As the city of Boston searches for answers in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent gun battle and manhunt that saw the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and capture of his younger brother Dzhokhar, much attention of moving away from the boy’s lives in America. In particular the ethnic background of the Tsarnaev brothers is beginning to be investigated as a possible catalyst for the tragedy in Boston that killed three and wounded 183 others.
The Tsarnaev brothers came from Chechnya in Northern Caucasus region of Europe. The region has seen a multitude of violence and wars inflicted upon it throughout the 20th century. In the wake of the tragedy in Boston increasing amounts of attention is being focused upon the older brother, Tamerlan’s, visit to Dagestan and Chechnya in 2012.
Chechnya has seen two wars, an occupation, and an insurgency in the last 25 years. The desire for an independent Chechen state has been a strong motivator for part of the population for generations. Whenever significant civil unrest plagued Russia, the Chechens were the first to revolt. Under Stalin, the entire Chechen population was relocated to Siberia and Central Asia for revolting during the invasion of Nazi Germany, which was recognized as an act of genocide in 2004. They were allowed to return under de-Stalinization in 1957. During the breakup of the Soviet Union the Chechens would win a war for an independent state against Russia. However, this was short lived, as in 1999 Russia would invade again and defeat the Chechen fighters. An insurgency would continue, with terrorist attacks in the region and in foreign nations such as Russia.It is estimated that conflict has killed approximately up to 15% of the Chechen population.
Tsarvaev's childhood was affected by these events as well. In 1992 the father left Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan for Chechnya, but returned in 1995 due to the outbreak of the first Chechen war. Tsarvaev, born in 1986, would have experienced at least some of the turmoil of the war, although it is unclear on to what extent the young boy was affected at the time.
It was claimed that the Tsarvaev's visit to the region only was for the purposes of visiting his father. This claim has come under question, with other family members saying that he came to better know his home country and region. His aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, said of the visit, "He came to be acquainted with [Dagestan]."
Tsarvaev stayed six months in Makhachkala, Dagestan. His stay likely saw him hear about the violence in the area, little reported in western media, which included two to three bombings a month and incursions by the federal police that would leave dozens of suspected "insurgents" dead in their wake. The situation in Dagestan, one of the poorest regions of Russia, has been recognized as grim as early as 2010.
Chechen separatist groups have denied ever contacting or assisting Tsarvaev. Still, a picture is emerging of a life that was not going well for him in the United States before he even when to Dagestan. Tsarvaev was forced to drop out of community college for lack of money, failed to make the cut for his dream career in Olympic boxing, and struggled to find other employment. In perhaps a reaction to his deteriorating life situation, it is reported that Tsarvaev became more religious, giving up alcohol. He left an online trail of feeling alienated in America, saying in an on-line caption to a photo, "Originally from Chechnya, but living in the U.S. since five years … I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them." People have theorized that in wake of deteriorating life situation and alienation that resulted from his personal problems, the elder Tsarvaev may have begun to latch onto the more fundamental concepts that define one person since time immemorial: where you come from and what you believe.
The picture is still unclear into what motivated these men into committing the terrible acts in Boston. But in our search for answers we must not jump to one conclusion or the other, disregarding evidence that does not fit our ideological persuasion. While it is possible that this was a simple rampage killing, we must examine every piece of context. While involvement with Chechen terrorists groups seems unlikely, this might have involved Tamerlan Tsarnaev grasping at his identity as a Chechen in response to other factors in his life.