Home » The New Noxçiyn: The Branding of Chechnya’s Public Image through the Instagram Account of Ramzan Kadyrov

The New Noxçiyn: The Branding of Chechnya’s Public Image through the Instagram Account of Ramzan Kadyrov

By Dante Fernandez

Nominated by Professor Sarah Bishop, Dante Fernandez’s research paper for COM 3060, Spring 2018, puts an in-depth examination of visual images in conversation with a diverse set of source materials in order to critique Ramzan Kadyrov’s instagram, while placing it within its global, socio-political context. 

An inadvertent outcome of Johannes Gutenberg’s innovations with printing press was the democratization of the means to produce printed information. This democratization of print media allowed people to print texts in their vernacular language, no longer bound by the Roman Catholic Church’s monopoly on religious works, which were solely in Latin. The availability of vernacular texts for the bourgeoisie and literate proletariat prompted the ideation of an imagined community[1] with those who shared the same dialect. These imagined communities were the nascent forms of ethnolinguistic identities that would mature into nationalist ideologies – roughly two centuries later the idea of the nation-state would manifest at the Treaties of Osnabrück and Münster.[2]

Three hundred years after the debut of Gutenberg’s press, the Industrial Revolution catalyzed the production of print media so much so that the production of printed books soared from under two million to approximately six hundred million.[3] Similarly, since 1999, the number of social media platforms has grown exponentially – with the largest social media platform, Facebook, gaining one thirteenth of the world population as active users in a timespan of roughly a decade.[4] The paradigmatic shift to digital and social media has led to a mass convergence of traditional print and electronic media onto new platforms. With the convergence of media, latent ideologies have also been integrated into the newest forms of mass communication.

Just as the Gutenberg Press acted as an unintentional accelerant to the collapse of empires and the birth of the nation-state, social media has come to play a decisive role in the promulgation of populist, democratic, socialist, nationalist, fascist, and extremist ideologies. For some events, such as the Arab Spring, social media has been lauded as a twenty-first century tool of democratic uprising.[5] On the other hand, militant groups, like Daesh,[6] have been castigated for a perceived gross misuse of the same social media platforms.[7] In the case of Ramzan Kadyrov,[8] the incumbent Head of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, the leader has used his social media account on Instagram to rebrand the reputation of Chechnya and Chechen officials in the eyes of the local and international audience/consumer.

The Chechen Republic, referred to as simply Chechnya, is an administrative region of the Russian Federation that is located in Ciscaucasia, or the northern half of the Caucasian isthmus. Chechnya, and the neighboring regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan, form the Islamic epicenter of modern Russia. Since the Medieval Ages, however, when the inhabitants of these regions converted to Islam as a means of solidarity and reprisal against Tsarist Russia, there has been tension between the polity in Moscow and its relatively distant Muslim subjects.[9]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the fifteen previously absorbed states of the USSR were returned their full autonomy. While Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia became independent countries, places with no claim to their own nationhood, like Chechnya, remained part of the new Russian Federation. Incensed by this perceived injustice, Chechnya declared independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1994.[10] This assertion of their independence from Russia would result in the First and Second Chechen Wars, with combined causalities of upwards of one hundred thousand military personnel and civilians. Ultimately, both sides suffered devastating losses. On one side, the Russian government and military lost credibility, and received criticism for use of excessive force; on the other, the Chechens lost a considerable number of their population, and the capital city of Grozny was severely damaged. In the wake of these back-to-back wars, Chechnya gained a semi-autonomous government within the Russian Federation, while Russia was able to support more pliant leaders in the hope of safeguarding against future conflict.

Since his ascension in 2011, Razman Kadyrov has become the poster child of reconstruction and realignment for Chechnya and the Chechen people. A close friend of Valdimir Putin, Kadyrov has been able to structure the Chechen polity into a corrupt institution that pockets the relief aid of the Russian government.[11] Also like Putin, Kadyrov has turned his republic into a hostile fascist state that advocates for the extrajudicial honor killings of women and gay men by their family members. As of 2017, Kadyrov has instituted pogroms and concentration camps for allegedly gay and bisexual men, carried out by the Kadrovtsy[12] – a paramilitary spetsnaz[13] started by Akhmat Kadyrov,[14] Razman’s father.

Ramzan Kadyrov has 2.7 million followers on Instagram, a number which exceeds the population of Chechnya, 1.4 million. Seemingly self-deprecating, his default photo is not of himself but a graphic of hearts with the ligature for “peace be upon him” in Arabic, ﷺ. In his bio section, his name is written in a Latin transliteration, instead of in Cyrillic, most likely so that a wider audience is able to identify that this is his account. Following his name is “Любите Пророка (ﷺ), читайте салават!” which translates to “Praise the Prophet, Praise Allah, declaim Salawat.”[15] This reinforces his identity as a Muslim, as well as his connection with the ummah.[16] It is also notable that Kadyrov has a link to his public Telegram account, Telegram being a Russian messaging application that offers end-to-end encryption and has been criticized for its continuous use by Daesh to plot and execute acts of terror.[17] Following the theme of Muslim pride that Kadyrov establishes in the personal information section of his Instagram account, there is a strain of posts that show Kadyrov preforming his ablutions, praying, and meeting with mullah. Most, if not all, of the videos he posts that celebrate the reconstruction of Grozny include a shot of the central mosque of the city. As the point of contention between Chechnya and Russia is that Chechnya is 95% Chechen, and therefore 95% Muslim, they see themselves as intrinsically different from the large governing body of Russia, which is predominantly ethnic Russians who practice Orthodox Christianity.

Ultimately, Razman Kadyrov uses his Instagram account as a tool of nation building to construct a defined and discrete understanding of what Chechnya and Chechen mean for its denizens as well as foreigners. Further, he uses this construct of Islamic nationalism to lead pogroms and incite extrajudicial killings of LGBTQ Chechens under the auspices of Putin.

Post Script

Since this paper was originally written, there has been international attention drawn to Kadyrov’s regime, specifically after the abduction and murder of Zelim Bakaev, a popular music artist in Chechnya.

Endnotes

[1] An imagined community is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson to analyze nationalism. Anderson depicts a nation as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities, 1983, pp. 160. London: Verso.

[2] Westfälischer Friede was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster. The treaties did not restore peace throughout Europe, but they did create a basis for national self-determination.

[3] Buringh, Eltjo; van Zanden, Jan Luiten: “Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 69, No. 2 (2009), pp. 409–445 (417, table 2)

[4] Nowak, Mike; Spiller, Guillermo. Two Billion People Coming Together, June 27, 2017. Facebook Newsroom.

[5] Stepanova, Ekaternia. The Role of Information Communication Technologies in the “Arab Spring”: Implications Beyond the Region. Vol. 150. Washingtion, D.C.: PONARS Eurasia, 2001. Print. Policy Memo.

[6] The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is an Arabic Salafi jihadist militant group and unrecognized proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.

[7] Stampler, Laura. “How ISIS Uses Social Media to Recruit Potential Terrorists.” Teen Vogue. TeenVogue.com, 25 May 2017. Web. 09 July 2017.

[8] Рамза́н Ахма́тович Кады́ров Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, born 5 October 1976, is the Head of the Chechen Republic and a former member of the Chechen independence movement.

[9] Tsaroïeva, Mariel. Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches Et des Tchétchènes: Peuples du Caucase du Nord. Paris: Maisonneuve Et Larose, 2005. Print.

[10] Evangelista, Matthew (2002). The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? Washington: Brookings Institution Press. p. 18.

[11] Schwirtz, Michael. “Russian Anger Grows Over Chechnya Subsidies.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 09 July 2017.

[12] Кадыровцы, Kadyrovcy, literally “Kadyrov’s followers”

[13] Abbreviation for Войска специального назначения (Special Purpose Forces or Special Purpose Military Units), is an umbrella term for special forces in Russian and is used in numerous post-Soviet states.

[14] Ахмат Абдулхамидович Кадыров Akhmad Abdulkhamidovich Kadyrov (23 August 1951 – 9 May 2004), also spelled Akhmat, was the Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in the 1990s during and after the First Chechen War.

[15] Salawat (plural of Salat) or aṣ-ṣalātu ʿala -n-nabī (from Arabic: الصلاة على النبي‎‎) or Darood Sharif (in Urdu) is an invocation which Muslims make by saying specific phrases to compliment the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

[16] It is a synonym for ummat al-Islamiyah (Arabic: الأمة الإسلامية‎‎) (the Islamic Communit)), and it is commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. In the context of Pan-Islamism and politics, the word Ummah can be used to mean the concept of a Commonwealth of the Believers (أمة المؤمنين ummat al-mu’minīn).

[17] Martinov, Kiril. “Занять Телеграм (Busy Telegram).” Novayagazeta.ru. Новая газета (New Newspaper), 24 June 2017. Web. 09 July 2017.

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