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News Analysis: Moscow's policies have helped perpetuate a culture of violence in the North Caucasus that may have made it harder for the perpetrators to find American identities.
BOSTON — The leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, has said the two Chechen brothers who are believed to have carried out Monday’s Boston marathon bombing had nothing to do with Chechnya. "It's become routine to tie everything that's going on in the world to Chechens," he told RIA Novosti.
His spokesman Alvi Karimov also told Radio Ekho Moskvy they have "no connection" to Chechnya.
"The Tsarnaev family left Chechnya for another region in Russia many years ago," he said.
The elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was born in the Central Asian country Kyrgyzstan, and Dzhokhar, 19, in the Russian region of Dagestan, which neighbors Chechnya. The family lived there for a year before moving to the United States. It’s unclear when the family had settled in Kyrgyzstan.
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The brothers clearly became radicalized in the United States, where Dzhokhar has been described by classmates as a “normal American kid,” a “sweetheart” who was made captain of his high school wrestling team.
However, as the search for their motives mounts, events in Chechnya can’t be ignored. The Tsarnaev family is believed to have fled the violence that has traumatized the entire population since Moscow launched two wars to exert control over the separatist region.
The razing of the capital Grozny beginning under Russia’s former President Boris Yeltsin in 1994, the indiscriminate shelling of civilians and vicious human rights abuses carried out by Russian forces, affected every single Chechen.
After the Russian military was repulsed in 1996, then-President Vladimir Putin launched the second war that ended with the installing of pro-Moscow strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as leader. He rules thanks to a regime of fear that perpetuates a culture of violence that has deep roots.
Under Putin’s presidency, violence has spread from Chechnya to the rest of the North Caucasus region: shootings and bombings in Dagestan, now seen as its most violent region, take place almost every day.
In Chechnya, many are subject to an unspoken medieval-like form of customary law, under which tight kinship clans take revenge on other clans for crimes. Families are the most important social unit, for which honor is central — in a culture that is very warm and hospitable to outsiders.
It’s another planet from the Massachusetts in which the two Tsarnaev brothers grew up. The pressures on them to find identities must have been tremendous, especially after their father Anzar Tsarnaev recently returned to live in Dagestan. He told Russian reporters today he doesn’t believe his sons would carry out the bombing. “Someone framed them,” he said.
An uncle who lives in Maryland disagreed, and described their motives as a failure to fit into American society. “They put shame on the entire ethnicity,” Ruslan Tsarni said.
The Kremlin has yet to make an official response. Putin has expended great energy in the past linking Moscow’s ongoing military crackdown in the Caucasus to the global campaign against terrorism. His hesitation now may have something to do with a reluctance to draw attention to policies that have actually radicalized young men in the Caucasus, some of whom have forged links to al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups.
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Americans may remember the Tsarnaev brothers as Chechens and link them to the ongoing albeit tiny separatist movement there — for which there’s so far no evidence, as Kadyrov said. However the association of their unspeakable crime to Chechnya rather than the Kremlin would be a highly unfortunate development for a region that’s already suffered indescribable unfairness.