KSU expert says Chechnya’s history could provide context to Boston terrorism

By Bryan Richardson

A Russian military history expert at K-State said Thursday that Chechnya’s history can contribute context to the Boston Marathon bombing.

David Stone, K-State’s Pickett chair for exceptional faculty and professor of military history, said he didn’t see a direct link between the problems in that region and the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But he suggested the one might have been an indirect factor leading to the other.

“It’s a little early to say, but there might be a link to the radicalization of the Chechen cause and what we saw from these two young men in Boston,” he said.

Even as an expert, Stone said he was initially confused when he found out the suspects were Chechens. “I thought to myself, ‘That doesn’t make any sense,’” he said. “Why would Chechens bomb the Boston Marathon?”

Chechens’ problems have typically been confined to relations with Russia involving Chechnya’s struggle to become independent.

Information has recently come out indicating that Tamerlan, the older brother, started practicing a more radicalized version of Islam in the time leading up to the bombing.

He spent about six months outside of the U.S. last year in Dagestan, which borders Chechnya. Both are Russian republics.

While expressing sympathy in a statement after the bombings, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov made clear he felt there wasn’t a connection between Chechnya and the brothers’ actions.

“Any attempt to link Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if indeed they are guilty, are futile,” he wrote. “They grew up in the USA, their viewpoints and beliefs were formed there. You must look for the roots of [their] evil in America.”

Stone said the brothers hadn’t spent much time in the region, but were aware of what’s going on there. He said the past 20 years has seen a lot of violence between Russia and Chechnya that caused some Chechens to turn to a radicalized version of Islam. Although calmed recently, the bad relations between Russia and Chechnya led to two Chechen wars, the first occurring from 1994 to 1996 and the second from 1999 to 2009.

Russia began its rule of Chechnya in the 1800s. During World War II, Joseph Stalin had the entire Chechen population deported to central Asia, believing they were guilty of communicating with the Germans.

That exile lasted from 1944 to 1957 before Chechens were allowed to return to their native land. “That’s not forgotten,” Stone said. “A lot of people died during this process of deportation from Chechnya to central Asia.”

After the Soviet Union broke up, the desire for independence in Chechnya increased, leading to the first war with Russia. It was during this war that the signs of radical Islam in Chechnya began, Stone said.

He said the first Chechen war introduced terrorism as a tool with the 1995 seizure of a hospital in Budennovsk, a southern Russian city. Chechen rebels took over the hospital from June 14-19, resulting in at least 140 people dead and at least 415 people injured.

“It radicalizes opinion on all sides,” Stone said of the first war. “Russians are much less sympathetic to the Chechen cause. The Chechen cause itself has gotten radicalized.”

Stone said the war produced many Chechen refugees, breaking down the ties to Chechnya.

“They’re going to places where the only thing they have in common with people is Islam,” he said. “National identity becomes less important. Islam becomes more important.”

Stone said this wasn’t the peaceful Islam traditionally practiced in Chechnya but a more radicalized version, which turned the situation into a battle between an orthodox Christian nation (Russia) and a predominantly Muslim state (Chechnya).

He said this started the introduction of foreign fighters in the Russia-Chechnya dispute because it seemed like an opportunity for a jihad. “Chechnya becomes less about a particularly region wanting independence and more about an ideological struggle,” Stone said.

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