Friday, September 02, 2005

Another country recovering from a tragedy

As New Orleans recovers, Russians are trying to recover from their own 9-11, the Beslan tragedy that happened a year ago.

If you remember, a hostage crisis in Russia killed 300+ people after Chechen terrorists held a school hostage for a few days, before the terrorists were gunned down by the Russian army. Innocent kids were killed on a day meant for celebration. A year later, kids are going back to another rebuilt school, equipped with better technology and security. But the sequence of events still chills Beslan residents, who look for answers on why and how it happened.

In Russia, Sept. 1 is traditionally a "Day of Knowledge," a start of the new school year for kids. Though a national holiday, kids and parents go to school and celebrate the gift of knowledge; they receive speeches and flowers, and the unfortunate who are not rich receive gifts of books, pens, pencils and other school paraphernalia to help them gain education and knowledge.

As kids and parents celebrated in a school in Beslan, a town in the southwestern Russian state of North Ossetia, 32 Chechen terrorists approached the building, going helter skelter, shooting point blank at innocent people and ultimately taking 1,200 to 1,300 people hostage.

The reason I refer to them as terrorists -- the Chechens call themselves rebels, but the way they operate, killing innocent people and helping other terrorist groups, makes them a bonafide terrorist outfit. Looking back, the Beslan hostage crisis was clearly pre-meditated; they knew a school building would be ripe for an attack as it would be crowded on that day. The terrorist leader, Shamil Basayev, later took responsibility for it.

In quick response to the hostage crisis, the Russian army swung into action immediately, with tanks, special forces and helicopters hovering around the building. Tracking the reports and speaking to people, what surprised me then were the negotiators chosen by the Russians to get the terrorists to release prisoners.

One of them was Ingushetia's former president Ruslan Aushev, also a former Russian armyman. Ingushetia is a Russian state bordering Chechnya, and both are known to be at "friendly" terms, with similar backgrounds historically and culturally. He was perhaps chosen because of his ties with the terrorists, and an analyst I spoke to believed that the Chechen terrorists would trust him, so Russians were better off sending him than any other government official. The logic is pretty easy to lay out, but who knows what the reality is.

What was also worrying was the Russian army itself, if they decided to just storm the building, which they ultimately did. When trying to overcome a hostage crisis in a Moscow theater in 2002, 100-something hostages died when the army used a chemical weapon in an attempt to gas out Chechen terrorists.

The negotiations led to some releases, but after a few days, the tired Russian army just stormed into the building and cornered the terrorists, killing 31 of 32. The terrorist who survived the shootout, Nurpashi Kulayev, is jailed in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia's capital, denying any involvement.

When the siege finally ended, 338 were listed as dead, many children, and more than 1000 were injured in the hostage crisis. That is the worst terrorist attack Russia has ever seen, yet it goes by quietly today. The Russian govt. today lists the official casualties at 331.

The Russian army handled it the best way they could, though they got a lot of heat for it.

A year later, though the school has been rebuilt, Beslan residents still suffer. Mothers cry over lost kids, kids still limp, and town folk are still shaken by it. People still question Moscow on how and why it happened, but Kremlin has no answer for them.

Was the security in the region poor? Was the army nowhere to be found to let these many terrorists with guns through? At any rate, Kremlin is trying to acquire the answers, and has taken measures to get the process of making schools secure.

Schools are a bit more secure now with alarms, cameras, metal detectors and fences. And Shamil Basayev is Russia's most wanted man.

Tragedies like this, or London or 9-11, are demoralizing, but they represent the strength of the human spirit. It shows our ability to withstand such terrible incidents, put it beyond us and move on with life. It doesn't demoralize us, it makes us stronger. The way people responded to the tsunami, and now New Orleans, with aid, money, supplies, whatever possible, was amazing -- shows how much love and compassion exists on this planet.

Ok, ok.. better put an end to the rant. Did I just sound like a hippie? You are welcome to have a joint....and then go seek White Castle...


Blogger gulnaz said...

no... you sound good. :)

5:14 AM  
Blogger venus said...

wow, that is lot of research you've done here!
kashmir, gaza strip, darfur, afghan; there are many places still on fire on this planet, and human spirit is still fighting terrorists. If anything brings things to just is also human spirit. I, sometimes, do believe in universal mind. when there is natural disaster, or terrorist attck or something like this, people come closer; unity is the strength, a lesson, we were taught during our primary schooling. May be, one day, there will be peace in world, and there won't be any wars. I know, it's an imposible dream..

4:24 PM  
Blogger Khakra said...

Thanks! Love penning Russia. Been tracking the region for years now.

Thanks Mridula! sometimes it good to stick to the basics that sound nice and peaceful, without getting into the details. In the 1960s Berkeley, people demonstrated, got arrested, and they meant something. I share their belief, or the belief of the Indian freedom fighters.

Venus, stand by your thought on a universal mind. Think about this - how many strangers have helped you? When you lose your balance on a bus, someone is there to save you from falling. When you drop a piece of paper, someone will pick it up for you. We are all looking after each other, and that feels beautiful and soothing. I got this thought thanks to some non-profit thoughts. But its too simple, you're right - with politicians, intelligence agencies and others involved in creating this invisible web that complicates matters.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey from Oz,

I was on my way to uni yesterday and witnessed a fresh accident between a motorbike and a yank tank (big ugly American car). The tank was written off, its driver was sitting on the roadside on his mobile phone chatting. The rider of the bike was mangeled and twisted on the tar, face down and very very dead in the middle of the 80kpm road and cars drove around his corpse. No one stopped to help. Hows that for human nature and human decency... beautiful and soothing? Such a thing no longer exists.

If society behave like this on an everyday basis it doesn't make terrorists and war time seem that bad.

War: It just provides a good excuse to shit all over your neighbours.

12:10 AM  
Blogger venus said...

Anonymous Oz,
Did u stop at least?
I think, humanity exists on individual level, not within mass.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Khakra said...

Oz, good point. Maybe my drooling is just wishful thinking. While mostly I help people, I have been Mr. Ignoramus a few times. Once I wasn't sure whether it was a prank for a TV show or whether it was real. But once I helped a passed-out person reach a hospital. That's the least I can do!

In some ways, the world starts with me -- if I can do anything to help people and change the world, I'll do it. I can't control the others, it's up to them to make a difference. Thanks for your thoughts!

2:29 PM  
Blogger Khakra said...

and apologies! gulnaz i identified as mridula.. ack, brain's running amok. you can call me bhaakarvadi, another terrible gujju dish

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I stop? Negative.

I was late for my Crime and Injustice lecture.

And liability is absolute these days. Basically, I don't want want to get sued if I do something wrong.

The Government takes any humanity we have and puts a figure on it.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Bhagyalaxmi said...

Being a Hippie, don't know. But u where definitely being a human.

11:45 PM  

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