When she was just 20 years old photo-journalist Diana Markosian asked the news agency she was working for in Moscow to send her to Chechnya. Many others in her position would have dreaded setting foot inside the much-troubled Chechnya, which has suffered decades of war but Markosian was intrigued by the region and its beleaguered history. Her agency denied her request, but she refused to be disheartened and made her own way there.
Whilst many of her work colleagues would fight tooth and nail to avoid being sent to Chechnya, Markosian has been there several times since her first visit and moved there permanently in 2011. Whilst the Russian authorities declared the region of Chechnya had normalized more than three years ago, she doesn’t deny that living there is still fraught with danger.
In an interview with Time Magazine’s LightBox Markosian explains that, women are still regularly kidnapped and that she is becoming used to being followed by authorities, having her work checked and her images deleted.
Because of the recent islamization of Chechnya, Markosian faced an uphill struggle to get close enough to her subjects for them to allow their photographs to be taken. She explains that the picture of a woman smoking a cigarette could get them into all sorts of trouble with their families, that physical contact between a man and woman prior to marriage is forbidden and that honor killings of women who disobey these rules are practically endorsed by the government.
This particular group of photographs focuses on getting inside the lives of Chechen girls and women, they are a particularly insightful group of pictures that show a side of Chechen life unseen before.
I like this picture of a young girl who describes herself as an Emo because it is one of the few pictures where a female is pictured without a headscarf. Women in Chechnya have to wear headscarves in schools and public buildings regardless of their beliefs.
This picture captures the essence of life for young girls in Chechen schools; they do not wear the normal attire associated with physical education classes because they have to be dressed modestly around the boys.
This picture of a young couple sat a few feet apart in a snow covered park speaks volumes. Markosian explains that couples who are dating must do so in public places and physical contact is forbidden before marriage. Young girls who are caught engaging in physical contact with their boyfriends before marriage are often the victims of honor killings or are severely punished by their families. The icy nature of the picture seems to encapsulate how couples are expected to behave around one another.
This picture shows female Chechen celebrities wearing fashionable headscarves. When the government first made the wearing of them compulsory – celebrities lead the way in helping to popularize them.
To me this picture captures the feeling of real love between a couple; their eyes locked in the bedroom mirror as the man checks in on his child in the crib. Markosian’s explains that the woman in the photograph was promised to be married to another man by her family. On the night before her wedding she ran away to her boyfriend who she had been secretly dating and they have since been married for two years. Sometimes love can conquer arranged marriages!
This picture shows a disabled football team training in a gym near the capital Grozny, it powerfully captures the consequences of war – more than 3000 accidents have occurred involving mines since the 1990s.
You can see more of Markosian’s The Girls of Chechnya pictures at Time Light Box.