NSN Special Update: Chechnya, Dagestan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: A Primer
It is being widely reported the two main suspects in the Boston bombings are the Tsarnaev brothers – one of whom has been killed in an altercation with police officers. The brothers are allegedly of Chechen descent with roots to the Russian Republic of Dagestan and the former Soviet Republics of either Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan. While we wait for clarity, NSN has prepared a short primer on Dagestan, Chechnya and the Former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as they may relate to current events.
Accused Boston bombers are allegedly ethnic Chechens
Chechens have populated the mountainous Northern Caucasus for hundreds of years. While the subjects of Moscow’s governance for two centuries, Chechnya has oscillated between de facto autonomy and being ruled by Moscow. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are reported to have left Russia in 2002 to come to the United States. Their uncle says that they never lived in Chechnya itself; reports indicate that Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six unaccounted-for months in Russia in 2012. Ethnic Chechens are dispersed throughout other parts of the former Soviet Union as well, discussed below.
Preeti Bhattacharji, Council on Foreign Relations, 4/8/13
BBC News, 1/19/2011
Matthew Yglesias, Slate Magazine, 4/19/2013
Dan Oshinsky, BuzzFeed 4/19/2013
Chechnya’s conflict has been ongoing throughout this generation
The fall of the Soviet Union led Chechen separatists to launch a coordinated campaign for independence and a continued Chechen insurgency, precipitating the First Chechen war (1994-1996). Parts of the insurgency took on an Islamist cast. After 80,000 people had died, a peace deal was brokered in 1996 with an agreement on economic relations and reparations to Chechens affected by the war.
In response to two attacks by Chechens in Moscow, the Second Chechen War commenced in September 1999, Russian troops maneuvered into Chechnya and suppressed resistance through massive artillery fire.
The wars resulted in an exodus of Chechens – most to re-start peaceful lives as refugees and some to extremist groups. Chechens have been both perpetrators and victims of terror attacks inside Russia, most memorably in sieges of a Moscow movie theater in 2002 and an elementary school in Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004. In the last decade, Chechens have been connected to militant groups in the Middle East and South Asia, and faced charges in European countries. The Washington Post notes that “in 2011, a Chechen-born man was sentenced in Denmark to 12 years in prison for preparing a letter bomb that exploded as he was assembling it in a Copenhagen hotel a year earlier. Lors Doukayev, a then 25-year-old, one-legged resident of Belgium, was wounded when assembling the device, which is believed also to have been intended for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Two suspects, Elsy Issakov and Mourad Idrissov, were arrested in Paris and a third, Ali Dokaev, was detained in the town of Noyon, northeast of the French capital.”
Pavel K. Baev, International Peace Research Institute, Oslo; via CSIS, 11/2004
New York Times via Agence France-Presse, 2000
Washington Post 4/19/2013
Valery Dzutsev, Jamestown Foundation, 11/14/12
Gordon M. Hahn, CSIS, 8/2011
The Alleged Dagestan Connection
The New York Times reports that the Tsarnaev family briefly lived in the capital of the Russian Republic of Dagestan before immigrating to the United States in 2002.
Dagestan is Chechnya’s neighbor, the southernmost republic of the Russian Federation in the Northern Caucasus with a population of approximately 3 million, comprised of 32 indigenous ethnic groups and a small percentage of ethnic Russians. Dagestan has experienced ethnic tensions and intermittent violence since the First Chechen War in (1994-1996). Violence, however, has escalated considerably in the aftermath of the Second Chechen war (1999-2000), after which, in 2002, the Islamic insurgency Jamaat Shariat was formed with establishing Sharia Law among its goals and has since been a primary belligerent in hostilities. Unlike some surrounding conflicts, violence in Dagestan is not driven by nationalism or secessionism but by poverty, police abuses and religious conflict. The religiously-motivated conflict in the Dagestan is complex, primarily involving traditional SufiMuslims, a more conservative populations of SalafiMuslims – which Jamaat Shariat purports to represent – and secularists. In recent years, conflict has escalated dramatically. For example, in 2010, Dagestan experienced 685 casualties related to terrorism and insurgency – more than twice the number of casualties experienced in Chechnya the same year.
Uri Friedman, Foreign Policy, 4/19/13
Tom Parfit, Foreign Policy, 3/23/11
International Crisis Group, 6/3/08
Andrew C. Kuchins, Mathew Malarkey and Sergei Markedonov, CSIS, 3/11
The Alleged Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan Connection
Conflicting reports identify the Tsarnaev brothers as having either lived Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan or having immigrated to the United States with Kyrgyzstan passports.
It would not be unusual for ethnic Chechens – as is allegedly is the case of the Tsarnaev brothers – to have originated or otherwise had ties to either of the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan. In Soviet history, Chechens emigrated to both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, sometimes involuntarily, as was the case in 1944 after the 1940-44 Chechen Insurgency under Stalin. Kyrgyzstan has a population of over 5 million and has a large majority of ethnic Kyrgyz and Muslims, with a minority 20 percent practicing Russian Orthodox. Political instability has been acute in Kyrgyzstan since popular unrest in 2005 following questionable elections, after which largely peaceful opposition turned violent with the assassination of multiple members of parliament. Kazakhstan is the largest of the former Soviet Republics with a population of just under 20 million, a majority of whom are ethnic Kazakhs – though religious affiliations are closely split between Russian orthodox and various sects of Islam.
International Crisis Group, 3/29/12
International Crisis Group, 1/5/10
Roger McDermott, the Jamestown Foundation, 4/9/13
Georgiy Voloshin, 1/16/13