On February 17, the “Mothers of Beslan,” a group of women who lost their children in the hostage crisis in Beslan last September, petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismiss the president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov.
The Beslan families told journalists that they had arrived in Moscow to personally deliver their letter to the Russian president. They believe the North Ossetian authorities failed to prevent the school siege and mishandled the crisis, resulting in the deaths of more than 300 adults and children.
“If the state could sacrifice the lives of our children, it can sacrifice the career of a single man,” declared Susanna Dudieva, chair of the Mothers of Beslan committee (Rosbalt, February, 17). She added that although Dzasokhov may have once had a distinguished career, he had also failed to meet their expectations in Beslan. “Since then, the children’s cemetery in Beslan has been his calling card,” Mrs. Dudieva said.
Igor Dzantiev, a spokesman for the president of North Ossetia, told Associated Press that he would not comment on the mothers’ demand (AP, February 17).
The standoff between the North Ossetian president and Beslan survivors has been ongoing since the events of September 1-3, 2004. The opposition organized several rallies in Vladikavkaz, the Ossetian capital, to demand Dzasokhov’s resignation, and the Ossetian authorities organized a rally to support the government (see EDM, September 13, 2004). The people of Beslan, however, very quickly switched their attention to the formal investigation.
The Ossetians were not satisfied with the pace of the inquiry or with the work of the parliamentary investigation commission. On September 4, people rallied in Beslan to demand that the Prosecutor-General’s Office give them the names of the terrorists killed in the raid (gazeta.ru, September 4, 2004). The security officials refused.
Residents could not believe that the officials simply did not know the names. Indeed, only half of the terrorists have been identified nearly six months later. The Ossetians also accused the authorities of trying to conceal the real number of the militants who seized the school. Vladimir Kolesnikov, deputy prosecutor general, even had to refer to Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev’s statement in which he said that the group consisted of 33 members. The Prosecutor’s Office had used the number 32 (gazeta.ru, November 5, 2004).
Another problem is that the survivors and their relatives believe that the weapons used during the terrorist attack had been hidden at the school in advance. The Ossetians have demanded that the authorities find and punish the person or persons who let the terrorists into the school to stash the weapons. Nevertheless, neither the members of the parliamentary commission nor the Prosecutor-General’s Office confirmed this fact. The residents of Beslan were also angry that the Commission could not explain to them why it had been necessary to use flame-throwers and tanks when storming the school. Increasingly, residents began to distrust the Commission.
On November 10, during a rally in Beslan, people demanded an international investigation of the tragedy and threatened to block the regional highway if the Commission did not tell them the “truth” before the New Year (Caucasus Times, November 10, 2004).
The Commission answered with a vague promise to issue a report by the middle of March (Rossiiskaya gazeta, December 3, 2004). On January 20 the disgruntled citizens acted on their threat and blocked the highway. However, the main demand of those protestors was Dzasokhov’s resignation, not an international investigation (Caucasus Times, January 20). The Ossetians seem to have lost any hope of getting more information about the tragedy and are now concentrating their efforts on political issues. The protestors agreed to leave the road only after arduous negotiations between them and Dmitry Kozak, Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, who had called them by phone (gazeta.ru, January 21).
On February 2 the leaders of the protestors met Kozak in person in Rostov-on-Don, the capital of the Southern Federal District (RIA-Novosti, February 2). Kozak told the protestors that they could only challenge the moral aspects of Dzasokhov’s actions, and the investigation would review the legal issues (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 2). Kozak also warned the protestors against “illegal actions” such as blocking the road. At the same time, Dzasokhov continued his attempts to redirect the Ossetians’ anger toward local security officials. Stanislav Kesaev, head of the republican investigation committee told NTV television that the chief of the Ossetian directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the minister of internal affairs were responsible for the tragedy (NTV, February 2).
Kozak promised the delegation that the decision about Dzasokhov’s resignation would be made by the Ossetian parliament. It soon became very clear, however, that the local parliament was unable to make the decision. At this point, the “Mothers of Beslan” took the desperate step of appealing to Putin himself.
The “Mothers” committee members explained that they had written a letter to Putin because, “There was nobody in Russia whom one could trust” (lenta.ru, February 17). It appears, however, that the Russian president is not going to give an immediate answer to the mothers’ demands. On February 21, Kozak announced that an appointment of a new governor alone would not solve any of social and economic problems of the Southern Federal District (yufo.ru, February 21). This statement, more then anything else, has shown that whatever happens, the Kremlin will not sacrifice the Ossetian president to popular demands, at least not in the near future.