Mercurial Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is urging young couples in his southern Russian republic to do everything possible to preserve their families and not get divorced.
"I once again very convincingly ask young people not to rush to destroy families, to break family ties. [The marriage] will always be successful! And the opposite process [of getting divorced] is very difficult!" Kadyrov wrote on Instagram on July 25.
His social-media message to wedded couples was part of a broader effort by religious and government officials in Chechnya to restore marriages in Chechnya by resolving "family conflicts" and getting spouses to reconcile. In this case, according to an Instagram message posted by Kadyrov on July 25, the focus was saving 240 "broken" marriages.
The strong-arm leader claimed in the post that the 240 unions were salvaged after Islamic clergymen and Chechen government officials met with nearly 2,000 couples who had divorced to discuss the importance of families and parents’ responsibility to raise children in a family structure, as well as how Islam views divorce.
In a video accompanying his Instagram message, Kadyrov is seen speaking with adviser Adam Shakhidov and Chechen Mufti Salakh Mezhiyev, who each gave an update on the progress they’ve made on getting couples to give their marriages another chance.
"All our [Islamic] scholars are determined to reunite those spouses who got separated, to strengthen the families that exist, and to prevent any future discord within families," Mufti Mezhiyev said. "We have already succeeded in reunifying a lot of families."
Kadyrov told the men in the video: "Those [couples] who get divorced for trivial reasons or no reason at all, bringing tears into the eyes of their children, obey the commands of the [evil] genies."
Kadyrov said his government's efforts to reunite families separated by divorce was just beginning and that announcements would be placed on local television to promote the importance of maintaining marriages.
He added that only 59 of the hundreds of couples that have been contacted and spoken to by religious or government officials have been deemed to be irreconcilable.
"[Some] spouses crossed the line that would allow, according to ethical, religious, and moral criteria, a family to exist," Kadyrov said. "They themselves regret this bitterly."
He concluded in the Instagram message that "it is important to do everything to save the family in which there is a father, a mother, and children."
Chechnya has come under fire recently for its hard-core resistance to alternative lifestyles -- particularly those of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people -- amid reports that gays are persecuted and even killed.
Kadyrov has claimed that the republic he has led for more than a decade does not repress homosexuals because there are not any in Chechnya -- but that if there were any, they should all be sent "to Canada":
It is not clear why the offbeat Kadyrov -- who often uses Instagram to promote a new interest, himself, or even his pets -- is focusing on divorced couples now.
But Irina Kosterina, gender coordinator at Germany's Heinrich Boll Foundation, told RFE/RL's Caucasus Realities that divorces in the majority Muslim republic in southern Russia have increased in recent years.
"Despite the fact that Chechnya is a very conservative region, the [first and second Chechen wars] greatly changed the social fabric in the republic, and the number of divorces began to grow," Kosterina said.
She noted that domestic violence is one of the reasons why Chechen women seek divorces and that Chechen officials' attempts to use "religious and traditional values" to reunite separated couples is often "not effective."
Olga Gnezdilova, lawyer for the NGO Legal Initiative in Russia, told RFE/RL's Caucasus Realities that domestic violence "is not perceived as a problem" in either the Caucasus or even "throughout Russia."
She said that, with that in mind, "if a [Chechen] woman is pressured morally, from a religious point of view" to stay or reunite with an abusive spouse she could make a "not entirely voluntary decision and put her life at risk."
Written by Pete Baumgartner based on contributions from RFE/RL North Caucasus Service correspondent Alena Sadovskaya and Director Aslan Doukaev