Monday, April 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Boston Bombers Reflect Specific Experiences of Some North Caucasians in Soviet and Post-Soviet Times, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – The two brothers who carried out the horrific Boston bombing are not simply Muslims who were inspired by radical websites or Chechens who were continuing their struggle against Moscow by other means, as many in both Russia and the West have insisted, according to a Moscow analyst.

            Instead, Konstantin Kazenin argues, they represent “an example of a Caucasus family which existed in the last Soviet and post-Soviet decades without communal supports and in a vacuum of new unfriendly spaces in which it was necessary to find a way to survive without having any accustomed support” (

            The Tsarnayev brothers clearly are not people “from Daghestani villages who have been fighting with the authorities of all levels for decades over land issues” or “residents of North Caucasus cities” who are seeking revenge Chicago-style. But they are connected to the North Caucasus in a very special way, Kazenin says.

            According to the Moscow analyst, the Tsarnayevs are part of  “a special stratum” of people who have left the North Caucasus because of what has happened to that region over the last 70 years, a stratum whose members have not received the attention which it and they deserve.

            If media reports are correct, Kazenin says, the Tsarnayevs were “born in Kyrgyzstan. Stalin deported the Chechens and other North Caucasian peoples to Central Asia in 1944.  The majority returned in the mid-1950s, “but not all of them returned” even when they were allowed to but decided to remain in that region.

            “The Kyzrgyzstan-Kazakhstan diaspora of Chechens did not lose completely its ties” with Chechnya,” he continues, and during the first and second Chechen wars, there was a small but continuing flow of Chechens “from Chechnya to Kyrgyzstan” where some of them still had relatives.

            These family ties were strong, he suggests, “but as a result of the small size of the diaspora, the ‘Asiatic’ Chechens already did not have tht powerful defense in the form of ethnic solidarity which surprised Solzhenitsyn when he described the Chechen ‘special resettlers’ in ‘The Gulag Archipelago.’”

            The Tsarnayevs then passed through a Daghestani stage.  Although short, it was not unimportant in their lives. They did not belong to the indigenous “Daghestani Chechens, the Akkintsy.” Indeed, Kazenin says, “judging from published reports, they did not have relations ith the rural communities of Western Daghestan.”

            Instead, they and their family like many Chechens who had followed this path, went abroad. But this flow was not a collective act. “Each family then acted on its own without the formerly customary ethnic solidarity.” Indeed, Kazenin said, they sometimes even gave false information about their nationality to international humanitarian organizations.

            “To a definite degree,” the Regnum analyst continues, “this path is common for all the residents of today’s North Caucasus where even now continues an active movement of thepopulation into the cities with the inevitable ‘atomization,’ the full or partial destruction of traditional relations and with an individualistic expression of social protest.”

            “But the fate of those who in the 1990s and 200s passed from the Central Asian exile through a Caucasus which was no longer native to them and then abroad clearer than others illustrates these extremely troubling processes,” Kazenin says.  And what is more, there is no precise data on how many other such families “with a similar past” now exist.

            One cannot and must not “justify” what terrorists do by reference to their biographies, the Moscow analyst says, but one does need to understand those biographies especially if they are typical of a larger category of people who might be inclined to engage in similar horrific actions in the future.

            So far and as usual, he suggests most investigators have focused on who might have recruited the Tsarnayevs, an understandable approach since “the identification of a secret enemy always looks effective.”  But “much less has been said about in which groups of the population,” such recruiters find those whom they seek and why they look where they do.

                “But if one speaks about this seriously, then the past of the terrorist and his family has much greater importance than what, where and from whom he was affected by radical ideas – in this case, in the Caucasus or not,” Kazenin insists. But “a serious discussion on this theme” has still not taken place “either in Russia or in the world.”

            Instead, many are “searching for the cause of terror,” like the sad story of the man who was looking for his watch, “‘under the street light and not there where he lost it.”

            Kazenin’s article almost certainly is intended to raise concerns in Western societies about the possibility that other Chechens to whom they have given asylum represent threats and should be returned to Russia, but it nonetheless merits close attention because it shifts the debate away from overly broad and simplified categories to narrower and more carefully drawn ones.



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