On Sept. 1, when most of us Yale students were devising grand strategies to get into a popular political science seminar, the future of 1,181 people in the city of Beslan in North Ossetia Republic of Russia was uncertain. For more than two days, a group of insurgents kept innocent civilians captive inside a middle school with explosives taped around its walls, refusing to negotiate and threatening to kill everyone, unless Russia takes its hands off of the rebellious Republic of Chechnya. The siege ended on Friday, leaving more than 300 people dead and 700 people wounded.
Immediately after the tragedy, President Bush expressed his condolences to the people of Russia and said that the Sept. 1 attack was a demonstration — once again! — that the United States is not fighting the global war against terrorism for nothing. Indeed, battling international terrorism does seem like a great cause, but, at the same time, it is cynical to put the same label on the Sept. 11 attack and this tragedy. It is unfair to the people of Beslan and to the Russian people to use the label as an excuse to send more troops to Iraq or to get reelected.
What happened in Beslan last week had nothing to do with international terrorism, Sept. 11, or the war in Iraq, although it does depend on what the definition of global terrorism is. If international terrorism is everything that is organized and/or financed by al Qaeda, then, perhaps, the Beslan tragedy does fall under this definition, although the connection between al Qaeda and the insurgents in Russia has not been proven yet. At the same time, if under international terrorism implies a threat to the civilized world, i.e. democracy, then the Russian case should not be boasted as an example of it.
Russia is fighting, and has been fighting for 10 years now its own war, the war in Chechnya. Days before the siege of the school in Russia, Chechnya held its presidential elections after the former president of the republic, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated by separatists in May of this year. The newly elected president, Major General Alu Alkhanov, is very much supported, if not installed, by the Russian government. In this sense Adam Barth’s view (“Putin must act in Russia’s own war on terror,” 9/6) that Putin has refused to take action in Chechnya is not completely accurate.
The Russian government had been warned many times of the possible consequences of these elections. On August 25, Chechen separatists took responsibility for two simultaneous plane crashes that killed 80 people in Russia. The next day, a bomb exploded near a train station in Moscow, taking lives of 10 more people. And there were many other similar “incidents” that have gone unnoticed by the international press and were labeled as hooliganism in the Russian media.
Unfortunately, last week’s tragedy has not come as a surprise to the nation that has had its own share of deaths and tears. For Russia, Chechnya is not a problem of international terrorism but secession; it is not something that the whole world should get involved in but a national calamity that Russia is obliged to solve on its own. That is why it seems so unreasonable to compare the tragedies of Sept. 11 and Sept. 1. The latter is a sad reality for Russia: it is a conflict within the country and for the country. Terrorists — I am afraid to call them people — who killed so many children on Friday are not fighting against democratic ideals because Russia can hardly be called a democracy at this point, but for a chance to secede from the Federation. They might be getting money from al Qaeda or any other radical Islamic organization, but the Beslan tragedy should still not be considered international terrorism. For example, we don’t call the Basque group in Spain global terrorism and use it as a justification for the war in Iraq.
Unfortunately, the international terror label is an easy lifesaver for those in power to control the minds of those being governed. Hence, when President Putin refers to the separatists as “direct intervention of international terror against Russia,” he is making a desperate attempt to present the conflict as an unequal battle between the world full of terrorists and a weakened and impoverished country in transition, just to remain the tough and popular president that he is. The strategy is both sad and unacceptable because no leader should hide behind the international terrorism term to avoid responsibility for the attack. At the same time, nobody should be allowed to use the tragedy as a propaganda tool. Nobody in this whole world has the right to point to the children in Beslan and argue why we should join the ranks of fighters against global terrorism.
Svetlana Alkayeva is a sophomore in Branford College.