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Amina.com - a controversy

A popular and decade-old Chechen website becomes embroiled in threats and accusations, revealing a deeper struggle over what it means to be a Chechen today
With a commentary by CAN's Michaela Pohl

When Albert Digaev, a young refugee from Chechnya living in the US, put www.amina.com online in 1996, it was the first website about Chechnya on the then still young internet and for a while indeed the only one. Taking its name from a well-liked Chechen girl's name, the site initially provided information, links and images about and from Chechnya, its history, people, culture and the conflict. Subsequently, the website went through a series of changes in its lay-out, content and focus through the years. Last year www.amina.com was relaunched as an internet hub for the growing young Chechen diaspora. The new amina.com has been quickly becoming very popular; it has up to 50 visitors at any given time, many of them from the Western European countries where tens of thousands of Chechen refugees live today, but also from Moscow and increasingly Chechnya itself as well. There are online discussion boards on topics like politics, student life, religion, traveling and fashion, foreign languages, connecting with long-lost friends and such, all boasting lively conversations in Russian, Chechen and the languages of the diaspora. And there is a newly-reopened chatroom.

However, it seems to be the large and growing photo gallery that has some Chechens up in arms. Closely mirroring popular youth websites all over the world, visitors can post pictures of themselves or look at pictures of others and rate them or comment on them. While the pictures are overwhelmingly tame, some of the comments are rude and insulting. At issue, it seems, are pictures of girls and young women and the comments they draw. Stories about angry reactions by fathers, brothers and fiancees and disturbing, if unconfirmed, rumors about girls committing suicides because of their families' anger throw a glaring light on the discrepancy between the surface modernity of Chechen society and the restrictive rules that govern women's lives. And in classic kill-the-messenger mode, the backlash has zoomed in on webmaster Albert Digaev, who has been singled out for attacks, including by separatists' political leadership, who have gone so far as to ask that Chechens in America "take care of him"...

CAN member Michaela Pohl, assistant professor of Russian history at Vassar College, has followed the issue closely and has now published an article in the Jamestown Foundation's online "Chechnya Weekly":

Amina.com under Attack: Rift Opens Between Chechen leadership and its diaspora

Signals of a new "hardline" attitude of the post-Maskhadov Chechen leadership toward the West and the Chechen diaspora are intensifying. One example is the campaign that has been unleashed against Albert Digaev, founder and webmaster of the well-known Chechen site "Amina.com." In July of this year, a group calling itself the "Council of Chechen Alims" (Islamic learned persons or experts), and a second group that identifies itself as the "Assembly for the Defense of the Sovereignty of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria," posted statements on the state information agency's website "GIA Chechenpress" that denounced "Amina" as a site of "ideological diversion against Chechen society" and accused its webmaster of "information terrorism" and of "grave crimes" against the Chechen people. In their initial statements, the two groups drew attention mainly to the site's photo gallery. They claimed it contains manyoffensive and slanderous commentaries, and accused Digaev of stealing or "hacking" photos from unsuspecting victims and intentionally posting scandalous materials to increase the number of visitors to the site, thus causing "a great number" of unresolved conflicts among Chechens all around the globe. (read the complete article).

 

The Chechnya Advocacy Network was formed out of deep concern about the alarming situation in Chechnya and the plight of Chechen refugees all over the world. We strive to raise awareness about the ongoing conflict, particularly its human dimension, advocate for a more engaged international response and work to develop adequate responses to the humanitarian crisis. We are neither pro-Chechen nor pro-Russian, but supportive of solutions that promise the best possible outcome for the people of Chechnya and the North Caucasus. As an open, non-partisan initiative we welcome everyone who shares these goals with us.

© Copyright 2004, Zachary Hutchinson
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