Chechnya: The Best Recent Blogs & Books on the Tsarnaev Brothers
By Andrew Straw
In the past several days, the North Caucasus, and Chechnya in particular, has been thrust into the world spotlight and given such labels as a “new threat vector” and an “incubator for Islamic militants.” Whether or not the region played a direct role in the Boston attacks of last week, the media circus surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers and their possible Caucasian links has made a lack knowledge about the region so painfully obvious that The Onion has already made fun of it and the Czech Republic’s Ambassador to the United States had to remind everyone that Chechnya and the Czech Republic are two different countries. So, here are some of the best recent articles and publications that can help us stay informed about the region’s history and current situation.
One of the foremost experts on Chechnya and the Caucasus, Georgetown political scientist Charles King, has been busy penning articles pondering the role played by Tsarnaev brothers’ connection to their Chechen heritage. In an article in Foreign Affairs online, King explains the current conflict in the North Caucasus and contrasts the brothers’ motives and actions with active Chechen militants. He also addresses the long standing Western ignorance of human rights abuses in the region and how the politics surrounding Syria and the coming Sochi Olympics could shape US-Russian cooperation on any possible Caucasus links to the Boston attacks.
Those who want a broad, well-written, historical understanding of the Caucasus, can check out King’s book: The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus.
NPR interviewed Alexey Malashenko, Chechnya expert and co-chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center on Religion, Society and Security Program. Malashenko makes the argument that while Chechnya has been the media “buzzword,” the real focus should be on the much more volatile situation in Dagestan that continues to elude the control of Russian security forces.
Russian soldiers after an operation in the Chechen capital, Grozny, Feb 27, 2000 (Reuters)
Moscow correspondents for the New York Times, David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew Roth, traveled to Makhachkala, Dagestan to interview the Tsarnaev brothers’ relatives. Their article provides a brief glimpse of life in the republic, while also sharing what information is known about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s 2012 visit. They paint a picture of a man with contradictory tendencies. The Times accompanied their article with a slideshow of photographs of Makhachkala where the Tsarnaevs lived briefly before emigrating to the US.
For the Jamestown Foundation, area experts Valery Dzutzev and Mairbek Vatchagaev both question the speculation that the attacks can be directly tied to a terrorist group or training program in the Caucasus. While the investigation is certainly in its early stages, the fact that main terrorist organization has strongly denied involvement, issued a ban on civilian targets, and has little incentive to attack the United States helps make their case.
On Sean’s Russia Blog, Sean Guillory questions the whole media focus on the importance of the brother’s “Checheness.” Guillory ponders whether attention to the troubles of Chechen ethnic identity could diminish the brothers’ personal responsibility for their actions by mistaking their crimes as the inevitable outcome of a traumatic Chechen background.
Washington Post writer Max Fisher freely admitted that most Americans know nothing about the region and provided “9 questions about Chechnya and Dagestan you were too embarrassed to ask,” a blog post that is a quick primer about the history and current situation with a link to an activist Chechen song.
Grozny today (PA Photos)
A few additional blog posts worth reading:
David Remnick, “The Culprits,” The New Yorker (online)
Wajahat Ali, “I am not the Tsarnaevs,” Salon
Sarah Kendzior, “The Wrong Kind of Caucasian,” Al Jazeera
Anya Shmemann, "What Boston Bombers' Chechen Ties May Mean for US-Russian Relations," Huff-Po
Matt Soniak, "Why Are White People Called Caucasian," Mental Floss
Matt Binder, "The Definitive 'People Who Thought Chechnya was the Czech Republic' Collection," Public Shaming. Makes the best argument for teaching more international history.
Aside from the articles and King’s book, there are several other publications that offer an in-depth examination of Chechen and Caucasian history. Here are some of the best:
A detailed general history of Russian-Chechen relations is Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict by John B. Dunlop.
For those interested in Chechnya during Soviet times, The Punished Peoples by Aleksander Nekrich chronicles the mass deportation of Chechens and other ethnic groups to Central Asia in 1944.
In Stalin’s Genocides, Norman Naimark argues that Stalin’s deportation of Chechens was one of several examples of ruthless ethnic cleansing in the Stalinist Soviet Union.
In Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power, Anatol Lieven explains the success of the Chechens in gaining de-facto independence during the first Chechen War in the early 1990s.
Matthew Evangelista details both Chechen Wars and the outcome of a new Russian occupation in The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union?
Valery Tishkov provides a detailed examination of life in the war-torn republic from in Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society.
Slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya details the brutal war that allowed Putin’s Russia to regain control of the republic.
Another list of reading with more voices from the region put together by Charles King
Posted Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Revised Wednesday, April 24, 2013: map changed