The two main suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsaernev and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, displayed a “proud attachment” to their ethnic homeland of Chechyna, the mainly Muslim republic that has been the site of revolts against Russian rule, and of bloody crackdowns, since the early 18th century.
According to the brothers’ families and friends, they had lived in the U.S. for years and had “no direct ties” with any known Chechen terrorist or separatist groups. A six-month trip that the elder Tsarnaev made to Russia in 2012 has become the focus of an investigation of the brothers’ motives for the attack and for others that they were apparently planning.
Longstanding Conflict and Crackdown in Chechnya
It would be “unprecedented” if last week’s Boston bombings are connected to the conflict in Chechnya. The region is a federal subject of Russia, whose troops (under the Tsar) fought with Muslim tribes back in the early 18th century. By the end of that century, the Russians had seized most of the region. The current resistance to Russian rule extends back to the late 18th century, when the territory of Chechnya was ceded to Russia. In the early 20th century, Soviet leaders combined Chechnya with the state of Ingushetia to form an autonomous republic. Then in the 1940s, under Josef Stalin, the entire ethnic Chechen and Ingush populations were deported to what is now Kazakhstan and also to Siberia, where many perished. None were allowed back to their homeland for years.
When the Soviet Union broke up in the 1990s, Chechnya sought independence. The result was a “massive Russian crackdown” and the installation of leaders loyal to Moscow. The bloody conflict has continued, with Chechen fighters seizing hundreds of hostages in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk in 1995; from a hospital in Dagestan in 1996; in a Moscow theater in 2002; in a school in the town of Beslan in 2004. In each case, many died in the midst of efforts by Russian troops to free them. In 2001, female suicide bombers killed at least 40 in the Moscow metro.
These violent acts have been confined within Russia. Despite U.S. criticism of Moscow’s brutal incursions against the Chechen rebels, Vladimir Putin has sought to convince the U.S. government to see the conflict as “a chapter of the global war against terrorism.” The recent bombings in Boston “play perfectly into the Kremlin’s hands,” the Guardian points out. The 2014 Winter Olympics are to be held in Sochi, which is “not far from where the current insurgency is raging” and the attacks could well lend weight to “Putin’s claim – first made in 1999 – that his violent methods are justified to quell a ruthless rebellion by terrorists prepared to take innocent lives.”
“Beslan meets Columbine”?
A New York Times op-ed raises the question: could the Boston bombings be an instance of “Beslan meets Columbine,” of two young immigrant men, who had access to “the full power of jihadist ideology” and also to (as did Adam Lanza and Dylan Klebold) “enough weapons to kill anyone you want”?
As a result of the ongoing and bloody unrest in Chechnya, an entire “generation of young Chechen men have never known a peaceful homeland, coming of age as young Muslims with few prospects at home in the Caucasus, and difficulties finding a place abroad,” the New York Times observes. Cerwyn Moore, an expert on the insurgency in southern Russian at Birmingham University, emphasizes that the Tsarnaev brothers are part of “a group of people who have lived outside Chechnya because of the second Chechen war.”
The Economist comments that :
If al-Qaeda and American male-rage have anything in common, it is that both foster the sort of self-obsessed nihilism that can have tragically bloody results. “I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan is quoted as saying in a photo essay that followed his aspirations as a competitive boxer. “I don’t understand them.” Now it is America struggling to understand the Tsarnaevs.
Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the president of the republic of Chechnya (a former Chechen rebel who is described as “loathed by many Chechens and regarded as a vicious Kremlin stooge” in the New York Times) has gone out of his way (via a post on Instagram) to dismiss any link between Boston bombing and Chechnya. “It is necessary to seek the roots of evil in America,” he wrote.
While most of us cannot echo’s Kadyrov’s insistent statement, we still “should be slow to draw conclusions” about two young men and the extent to which the violence strife in Chechnya contributed to these horrific, unspeakable acts.
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