Shotgun weddings. What’s behind Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov suddenly marrying off two of his sons? — Novaya Gazeta Europe
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Shotgun weddings

What’s behind Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov suddenly marrying off two of his sons?

Shotgun weddings

Ramzan Kadyrov and his son Eli. Photo: Sergey Bobylyov / Sputnik / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

A year and a half ago, the health of Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal autocrat who runs Chechnya for the Kremlin, began to deteriorate as his chronic pancreatic necrosis worsened, leading to weeks spent out of the public eye while he received treatment in Moscow.

According to a source in his entourage, Kadyrov was given a new diagnosis in September, which came as a severe blow to his entire family and patronage network, all of whom owe their rank and impunity to Kadyrov remaining the sole power holder in the republic.

Earlier this month, Kadyrov married off two of his sons amid great secrecy. But why was the head of Chechnya in such a rush that at least three of the four newlyweds were minors?

In contrast to the magnificent wedding laid on for eldest son Akhmat in March last year, the wedding celebrations of Kadyrov’s second and third sons, 17-year-old Eli and 16-year-old Adam, went ahead on 8 June amid unprecedented secrecy, sources have told Novaya Europe.

Kadyrov’s security service managed to ensure news of the weddings didn’t leak, and it was left to Kadyrov himself to announce Eli’s wedding in a Telegram post, in which he boasted that Eli had met with Vladimir Putin on the eve of the wedding, but didn’t even mention the wedding of his third son, Adam.

Eli Kadyrov meets Vladimir Putin. Photo:  Ramzan Kadyrov / Telegram

Eli Kadyrov meets Vladimir Putin. Photo: Ramzan Kadyrov/ Telegram

Bridal shower

As if there could be any doubt that these sudden unions were political in nature, Eli Kadyrov’s wife is the eldest granddaughter of Adam Delimkhanov, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, while 16-year-old Adam Kadyrov married the daughter of Chechen senator, Suleyman Geremeyev.

Despite their families being well-known in Chechnya, very little information is available about either of the brides — including their names — though Delimkhanov’s granddaughter can be seen in two videos on his social media.

In one video, she can be seen singing a nasheed — a religious chant — in her grandfather’s honour. In another, she is performing at her mother’s birthday party. Both were recorded six years ago, and she is still visibly a child.

The fact that the videos are in the public realm at all is down to Delimkhanov’s daughter, Khedi, who boldly broke the unspoken rule in Kadyrov’s fiefdom that only his own children have the right to a public profile, with the offspring of the rest of the Grozny political elite expected to remain in the shadows.

Delimkhanov’s granddaughter cannot be older than 14, which makes at least three of the four newlyweds minors according to Russian law.

In 2020, a video appeared online to mark Khedi’s birthday, filmed in the style of a Turkish historical drama that was extremely popular in Chechnya at the time. The scene features both Khedi herself and her female relatives wishing her a happy birthday, all in the lavish costumes and backdrops reminiscent of the TV show.

It seems out of the question that anyone in Chechnya would have dared to post the video without Khedi’s knowledge, and by doing so risking the wrath of the vengeful Delimkhanov, who is believed to have been behind the 2020 kidnap and presumed murder of 19-year-old Salman Tepsurkaev, who ran the Chechen opposition Telegram channel 1Adat, after he composed a poem insulting Delimkhanov’s mother.

Khedi’s father, along with the entire Delimkhanov family, was seriously harmed by his daughter’s flouting of the rules, and Kadyrov’s wife Aishat, Chechnya’s first lady, was reportedly furious.

The video is important for another reason too, though, because it gives us Khedi’s date of birth — 4 March 1993 — which means she was only 31 when her daughter married 17-year-old Eli. Our source, a relative of Khedi’s husband’s, says she also got married at the age of 17, meaning Delimkhanov’s granddaughter cannot be older than 14, which makes at least three of the four newlyweds minors according to Russian law.

Father of daughters

Since Kadyrov’s health began to deteriorate significantly, his concern for his children’s future has become much more marked. Understanding the threats they may face as a result of his tyrannical rule, Kadyrov has made significant efforts to protect them by all available means, from personal audiences with Putin to show that his protection applies to the next generation of Kadyrovs too, to appointing his own, not-yet-adult children to high office and other official positions within the republic.

But the surest way to guarantee his children’s safety when he dies is to form marital alliances with other influential or unquestioningly loyal Chechen families, which is likely the reason behind the haste to marry Eli and Adam off.

While she only met her husband two weeks before entering into an arranged wedding with him, Aishat, Kadyrov’s oldest child, is unique in the family for having married as an adult. Her husband Viskhan was taken under Ramzan’s wing following the death of his father in a militant attack on Tsentaroy, the ancestral village of the Kadyrov family, in 2010.

Aishat Kadyrova. Photo:  Ramzan Kadyrov / Telegram

Aishat Kadyrova. Photo: Ramzan Kadyrov/ Telegram

Two of Kadyrov’s other daughters — Khadizhat and Tabarik — married immediately after completing high school at the age of 17. Khadizhat married the son of Ruslan Alkhanov, a friend of Kadyrov’s from childhood and the first head of his personal security service, while Tabarik married the son of Abuzaid Vismuradov, another friend from Kadyrov’s childhood to whom he was apparently so close that even the involvement of Vismuradov’s nephew in an unsuccessful attempt on Kadyrov’s life in the late 2000s, didn’t appear to affect their friendship.

Khadizhat Kadyrova. Photo:  Adam Delimkhanov  / Telegram

Khadizhat Kadyrova. Photo: Adam Delimkhanov / Telegram

Kadyrov’s eldest daughters are all therefore now related by marriage to families whose loyalty to Ramzan predates his rise to power, clearly in the hope that they will be able to protect his daughters after his death.

Tabarik and Ramzan Kadyrov. Photo:  Adam Delimkhanov  / Telegram

Tabarik and Ramzan Kadyrov. Photo: Adam Delimkhanov / Telegram

The spares

The sudden marriages of Kadyrov’s second and third sons Eli and Adam were clearly arranged with a similar objective in mind. The Delimkhanovs and Geremeyevs are related, and in terms of influence, wealth, and even in the number of armed detachments they have under their control, they can compete with Kadyrov himself.

Kadyrov’s all-important relationship with Putin carries less currency now than it once did now that his terminal illness is widely known, as there is no guarantee that Putin’s favour will be inherited by the next generation upon Ramzan’s death.

Despite this, the two families form the strongest clan in Chechnya today, which is why Kadyrov has chosen to make relatives of them both.

How will the Delimkhanovs and Geremeyevs behave when that day comes? On the one hand, they will find themselves at great risk once the impunity Kadyrov currently guarantees the entire Chechen elite is removed. The transactional agreement brokered after the assassination of Kadyrov’s father in 2004, according to which Kadyrov was free to use whatever methods necessary to crush dissent in Chechnya, is also the shield that keeps Delimkhanov and Geremeyev safe from Russian law enforcement and their numerous enemies, not least those within the Russian security services.

Despite this, the two families form the strongest clan in Chechnya today, which is why Kadyrov has chosen to make relatives of them both.

Adam Kadyrov. Photo:  Ramzan Kadyrov  / Telegram

Adam Kadyrov. Photo: Ramzan Kadyrov / Telegram

According to several sources, the wedding of Kadyrov’s eldest son Akhmat last March went ahead at the behest of his older sister Aishat, who arranged the marriage when Akhmat fell head over heels in love with an older woman who had no status and was divorced, making her an entirely inappropriate candidate for Kadyrov’s son to marry.

To avoid what she saw as a mismatch, Aishat, who is known to exert enormous influence over her father, insisted Akhmat marry the heiress to a network of Chechen dental clinics, which he duly did, after Kadyrov yielded to his daughter’s request despite the fact that his new in-laws would bring his clan nothing in terms of influence or protection.

Even if Akhmat is now not destined for the life of total obscurity he would likely have had after marrying his original choice, his chances of maintaining influence and ensuring his own safety when his father dies are now much lower than those enjoyed by his siblings after entering into transactional marital alliances.

This string of hasty and secretive weddings, legally dubious under Russian law as they are, demonstrates that the Chechen leadership is operating in crisis mode, and is quite prepared to sacrifice decorum in the name of protecting Kadyrov’s heirs in the event of his death. However, in all cases, it remains to be seen if the unions will be sufficient to guarantee the Kadyrov children’s safety should there be a transfer of power in the republic.

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