In aftermath of Boston bombings, K-State professor holds lecture on Chechen history

Russell Edem | Collegian K-State professor of military history David Stone speaks about the history of Chechnya in an Eisenhower Hall classroom on May 2.

This article was changed on May 14, 2013, to make the following correction. In paragraph seven, Prof. David Stone was quoting the Chechen president when he referred to Chechens in the United States.

With the Boston Marathon bombings still fresh in many people’s minds, K-State professor David Stone, an expert in the military history of the Soviet Union and Russia, lectured to a small group of students on Thursday evening about the history of the Chechen Republic.

The two main suspects in the Boston bombings, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are Chechen, and the political and military unrest surrounding that area have come under heavy scrutiny since the April 15 tragedy.

Stone was cautious in drawing a link between radical Islam in Chechnya and the Boston bombings.

“It’s a little early to say,” said Stone, “but there may be a link to the radicalization of the Chechen cause and what we saw from these two young men in Boston.”

Stone said the mindset of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is grounded in the context of radical Islam in Chechnya, which stems from the republic’s independence movement in the 1990s and 2000s. Tamerlan was fatally shot by police officers on April 19 during a manhunt in Watertown, Mass., while Dzhokar was later taken into custody.

The two brothers are suspected of having ties to radical portions of Islam. However, Stone stopped short of saying that the unrest in Chechnya had a direct correlation to the Boston attacks.

Stone quoted the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, who said, “Clearly, these kids learned their nasty ways in the U.S.”

Stone went on to say, “It’s very difficult to say without knowing more specifically. But it is fair to say that the Chechen cause, over time, has become more radical, more interested in violent interpretations of Islam. So there may be a link.”

Stone also made it clear that the current head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, wants to separate Chechnya from the Boston tragedy in the public eye.

“No government wants to be on record as supporting terrorism,” Stone said. “He is in power in Chechnya essentially to keep things quiet for the Russians. So he does not want anything that looks like instability or recurrence of this level of violence that we had before. So it’s very much in his interest to treat what happened in Boston as having nothing to do with him, nothing to do with Chechnya, that what happened to these two young men happened in America.”

Chechnya, a republic of Russia that has been granted autonomy, has a violent history with Russia. The Chechens and Russians have fought two wars as a result of Chechnya’s independence movement.

Stone said that during the two wars, many Chechens left Chechnya as refugees, and that was when some became radicalized.

It was 2009 when Russia and Chechnya finally reached an agreement to end hostilities. The terms of those agreements included autonomy but not full independence for Chechnya. Russia also financially assists Chechnya in rebuilding the country, which has led a number of refugees to return.

Because of the recent years of peace, many refugees have returned to Chechnya, Stone said, and according to his presentation, violent incidents in Chechnya have decreased significantly.

“Chechnya itself is quite calm,” Stone said. “The Russian government has been able to find Chechens it can work with, it’s providing an awful lot of money to keep the population there satisfied, and it’s giving a free hand to the president of Chechnya in order to let him maintain order.”

Crayton Caswell, senior in history and president of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, the group that sponsored the lecture, said Stone’s presentation was very important and timely.

“I think it is very important what he had to say,” Caswell said. “How everything mixes into the question of terrorism internationally, and how the Muslim cause and the Chechen cause might have some ties. It gives you a lot more understanding of the situation. It’s important to know what the history of the area is. It’s extremely helpful to know how something like the Boston bombings could have happened.”