Taissa Jemalayeva, 20, demurely pulls a headscarf over her hair, though one designed by Louis Vuitton. The young Muslim woman from the Chechen capital Grozny wants to become a fashion journalist. She is a university student, but she also writes for Slukh khodyat -- Rumors, a lifestyle magazine for Chechnya's archaic society. In it, women can find tips on modest headscarves, and men test reports on handguns.
Putin's rule has left deeper marks in Chechnya than anywhere else in Russia. He had his troops attack the capital of the predominantly Muslim republic in 1999/2000 and, in 2004, he ordered the rebuilding of the city. But, these days, secular Russia is in danger of losing its battle against radical Islamists gaining strength in Chechnya.
Chechnya declared its independence two months before Taissa's birth on Nov. 11, 1991. Moscow sent troops to the republic three years later, and 25,000 people died in the battle to capture Grozny alone. At the time, relatives took Taissa to neighboring Dagestan. She still remembers fleeing Chechnya and seeing bodies along the roadside. There are no photos of her as a child. "No one poses in front of ruins," she says.
Taissa is walking through a shopping arcade on Grozny's main boulevard, which is now called Putin Prospekt. Luxury brands such as Burberry and Pierre Cardin are sold here, just as they are in the more hedonistic Moscow. Nevertheless, quotes from the Koran and devout verses written on the walls admonish Chechens to obey God. One also reads: "And anyone who puts his faith in Allah must love kings and sultans, and must bow to their commands."
Ramzan Kadyrov is Moscow's local sultan. Human rights activists accuse him of torture and murder. But the Kremlin values him because he assumes a tough stance toward Islamist rebels who are fighting to establish a theocracy in the northern Caucasus region. Russia has waged two wars over Chechnya, but thanks to Kadyrov, Moscow's soldiers are no longer engaged in house-to-house combat.
Taissa is also fighting a tenacious, daily battle -- but hers is for every centimeter of skin she can expose. She has just pulled her sleeves to a point above her elbows that the guardians of public morals will still allow. But she can no longer attend lectures at the university without a headscarf and a long skirt. Moscow's governor supports a strict course of Islamization.
Taissa would like to live like the fashion-conscious, self-confident young women in Moscow and the West, and she wants to be beautiful.
"Sometimes I think of emigrating," she says. And sometimes, she says, she inadvertently dials 911, the emergency number she remembers from American films, on her cell phone.
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