Diana Markosian is a documentary photographer and writer based in Rangoon, Burma. Markosian began her career while she was a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her photography has since taken her from Russia’s North Caucasus mountains, to the ancient Silk Road in Tajikistan, and overland to the remote Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan, where she has worked on both personal and editorial assignments.
Markosian’s images have appeared in the Boston Globe, Foreign Policy, Foto8, Marie Claire, the New York Times, the Sunday Times, Time.com, and World Policy Journal. Her work has also been exhibited by international organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF.
Her photography has been recognized by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s annual photography prize (2010), the National Press Photographers Association second place in multimedia (2011), Reuters’ best 100 photos of the year (2011), the Marie Claire International Photography Award (2012), Reportage by Getty Images’ Emerging Talent roster (2012), and Burn Magazine’s Emerging Photographer Fund (2013). In 2013, she was selected to participate in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam.
Goodbye My Chechnya chronicles the lives of adolescent Muslim girls as they come of age in a Russian republic that is struggling to rebuild itself after two separate wars spanning from 1994 to 2009.
As Muslim traditions and cultural practices became established in the aftermath of war, young women in Chechnya are finding that the most innocent acts can mean breaking the rules. Unmarried couples holding hands in public are subject to punishment; the sight of a Chechen girl smoking may lead to her arrest. Rumors of a girl having sex before marriage can trigger honor killings which, according to human rights groups, have been on the rise in recent years.
Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has publicly endorsed such murders, based on the belief that women are the property of their husbands. Kadyrov has also launched a “virtue” campaign imposing strict rules upon women. Public decrees require Chechen women to dress “modestly”—including wearing headscarves—to spare their men from the “duty” of killing them if their clothing or actions are perceived as bringing dishonor to the family. The government’s compulsory dress code applies to schools, government offices, and hospitals, and officials hope to extend it to other public places such as streets, parks, and shops.
The few girls who dare to rebel—whether through religion, choice of music, style of dress, or voicing their own aspirations—take huge risks. For example, a young girl I photographed considers herself “emo”—a cultural movement originating in the United States in which young people differentiate themselves from others by wearing black clothing, piercings, and heavy eyeliner. In Chechnya, “emos” are subject to honor killings.
Most news reports on Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region* have dealt with the violence of ongoing conflict and war. My aim with this project is to show a different, more intimate and subtle glimpse of a new generation of young women as they try to live within Chechnya’s restrictive laws. After enduring the horrors of two wars, these women are now confronted by a period of peace marked by increasing oppression. Through my images, I try to show how girls and young women are navigating their transition into adulthood in this context, and honor their strength amidst the challenges they face.
*The North Caucasus region consists of the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia.
—Diana Markosian, January 2014