I understand, if I correctly see what you’re showing me this is a lady who married one of the bandits. He is a foreign mercenary. He came to Russia in order to fight for his very doubtful ideals. He was killed. And according to the version which today is maintained by the investigation, this woman was one of those that triggered the explosive. Why did she do it? Why did she do that to innocent people? Evidently there’s multiple reasons. First one is radicalism. Extremist nature., which is typical for many people arriving from abroad which are fighting against our government and against many other countries in international terrorism. The same people are in Afghanistan, Pakistan. We’re constantly catching people of such a breed, or we destroy them. And after we check their documents we find that they are from far away lands. But this woman, she’s from Russia. She’s married to one of those bandits. And after he was killed, she made the decision to retaliate. But to retaliate on common people. What’s the way to fight it? You can fight it only after you understand how to remove the reasons for it. You know how difficult it is to fight terrorism. It’s difficult in Russia and in America. In order to fight such activity, you have to change the psychology of the people. You can create normal life conditions in the Caucusus. You have to destroy all of those who came here for terrorism. Those people are infiltrating through the borders.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: From Afghanistan, from Pakistan.

  4. @“Here they persecute the whole family,” said Gulnara Rustamova, head of Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, who advocates for families in their clashes with security services.

    What, “clashes”?

    Actually, Mothers of Dagestan are looking for the “disappeared”of the republic – or for their bodies. It’s not “clashes with security services.” It’s the crime against humanity (hundreds of cases in Dagestan only, thousands in Chechnya) by “security” services.

    MDHR is a human rights organisation created in 2007 by parents of persons who have disappeared in Dagestan. MDHR documents the numerous cases of enforced disappearances in this Republic of the Russian Federation.

    In July 2007, Memorial Human Rights Center received applications from the relatives of disappeared people. All of the applicants claim that their dear ones were abducted by security services of Dagestan. In early summer, the relatives of disappeared and abducted residents of Dagestan created the public movement “Mothers of Dagestan”.

    With “disappearances” continuing on a wide scale in Chechnya, the practice has now reached the level of a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

  5. @Mariyam Sharipova

    Three police officers killed in clash in Russia’s North Caucasus

    MOSCOW, 12 April (RIA Novosti) Three police officers were killed and seven injured during a clash with militants in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, local police said on Monday.

    The clash took place on Sunday morning after a group of militants, suspected for attempting to kill police officers and planning terrorist attacks, were surrounded in a forest in the Karabudahkentsky district of Dagestan, the police source said.

    A high-ranking source from the Dagestan security services said Anvar Sharipov, the brother of Moscow metro bomber Miriam Sharipova, was among the militants. The information has not been officially confirmed.

    Miriam Sharipova blew herself up in the Moscow metro on March 29 in a series of two blasts that killed 40 and injured dozens more.

    Earlier in April, following terrorist attacks in the Moscow metro and in Dagestan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the creation of a special anti-terrorism task force in the North Caucasus Federal District.

    Russia has been fighting militants in the North Caucasus for almost two decades, including two brutal wars against separatists in Chechnya.

  6. Let’s wait a bit and enjoy another mass shooting parade in the US army or on a college lawn. US annual statistics is a sure thing like winter snow in Canada. Just wait.

    I see there are a lot of “fake experts” on the problem of terrorism. But why Russia again if I may ask? Am I right Mr.McVeigh if you hear me, man?

  7. When Russian man is raped by the state he drinks vodka. When Kavkaz man is raped by the Russian state, he takes AK47.

    I am myself Russian but I hate sheep-like muscovites who think they can buy safety by bigger salaries and ignorance. Russia now makes everything needed for much more blood, the same as beginning of 21 century. And RTR and other similar scum here get some pocket money for pretending to be russian “patriots” and covering all this dirt and blood which happening in Russia. They will pay for this more and they already paid for this by being scum which they are.

  8. What impresses me the most when I see videos of Chechen life is how beautiful many Chechen women are. Has anybody else noticed that?

  9. Ivanuske:

    Try to learn to be more polite. It is just a small jump from “other similar scum” to guns going off. And then somebody’s brother dies and the war is on.

    • I like how he writes “the same as beginning of 21 century”, not knowing that we are living in the beginning of 21 century. Maybe he is still in kindergarten and can’t tell 20 from 21?

      • He probably means “before the 21st” century, it is a common error amongst those for whom English is a second language.

        Hi is bang on about what a piece of filth RTR is though……

  10. The important thing is she can tell scum! clear and loud. Bravo Ivanuska.

  11. (The Jamestown Foundation)

    Radio Free Europe observed that while Doku Uamrov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate, which claimed responsibility for the attack, stated Moscow was bombed on his orders for the earlier killing of impoverished men around the Chechen village of Arshty village on February 11, the suicide bombers came from Dagestan. On March 31, Shamsudin Batukaev, spokesman for the North Caucasus emirate, called Reuters from Turkey and said, “We did not carry out the attack in Moscow, and we don’t know who did it” (Reuters, March 31). That same day, the TV channel First Caucasus broadcast footage of a man it identified as an insurgent representative, who denied the insurgency’s involvement in the attack, attributing it instead to the Russian security services.

    Both denials were very significant developments, as the Caucasus Emirate had regularly taken responsibility not only for the violent attacks, but even for technological disasters in Russia. A few hours later, however, the Kavkaz Center website broadcast Doku Umarov’s statement claiming responsibility for the attack. Radio Free Europe pointed out that Umarov’s green grassy surroundings were not typical for the mountainous areas of Chechnya at this time of the year. It also reported that some specialists doubted Umarov’s lips were moving in synch with the words he said. Google’s efforts to remove Umarov’s video address, which angered Moscow, from YouTube, made it even more difficult to analyze the authenticity of the video (as of April 11 there was still at least one copy of the address available on YouTube).

    There are some logistical discrepancies, too. Investigators say that the two suicide bombers left Dagestan on March 27 and arrived in Moscow on March 29, the same day as the metro bombings. However, the mother of one of the suspects, Mariam Sharipova, insists her daughter was still with her on March 28 (Novaya Gazeta, April 8). Kommersant reported on April 9 that investigators carried out searches at Mariam Sharipova’s house and her work place, and found little evidence about her involvement in the attack.

    Sharipova’s father spent 35 years of his life teaching Russian language and literature at the local school in the village of Balkhani. His daughter Mariam had combined degrees in mathematics and psychology. Mariam was likely to have been the most educated person in this remote, mountainous village. If it is proven that Sharipova was one of the suicide bombers, it will emphasize how Russian state ideologues are losing the brightest and the youngest Dagestanis to the insurgency.

    The well-known Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky pointed out that the bomb attacks in the Moscow metro coincided with Moscow’s attempt to exert pressure on Chechnya’s ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. Belkovsky conjectured that the attacks may have been a warning to President Dmitry Medvedev and his new envoy in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, “not to change the system of relations that formed in previous years between Moscow and Chechnya” (, April 6). It is worth noting that Khloponin visited Chechnya on April 8, almost two-and-a-half months after his appointment. The delay may have been a signal to Kadyrov that Moscow is not happy with his behavior. Also, on the day of Khloponin’s visit, it became known that one of Kadyrov’s aides, Shaa Turlaev, was wanted for possible involvement in an attempt on the life of one of the Yamadaev brothers, who were Kadyrov’s rivals (, April 8). The timing leaves little doubt that some people in Moscow want to restrain Kadyrov.

    The history of the Moscow metro explosions is spectacular because out of six previous attacks between 1996 and 2004, only the last two attacks are considered to have been solved. Of those attacks, only in one case –the attack at the metro station entrance in 2004– the supposed suicide bomber may have been disturbed and had to detonate (, March 29). This means that suicide bombings are an effective tactic with nearly 100 percent efficiency. If almost all insurgent attacks in Moscow are so successfully carried out, why has the insurgency not carried out more of them? The sporadic character of this type of attack might indicate that they take place in Moscow only if one or another of the political forces in Russia really needs them. In this case, the Russian security services may have felt that the new configuration of power in the North Caucasus could threaten their interests.

    However, if the security services played no part in the attacks, it will still expose them as inefficient. Indeed, the frequency of counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus supposedly should have ensured that the insurgency networks were disrupted and prevented from launching attacks in distant places like Moscow. It appears that they were not disrupted, which indicates the poor quality of the Russian security agencies on-the-ground intelligence. This, in turn, signifies major problems within the security services and more generally with the overall relationship between Moscow and the discontented peoples of the North Caucasus.

  12. STRATFOR has a special on the Caucasus Emirate:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s