Who is Ramzan Kadyrov? Where is Elena Milashina? Why was Murad Amirev detained? What caused the targeting of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya? And how can this torture train be stopped?
All questions running through Jack Ryan’s mind on a breezy summer afternoon half a globe away. Ryan sipped on a cappuccino inside a chic “farm to fork” restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach. He is a CIA intelligence analyst who agreed to meet to discuss the on-going situation in Chechnya.
“Chechnya is a war-torn, criminal-run country, not unlike Somalia,” Ryan said. “The Russians would destroy it, award a bunch of dirty contracts to rebuild it then destroy it again. Over and over.”
It was Elena Milashina, a reporter for Russian news agency Novaya Gazeta, who broke the news of gay and bisexual men being “round up” and imprisoned by Chechen authorities. Milashina, The Advocate reports, is now in hiding.
Some of the persecuted made it out. Murad Amirev was not so lucky.
Amirev, according to the U.S. State Department, is in trouble.
“We are gravely concerned about the safety and well-being of Murad Amriev, a Russian athlete from Chechnya, who was reportedly detained by Belarusian authorities and returned to Russia, where he may be in custody,” reads a State Department press statement.
In the statement, dated June 9, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert writes “Mr. Amriev has reportedly expressed fears of torture and abuse in Chechnya. We urge the Russian government to ensure Mr. Amriev has access to his lawyer and that his rights under the Russian constitution, laws and international obligations are respected. We call on the Russian government to ensure the safety of Mr. Amriev and his lawyer.”
On June 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning anti-gay violence in Chechnya. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) co-sponsored the resolution, tweeting “Great way to close out #PrideMonth.”
Scott Herman, President of the Dolphin Democrats — Florida’s oldest LGBT political club, wants more. Herman specifically called for the Trump administration to act and act fast. Herman said reports of vanishing gays in concentration camps resemble crimes against humanity.
“Trump is accepting these crimes with inaction,” Herman said.
Chechnya is the new ground zero in the battle for LGBT rights. Reports of gays being detained, tortured, and killed in the tiny Russian republic are numerous. A disabled combat veteran of the Gulf War, Herman understands war crimes.
“I’ve seen this first hand,” he said. “We have stopped them and we would stop them again.”
Herman said, simply put, what’s going on in Chechnya is gay genocide. He equated current conditions to the “pink triangle” times of Nazi Germany. Trump, Herman said, is supporting the Chechen concentration camps “by default.”
If the atrocities are to be believed, blood is on the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov.
Back in Florida, Jack Ryan speaks of Kadyrov with disgust. He has traveled extensively in Russia and Eastern Europe and said the Chechnya leader is clearly unstable.
“He’s a lunatic. A criminal. And he’s young,” Ryan said.
Chechnya is located in the caucuses region of Russia north of the small countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan and west of the Caspian Sea. Its population is about 1.3 million, similar to New Hampshire, while its land size is similar to Connecticut. The republic has a majority Muslim population.
Kadyrov took control in 2007. His father, a Muslim cleric, previously lorded over Chechnya but was assassinated in 2004.
Unlike Ryan, Herman does not think Kadyrov’s youth is the problem. The problem, Herman said, is weak leadership from Moscow.
“President Putin can put a stop to this but he’s too afraid,” Herman said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushed by European leaders to end the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya. Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the golden palace of Versailles, challenged Putin to bring an end to the suffering.
“The French President put him on the spot,” Herman said of the meeting between the two world leaders last month. “You could see his face drop.”
As diplomats and defense experts seek solutions to the crisis, technology is sure to play a part. With the trend of men turning to smart phone apps — instead of bars and clubs — to find a date, so-called “hook-up apps” are now, more than ever, critical tools of engagement.
One of the well-known hook-up apps is Grindr. In April the app released a media alert it was providing “aid to the LGBTQ community in Chechnya.” Speaking for Grindr’s equality department, Jack Harrison-Quintana said there is grave concern “about the atrocities occurring in Russia.”
Grindr for Equality, Harrison-Quintana said, “is devoted to raising awareness of the danger Chechen LGBTQ people find themselves in.”
Enter Stuart Milk, founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. The foundation named in the honor of Stuart’s late uncle Harvey, a gay San Francisco supervisor assassinated in 1978, seeks to inspire individuals, communities, and organizations to fight societal injustice and recognize LGBT people deserve equal civil rights.
Stuart Milk travels globally on behalf of the Harvey Milk Foundation. In May he returned to South Florida for the annual Diversity Honors program. Participating on a panel discussion, Milk said the foundation has worked with the European Council to champion initiatives.
“If Putin’s new investigation that he’s now doing from Moscow doesn’t hold weight then the Council of Europe will do an investigation,” Milk said in regards to Chechnya.
Historically, Milk said, the Council of Europe is “much more proactive and much stronger” for LGBT and Roma people and those in the religious minority. While in South Florida Milk stressed there are many nations that view LGBT people unfavorably.
“Two-thirds of the world lives where LGBT people are criminalized or there’s complete societal un-acceptance,” Milk said. “Unfortunately we have a Western look at this type of issue. “
In the West, Milk said, a new “Equality” generation has dawned, unaware of dangers in far off lands.