Chechnya’s History of Violence: Did It Influence the Tsarnaev Brothers?

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Efrem Lukatsky / AP

Three Chechen boys play with wooden guns outside their home in a village near Grozny, Jan. 15, 1995.

As more is learned about the background of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged suspect in the Boston bombings who is now the subject of an unprecedented manhunt, the teenager’s ethnic Chechen heritage has led to a frenzy of speculation. It’s important to note, however, that it’s not even clear how much time Tsarnaev — who, according to his uncle, immigrated as a young child to the U.S. from the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan — ever spent in Russia’s restive North Caucasus and how formative the region’s troubles were in his adolescent mind. There’s still no concrete evidence linking him and his now deceased older brother Tamerlan to organized jihadist activity.

But their role in the current crisis has reminded the world of the recent history of violence that has plagued their ancestral homeland, which is a republic in the Russian Federation. Unsurprisingly, Ramzan Kadyrov, the barrel-chested strongman who has been Chechnya’s leader since 2007, rejected the attention, posting this statement on his Instagram account, translated by Foreign Policy:

Any attempt to make the connection between Chechnya and [Tsarnaevs] if they are guilty, [is] in vain. They grew up in the United States, their attitudes and beliefs were formed there.

But the peripatetic life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his relatives hint at a wider story. The Chechen diaspora that lives in Kyrgyzstan is largely a relic of the brutal population transfers authored by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who distrusted the mostly Muslim Chechens, fumed at their resistance to his collectivization policies and suspected Chechen collusion with the Nazis. Starting in 1943, some 350,000 to 400,000 Chechens were forcibly deported to the eastern hinterlands of the Soviet Union; according to one account, one-fifth of that number died in grim conditions in Siberia and the Central Asian steppe. After Stalin’s death in 1953, tens of thousands made their way back home, but the memory of that exile still shapes the Chechen national imagination.

In the post-Soviet era, Chechnya’s first rebel leader came from the Kyrgyz diaspora. Dzhokhar Dudayev unilaterally declared independence from Russia in 1991, though few nations recognized the fledgling Chechen state. Between 1994 and 1996, Russian troops fought a bitter, bloody war with Dudayev’s forces. Some 100,000 people died during the conflict (including Dudayev, who was killed in a Russian missile strike), but the dogged Chechen guerrillas emerged victorious, maintaining de facto independence until hostilities flared up again in 1999 following alleged Chechen involvement in a series of deadly bombings in Russia and a Chechen incursion into the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan.

This time, the Russian offensive was spearheaded by the country’s new Premier, a former KGB chief named Vladimir Putin. Russian planes pounded Chechnya’s cities and towns. Grozny, the Chechen capital, fell in February 2000 to Russian forces; by then, much of the city was a smoldering pile of rubble. Thousands died, while the fighting displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The brutality of the Russian campaigns turned what was a largely secular struggle into a pan-Islamist cause. Arab fighters flocked to the Chechen banner. Certain Chechen warlords cultivated links with jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda. Some reports suggest that Chechen fighters later joined the ranks of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as radical militant groups fighting against Indian rule of Kashmir. There’s evidence that Chechen fighters are also on the ground in Syria. But others contend that the extent of the Chechen presence in many of these conflicts is overstated. Military analysts often tag foreign fighters as “Chechen” even when they’re from other corners of the former Soviet Union.

Despite Russia’s ruthless efforts to quash rebellion, a low-level insurgency still simmers in Chechnya and the neighboring Russian republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia. Chechen militants have exacted a heavy price over the years. In 2002, Chechen gunmen seized the Dubrovka theater in Moscow, taking hundreds hostage. The Russian commando raid that followed led to more than 120 deaths. In 2004, alleged Chechen and Inghush fighters captured a school in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia. The resulting three-day hostage crisis ended with the deaths of nearly 400 people, many of whom were children. In 2010, two female suicide bombers detonated themselves in a Moscow subway station, killing 39.

Meanwhile, the reports of human-rights abuses in the Caucasus committed by agents of the Russian state — including forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings — are legion, forming a veritable checklist of how to wage a dirty war. Under Kadyrov’s ironfisted rule, journalists have been abducted and activists murdered.

Kadyrov — whose father, once a leading rebel, allied with Moscow in 2000 and was later assassinated — maintains his vice-like grip over the republic with (now President) Putin’s blessing. A loyal satrap, Kadyrov has so far managed to guarantee his people’s fealty to the rulers in Moscow. In the March 2012 presidential election, a staggering 99.76% of Chechen ballots cast were for Putin — a result that echoes the sham votes of the Soviet era.

Eager to show that his war-torn republic has turned a corner, Kadyrov has invested state funds into massive building projects, which include the Putin Towers as part of a new skyline in Grozny. Kadyrov has also amassed a fortune for himself; a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks chronicled his appearance at a wedding in Dagestan, where he freely distributed $100 notes and nuggets of gold. Hollywood stars like Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme were flown in for his multimillion-dollar 35th birthday party in 2011.

But the disaffection of many ordinary Chechens is palpable. Increasingly, experts warn, young men in the North Caucasus have started to turn away from the region’s long-standing tradition of Sufi Islam in favor of the more puritanical Salafi creed imported from the Middle East. Judging from Tamerlan’s YouTube feed, the Tsarnaev brothers may have subscribed to Salafist dogma, which could suggest that their apparent campaign of violence this week in the Boston area had a jihadist motive. But as their irate uncle urged the press on Friday morning, the brothers’ alleged actions didn’t represent the “Chechen ethnicity” in any way. They have coped with enough bloodshed already.

51 comments
Gonki
Gonki

Throughout the 1980's and 90's the US politicians and the media pundits boot-licked Taliban. Then from 1990's and up until a few weeks ago they boot-licked Chechen terrorists. Those blood-thirsty gangs were glorified for the same reason, namely murdering Russians. Be it with US-supplied surface to air missiles in Afghanistan or with pipe bombs in Moscow subway. And when those groups mess with the land of the free the dolt mouthpieces get their truth patch and shut up in an instant. Are you seeing a pattern here or is it just me? Today the US media pundits boot-lick rebels in Syria for the same reason, you know, apparently they are anti Saddat and since he is a customer of the Russian defense industries then they are anti-Russian by extension. The Syrian "freedom-fighters" are cannibalistic savages armed with portable SAMs and mustard gas. You guys in the States over there are looking forward to something nasty and can't do anything about it. Because no matter how savage and brutal a bunch of thugs is, if they are deemed anti-Russian they will receive dough and kudos from the brainwashed dolts. As the saying goes: god loves trinity.

libertyfreedompatriot
libertyfreedompatriot

"Any attempt to make the connection between Chechnya and [Tsarnaevs] if they are guilty, [is] in vain."

What a joke. We don't teach that killing children to make a political point here in the US -- whereas that's apparently acceptable in Chechnya (see Beslan 2004). 


Jessling
Jessling

It is amazing how violent our world is...just look at the comments here. 

It is no wonder we are experiencing these acts of hate, the hate is everywhere.

Gstone
Gstone

I appreciate this is a national tragedy for the US. But every tab I have clicked on this website links me to at least 3 separate stories on the issue (including 'World', which I had assumed would direct me to news stories not so US specific). 

The bombings in Iraq that killed 35, and the earthquake in China for which the death toll is still rising, have been conveniently overlooked for something that is, while extremely tragic, very minor in comparison.

eset939
eset939

those guys couldn't have lived in any place any more violent than any inner city with lots of negros there. Look at chiago, LA, atlanta, DC.. heavy crime cities and most negro's.. so easy to see cause they are like responsible for 85% of gun killings.. but press won't call the negro's out.. why ??? i call a spade a spade when i see it

irving.anellis
irving.anellis

"The Chechen will put a noose around your neck or shoot you in the back of the head while you are sleeping." -- Mikhail Y. Lermonotov, "A Heroof Our Time" (1840) Nothing has changed except the weapons.

enita
enita

I don't understand why this terrorist attact has something to Chechen rebel groups. Even if the brorhers has been influenced by those groups, why did they attact US, not Russia? Why did the young evils intended to put such  home-made bombs in American city? Do terrorists aim to destroy all the human society regardless of nationalities.  Do those kids lose interest in life and perpetraute such indicriminated crimes just like 'die all togegher ?

ElRoz
ElRoz

This author's attempt to spin the violence in USA to blame Russian counter-terrorism efforts in N. Caucasus - not just Chechnya - are too obvious and they discredit whatever others points he wants to sneak in. Let's extend the logic and show that 9/11 is the fault of USA. Terrorism in Israel is the fault of the Israelies, etc. It is a well-known fact that US has supported terrorists in Afghanistan and N. Caucasus, and now in Syria. These people have taken thousands of lives with USA looking away, using half-truths, and sometimes utter lies. For USA, these are not tragedies, but just some far away "hot spots" where the tragedies become numbers. When something less violent happens in USA, well, then it's a tragedy.  This is a very unpleasant reality, and the US public will not face it, its experts, pundits and politicians will not allow it to face it: "We have done nothing wrong".  Russia has for years, even before 9/11, stated that in N. Caucasus - NOT just in Chechnya - it is fighting international terrorism, with Saudi and Jordanian terrorist like Wabu Walid and Khattab.  Meanwhile Washington and London have received Chechens who are wanted for acts of terrorism in Russia and across N. Caucasus (in Beslan, it were the Ossetians that suffered), inc. killing of Muslim clerics who spoke against radicalism and violence.  As for these two guys in Boston, they were born  in Kyrgyzstan, lived briefly in Daghestan, and grew up in USA. The 19 yo spent his last 10 years in USA, quoting American rap lyrics, watching American films, and learning radical Islam - not Russian culture - from his older brother. USA and radical Islam are the roots of this violence.  

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

It’s time to be reminded how senseless terrorism became a justifiable means of struggle for the “enraged” underdogs. Kudos to the Nobel peace prize winner who invented the modern political terrorism and provides a role model even today, from his tomb in Ramallah – Yasser Arafat.

andreoralman
andreoralman

My dear American friends, living in Russia and having grown with Chechen people in Kazakhstan, I have always read with pain the perverted news on "brutal Russians acting in Chechnya", you just cannot apprehend, 8000 km far away, what is is wrong with the Caucasian nation, they are genetically Warriors, better die than give up. Russia just knows better due to its 300 years experience at Caucasian region, how bring the order in the country. Now you fill the taste of the Chechen nation, you welcome them and suddenly have a knife in your back. Please enjoy the Boston bombing and never more blame Russia to be too hard in actions, you have killed the suspects with no any hesitation too, as Russia normal does...


noturbus
noturbus

maybe it is time to close the borders and actually protect this country.   We need to find the secret little terroist groups and send them back where they came from.   I am sick of these religions and terrorist groups who hate americans but want what we have worked centuries to accomplish.  they are trying destroy and conquer to become "HITLERS' and trying to scare everyone of the advanced nations that they are so jealous of.   wasnt it SATAN who wanted to force humans to believe and kill those who dont.    call a spade a spade.   you think you are better than everyone but you are the lowest of the low

Dan_Tanasa
Dan_Tanasa

The photo is very wrong picked for this story. In USA 10-15 years old kids fire real guns with real bullets just because it is a family activity and are taken by their parents. All over the world kinds play with wooden guns. Are they all terorists? 

MohanrajCp
MohanrajCp

This guy is from an elite background and who has never had to work to earn his upkeep! Another by product of Nehruvian thought who are free loaders , living off the largess of society and rewriting history to suit their views!

submitter
submitter

US troops are killing civilians all around the world. iraq, afghan, palestine. hey, tell u what, that will be so so unfair if they cant do the same thing on you're land.

hope it make sense to most of us.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

The writer of this piece very slightly (he may imagine even 'professionally') distorts facts in order to imply that the two valiant Mohammedan warriors actually are not fully responsible for the murder of two women, a child, and a police officer. Even citing the criminal and terrorist acts for which there is abundant proof, the writer calls them "alleged Chechen involvement"... what the?!

And of course it's because of events that had happened half a century before the birth of the older one of them that they decided to follow habitual Moslem modus operandi: using their own women and children as human shields while murdering other people's women and children. Women and children are targets of their brethren from Hamas and Fatah, Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda, you name them.The common denominator for them is Islam, religion of peace...

bahar67
bahar67

I believe the name is Ramazan Kadyrov, still this story doesn't give any clues what might have triggered them to do smthng like this. so any idea how someone belonging to an etnicity that has been fighting with Russia in order to gain an independence would want to make a terror act in the USA, a state Russia doesn't quite get along well with?and how it might be related to their supposed salafi ideology and chechen ethnicity?

BernieMadeoff
BernieMadeoff

Who cares? As long as we kill him, it doesn't matter.

jigger.allard
jigger.allard

It is amazing to read all of the arm chair speculations of why these two brothers did what they did. We have been so polarized by Islam radicalization  that we immediately assume they are Islamic Jihadist. Look what happened to that seventeen year old and how the social media websites had him pegged for one of the bombers. In the minds of many [radical] Americans that seventeen will always remain an Islamic Jihadist, just because of his heritage alone.  In some ways we are indeed [stereotypical] infidels with one-track minds.

DarwinAkbar
DarwinAkbar

Russia is a nation of civilized ethnic Russians surrounded by barbarians. China is a nation of civilized ethnic Han Chinese surrounded by barbarians. Russia's mistake was that they let the Chechens go back to their homeland after Stalin had already done the hard work dispersing them. What Khrushchev and subsequent Soviet leaders should have done was keep them scattered, but reformed the Soviet economy, gave people jobs, secularize the Chechens, destroy their identity, and assimilate them as Russians. One of the great mistakes of the USSR was that it pursued political reforms ahead of economic reforms. In so doing, the USSR was lost. China practiced economic reforms before political reforms, and China is still standing. For a country the size of Russia, the State must be authoritarian (until its population has been homogenized) while economic reforms are pursued to generate wealth necessary to placate the population.

libertyfreedompatriot
libertyfreedompatriot

@irving.anellis Agreed.... Just look into the Beslan atrocity. I don't care what your stupid cause is -- or what your stupid religion is -- there is simply no excuse for using children as military/political pawns. Let's call Chechen militants, including the Boston bombers, what they really are: psychopathic thugs without a shred of human decency or morality.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@enita They were driven to attack the US by the religion of Islam, not by any independence movements in Chechnya. Have you ever heard the word 'jihad'?

libertyfreedompatriot
libertyfreedompatriot

@andreoralman "they [Chechens] are genetically Warriors"

They sound like genetic Cowards to me -- killing innocent children to make a pathetic political point (Beslan, Boston, etc). So far, there is no reason to blame Russia for anything. The blame needs to lie directly on the brothers, the violent  jihadists in Chechnya, and Islam itself.

ElRoz
ElRoz

@andreoralman  Exactly - what a sorry attempt to shift the blame to another country? Its USA and radical Islam that's to blame...this is why US public will never learn. 

noturbus
noturbus

you are a jerk!!! one is war the other is terrorism  you idiot.  they attacked us first.  if you had a brain you might be dangerous

karendebiase
karendebiase

Palestine? Anyway, there is a difference between civilians who die in war and deliberately targeting civilians. If you think about it, trouble is too many people do not think.

libertyfreedompatriot
libertyfreedompatriot

@SergeBaruch Thanks, you nailed it. I don't care what your stupid cause is -- or what your stupid religion is -- there is simply no excuse for using children as military/political pawns. Let's call Chechen militants, including the Boston bombers, what they really are: psychopathic thugs without a shred of human decency or morality.

yourallwrong
yourallwrong

@SergeBaruch You sir, are a complete idiot. they are the alleged suspects, what PROOF do you have other than misplaced emotion?  You obivously are an ugly American who does not care about any other people except the greedy American way of life. dont put women and children as victims, as women are treated crappy in the US as well.  your common demoninator with most Americans is IGNORANCE.

SelenaRodriguez
SelenaRodriguez

@jigger.allard -- And just what are these Islamic dudes with pressure cooker bombs? Should we just call them confused young Muslims? Hell no. And you can shove your "infidels" garbage where the sun don't shine.

yourallwrong
yourallwrong

@DarwinAkbar you must be trying a psychological trick to get someone to reply to your idiotic post. :)

Gstone
Gstone

@JaySchuls @Gstone Front page of bbc.com the headline reads "US awaits Boston bomber charges", with 2 more stories about the case further down the page. Like I said, I appreciate the significance, but Boston is not the centre of the world

austintimes2
austintimes2

@SergeBaruch @enita Have you ever heard of the word edcation?  JIHAD is my sons name and it means to struggle in the way of God with everything you have.  I am Muslim and our religion does not allow for any aggression or attack, we are allowed to defend ourselves and that is all for Allah does not love the aggressors.  It is people like ouwho are the problem with this world.  Content in your ingorance, never looking for the truth or asking questions.  It is actually people like you who carry out these attacks, people who do not bother to find the truth and let their emotions lead the way.  Islam is beautiful and if youtook the time to look at it objectively and learn youwould see that.  Please don't bother to reply, I know you wont learn.  You will allow yourself to be content in your ignorance until you die.  It is a shame but it is also 100% your fault.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@yourallwrong @SergeBaruch Well, who is complete idiot now? You - and always have been. "Alleged" my ass.

Whatever American way of life is, it's none of your business. No one invites you to share in it - stay in your Mohammedan cesspool and be happy.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@yourallwrong @BernieMadeoff Virgins in the American hell are hundred times hotter than in Mohammedan paradise. Do you think we don't know why you force your women to wear tents instead of frocks? To hide their ugliness, of course... mustache, whiskers, works. LOL!

yourallwrong
yourallwrong

@SelenaRodriguez @jigger.allard  why do you mexicans bother opening your mouths, nothing but garbage and evidence of no education because your country is dirt and full of druglords comes out of it, the real reason the us is ruined. :)  secure THAT border and you can overpopulate your own country with more welfare recipients.

jigger.allard
jigger.allard

@SelenaRodriguez @jigger.allard 

Well, as it turned out that seventeen year old kid wasn't one of the bombers, now was he?!? But, because he is of Middle Eastern decent he is automatically guilty anyway. Guilty by heritage, right? Not all Islamic people are Jihadist and you would do well to remember that.

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@austintimes2@SergeBaruch@enitaJust two things:  (1) no, I've never heard the word "edcation" - your spelling showing your education; (2) all your primitive pro-Mohammedan propaganda is just BS (bovine stool). When it looks like Islamic terrorism, when it quacks like Islamic terrorism - it most certainly is Islamic terrorism. Religion of peace? Yeah right.

theinfidel2
theinfidel2

@austintimes2

Kamph also means "struggle", in German, but this does not make Mein Kampf any better. Jihad, just like many words in any language, has many meanings, and another meaning of jihad is "holy war" (as in "lesser jihad"). If you are a Muslim you should know this. The problem with Islam and jihad is that any Muslim is free to decide for themselves if Islam is under attack or not and if it needs to be defended. If the answer is yes, then all bets are off. You can say to yourself "Western culture is attacking Islam" and boom (no pun intended) you are justified to kill any Westerner in your perceived defense of Islam. Any criticism of Islam can be regarded as an attack and then any violent response to it by any Muslim becomes completely in accordance with the Muslim idea of "defense". You say Allah does not love the aggressors, but if you have persuaded yourself that all non-Muslims are the infidel aggressors then by attacking them you are doing Allah's work. I did study and look at Islam objectively, and now I like it much less than before.

libertyfreedompatriot
libertyfreedompatriot

@SergeBaruch Exactly. Chechen terrorist sympathizers like 'yourallwrong' are nearly as dangerous as the terrorists themselves. The two Boston bombers are cowards, pure and simple. Same with the cowards who took the elementary school hostage at Beslan in 2004, which resulted in 180 dead kids. Chechen "insurgents" are COWARDS (an dim ones at that).

SergeBaruch
SergeBaruch

@yourallwrong @SergeBaruch @DarwinAkbar Yes, I become quite emotional when two Islamic terrorists murder two women and one 8 years old child whose younger sister has lost her leg in the same blast (another 12 people lost their limbs) and went on murdering an unaware policeman sitting in his cruiser - all in the country which accepted them as refugees from oppressive regime and granted them citizenship, educated them, gave them good prospects for future.

You obviously remain stone cold in the face of this atrocity - which speaks volumes about you as an Islamist fellow traveler, if not a terrorist sleeper. Piss off!