Black Widows: Russia’s Bitter Harvest

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As the Moscow bombings remind, the simmering insurgency and brutal crackdown in the Caucasus have left a landscape of damaged women, some all too ready to spread their pain to Russia’s heartland.

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. Maryam 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.

But it came as slim surprise that women were ready to die. This 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, Chechnya, and Ingushetia is not easy to classify — it is a mix of rebels who want independence, 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 is the women who are left behind, their status and material comforts tangled up in the choices of their fathers, sons and husbands.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/13/world/la-fg-women-bombers13-2010apr13

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