The Podium

Judge the bombing suspects — not the Chechen people

The terrorist attack in Boston has regrettably played into the hands of Russian propagandists in their long-running campaign of slander against the Chechen people. As soon as it became evident that the Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the terrorist attacks, were ethnic Chechens, Russian and some Western media began looking for links to the armed underground in the North Caucasus, promoting the notion that “the Chechens have declared a war of terror on America.” There are, however, numerous circumstances that show how baseless these attempts to incriminate an entire nation are.

The US investigative services have revealed that the Russian intelligence agencies in 2011 asked the FBI to investigate Tamerlan, the elder of the Tsarnaev brothers, whom they suspected of being involved with the insurgency in the Northern Caucasus. The FBI made its checks and reported to its Russian counterparts that it had found no compromising evidence against him. They, in turn, asked the Russian Federal Security Bureau to forward more information about Tsarnaev – but their request was ignored. Later, in January 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev flew from the United States to Moscow and from there to Dagestan, where he stayed for some six months. He was even given a new Russian passport. Yet the Russian intelligence agencies, which a year before had shown such an interest in him, and which monitor the situation in the North Caucasus closely, neither detained nor questioned him. This nonchalant attitude on their part is one of many aspects of this case that is odd and inexplicable. In his address on the attacks on Boston, President Barack Obama also emphasizedthat there are many unanswered questions.

The investigation is continuing, and hopefully, will clarify many aspects of this case. The Chechen people, whom some media are trying to link to this crime, harbor no enmity at all toward the United States or the West. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of Chechens are grateful to the peoples andgovernments of Western countries for extending to them and their children refuge at a time when they were forced to flee the atrocities of a brutal war at home. I am far from seeking to idealize Chechens, but find unacceptable any demonization of this long-suffering people and attempts to burden it with collective guilt for the crimes of particular individuals.


The Chechen Republic, along with other former republics of the USSR, declared independence in 1990. This was not a “unilateral declaration of independence” as Russian ideologists claim, but was in full compliance with the laws of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation in force at that time, and in accordance with international law. Mikhail Gorbachev, as president of the USSR, and Boris Yeltsin, leader of the Russian Republic, responded to the event by sending official congratulatory telegrams.

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After a series of acts of provocation and attempts to incite revolts against the Chechen government, on Dec. 11, 1994, Russian troops were ordered by President Yeltsin to invade the independent Chechen Republic. That was the beginning of an intermittent Russo-Chechen War that is now in its 19th year. In this time more than 250,000 Chechen people have been killed. The mass extermination of the Chechen population by Russian aggressors has been accompanied by torture and extrajudicial executions — war crimes that have been documented by international human rights organizations.

As a result of the war, the Chechen people have not only suffered irremediable losses, but have also fragmented politically and are no longer a single social organism. It is absolutely true that one segment of the population, living in an occupied country, has been forced to collaborate with Russia and its puppets. Another segment has been radicalized and has resorted to methods of conflict that are condemned both by the international community and the legitimate Chechen government in exile in the West. A third segment is living in emigration in a number of countries around the world.

Putin is well aware that sooner or later he will have to answer for the genocide of the Chechen people. That is why from the very beginning of the regime’s second military campaign its propagandists made extraordinary efforts to characterize its criminal war against the Chechen people as part of the “war on international terror” and shield it from international observation. In fact, every high-profile act of terrorism that took place in Russia laterproved to have been perpetrated with the connivance of the Russian intelligence agencies. This was true of the explosions in Russian cities in the fall of 1999, it was true of the hostage-taking at the Dubrovka Theater in 2002, and it was true of the hostage-taking in the school in Beslan in 2004. Thanks to the investigations by journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dissident Alexander Litvinenko, these and other crimes of the current Russian regime were brought to the attention of the international community.

Boston is not Moscow and America’s FBI is not Russia’s FSB. America will conduct a comprehensive investigation of this crime with the objective of unfolding its true motive and context and respond appropriately. Until then, we should refrain from demonizing an entire people.

Akhmed Zakayev is prime minister of the Chechen government in exile.