Expert: Chechen past probably did not influence bombers

Norman Miller%%More Content Now News

The Chechnya homeland of suspected Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been portrayed by some as a region fighting for its own identity and government against the more powerful Russia.

But, Wellesley College anthropology professor Philip Kohl said the days where Chechnya was fighting for independence are long over, and is now much more violent since militant Islamic extremists came into the region during the two Chechen wars in the 1990s.

"The fights were originally to gain political independence from Russia," said Kohl, who is also a Kathryn W. Davis professor of Slavic studies at the college. "Now it’s more and more about militant Islamists rather than ethnic struggles.

"They have been interpreted very generously in the Western press," he continued. "Unfortunately, you’re not supporting freedom fighters. You’re supporting people who kill innocent citizens. They’re what I would call terrorists."

Authorities say Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police in Watertown early Friday morning, while Dzhokhar, 19, was still on the run Friday. Several media reports have reported the elder brother was Islamic.

Marshall Goldman, a professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley College who has written several books about the Soviet Union and the surrounding financial issues, said the Chechen people have long been fighting against any form of authority since the time of the czar.

Chechnya is in the north Caucasus Mountains, and separated from the cosmopolitan cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"They’re mountainous people," said Goldman, who is retired. "I would kind of compare them to the people who live in the Appalachian Mountains in the way that they kind have ran their own things."

Today, Goldman said, most of the powerful criminal syndicates that can be found in most major Russian cities can be traced to Chechen leaders.

Throughout the years, Chechens used bombs and "guerrilla warfare" to fight the stronger Russian military for their independence.

"You can’t line up an army, so you use these terrorist tactics," he said. "It’s not unique to the army, it’s all authorities. They’re opposed to authority and don’t like to be told what to do."

The current Chechen leadership is "extremely pro-Russia," according to Wellesley College history professor Nina Tumarkin. She said she believes the actions of the brothers have probably more to do with Islam than them being Chechen.

"You noticed the older brother got himself involved in the Jihad movement," said Tumarkin, who specializes in Russian history. "Unfortunately, it looks like that is driving them."

Both Goldman and Kohl agree the terrorist attacks most likely had nothing to do with Chechnya's past conflicts.

"I don’t think right now, what’s going on, is determined or affected by Russian-American relations," said Goldman. "This is a domestic problem right now."

Kohl said, "I think this is homegrown. They didn’t feel like they were part of their communities. But it’s hard to speculate. There are a lot of factors."

Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or nmiller@wickedlocal.com. Follow Norman Miller on Twitter at @Norman_MillerMW.