Lesbian endures Islamic exorcism, flees from Chechnya

A young Chechen lesbian was subjected to an Islamic “exorcism” recently at the insistence of her family, who believed that her sexual orientation was a sign of demonic possession.

Learning about exorcisms on YouTube BBC
Learning about exorcisms on YouTube (Photo courtesy of BBC)

The young woman, known by the pseudonym Marko, watched YouTube videos to see how allegedly demon-possessed people behave during exorcisms, played that role during the ceremony, then escaped from Chechnya.

Marko told her story to the BBC.

Before she left Chechnya, Marko agreed to her family’s demand that she undergo an exorcism. Her brother took her to their local mosque, where the mullah told her she was possessed by the devil.

“He held my head and read verses from the Koran, and I knew I had to respond as a person possessed would,” she says. “I had seen enough YouTube videos to know what to do, and so I twisted about and shouted and said there were seven different demons inside me.”

After two hours, she says, everyone rejoiced and said I was cured. “‘Hooray!’ they all shouted. ‘You are no longer a lesbian!'”

They found a young man for her and told her she would marry, but soon after that she managed to escape.

She said that her family threatened to kill her or imprison her in a mental hospital if she did not agree to the exorcism:

Marko, a Chechen in her early 20s, will never forget the day her family found out she was gay.

“They said to me: ‘Either we will kill you, or we will lock you up in a psychiatric ward and throw away the key. The only alternative is that you undergo an exorcism.'”

Under the regime of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen forces arrested and incarcerated about 100 allegedly gay citizens in 2017. Kadyrov denies that the persecution occurred, taking the absurd position that “such people do not exist.” (Photo courtesy of ABC News)
Under the regime of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen forces arrested and incarcerated about 100 allegedly gay citizens in 2017. Kadyrov denies that the persecution occurred, taking the absurd position that “such people do not exist.” (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

Marco now lives temporarily in one of Russia’s largest cities, waiting to complete her documents so that she can leave Russia for good.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov maintains that there are no homosexuals in the republic. But an investigation by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper last year found that members of Chechnya’s LGBT community were regularly beaten and tortured. Some, it alleged, had even been killed.

Mr Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov dismissed the allegations, telling the Interfax news agency: “Even if such people existed in Chechnya, our law enforcement agencies would not need to bother with them, because their own relatives would simply send them to a place from which they would never return.”

Marko says she knew she was different even at the age of four.

“As a teenager, I used to think about suicide,” she told BBC Russian. “But then I decided: ‘No, I won’t give you the satisfaction. I’ll run away and do the things I have always dreamed of, whatever it takes, whether you like it or not.” …

Since giving this interview, and helped by an LGBT organisation, Marko has left Russia for a new life abroad. She says she now wants to put her past behind her and just live with her girlfriend, whom she met on social media.

“I just want to live, to have children and be happy,” she says.

The total number of LGBT Chechens who have fled abroad is unknown.

Among them are more than two dozen LGBT Chechens granted asylum in Canada; five in Belgium; two in Lithuania; one in France; at least one in Germany, and a further four cases being reviewed there, .

Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Network, told the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that in the past year his group has helped 114 people from Chechnya who said they had been persecuted because of their sexual orientation, the BBC reported.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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