The consequences of the September 2004 terrorist attack on the town of Beslan continue to shake the political situation in North Ossetia. Tensions between the Russian authorities and local residents have increased for more than a year and have now come to a head. Relatives of the hostages killed during the incident have appealed to the international community to help them investigate exactly what happened, because people in Beslan have no confidence in the Russian judicial system.
This September, on the first anniversary of the tragedy, the “Mothers of Beslan” committee, formed by relatives of the hostages, refused to let Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the memorial ceremony in Beslan. They blame Putin as being personally responsible for the hundreds of deaths that occurred when the rescue attempt went awry. Putin invited a delegation from Mothers of Beslan to visit him in the Kremlin (see EDM, September 16).
Teimuraz Mamsurov, leader of North Ossetia, organized the visit and accompanied the mothers to Moscow. According to Jamestown sources, Putin resents the charges of personal responsibility for the deaths. Consequently, he was very angry with Mamsurov and the Ossetian authorities in general.
On the eve of the meeting in the Kremlin, Novaya gazeta published a preliminary version of the report of the Ossetian Parliamentary Investigative Commission on Beslan. The preliminary report by Stanislav Kesaev, head of the Commission and the deputy chair of the local parliament, was highly critical of both Russian security authorities and officials in Moscow (see EDM, September 16).
After meeting with the Mother’s delegation, Putin sent Vladimir Kolesnikov, a deputy prosecutor-general, to North Ossetia. The official explanation asserted that Kolesnikov went to the republic to speed up the investigation process, but he apparently had a quite different task.
The Kremlin had grown tired of the Mothers of Beslan and their criticism and decided to pressure the Ossetian authorities to make the Mothers go away. In addition, Kolesnikov was told to find ways to explain to the Ossetian politicians that they should stop blaming Moscow for the tragedy.
When Kolesnikov arrived, he started to blame Mamsurov and Kesaev for poor progress in Beslan, not the actual investigators (see EDM, September 16). He also initiated audits of all large alcohol factories in the republic. Alcohol production, especially vodka, is the main financial resource of the local elite and drives the local economy. Furthermore, a criminal case was opened against the Alania soccer club and several local ministries were inspected (Novaya gazeta, October 20).
Subsequently, the official report presented by the Ossetian Commission on November 29 was watered down and differed little from statements from the Prosecutor-Generals Office.
This development was the last straw for the survivors. Many of them, like Susanna Dudieva, the former leader of the mothers’ protest movement, had abandoned their cause, but other mothers continued to struggle. They organized a new group named “The Voice of Beslan” and headed by Ella Kesaeva (no relation to Stanislav).
Kesaeva and her supporters went to parliament to participate in the discussion of the Commission’s report. They were not happy with what they heard. “The report did not answer even a single question from the victims. We hoped that at least the names of some of the responsible people would be mentioned,” Kesaeva told Kavkazky uzel. “Soon it will look like we are guilty.” Kesaeva blamed the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office for intimidating the Ossetian Commission (Kavkazky uzel, December 7). Her loud protests and unpleasant questions during the session enraged Larissa Khabitisieva, chair of the Ossetian parliament. She called Kesaeva a hate-monger and criticized her for supporting Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the Yukos oil company who is serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion. “The whole world had helped you [the victims of the Beslan crisis] and you still have the nerve to demand something” (gazeta.ru, December 7). After these words, Kesaeva left the parliamentary chamber.
On November 31, the Voice of Beslan activists issued an appeal to the president of the United States, to the U.S. Congress, and to the European Union. The relatives asked the international community to help them find the truth about the Beslan tragedy. “We do not know anything about who was the real mastermind of the Beslan crime, how it was possible to organize and conduct such a massive crime. Why was it not prevented and who is responsible for this? We have been asking all these questions for more than a year, but hear only lies in response” (Ekho Moskvy, November 31). “The members of the Voice of Beslan committee sharply criticized the Russian political structure in their appeal, saying that they have to live in the country “where the prosecutor’s office lies, where officials commit perjury in court, and where the president lies in public to mothers and fathers of killed children.”
Voice of Beslan members asked the U.S. government and governments of European countries to provide the Committee with any information that they may have on the hostage crisis. In particular, they asked U.S. President George W. Bush to declassify satellite photos of the Beslan school taken during the three-day siege (Ekho Moskvy, November 31).
It is unlikely that any foreign country could really help the Beslan mothers in their standoff with the authorities, but clearly such appeals damage Russia’s international reputation and could become a major headache for Moscow in the future.
Already, other groups are adopting the Beslan mothers’ tactics. Relatives of the 50 people killed in the October 13 attack on Nalchik, the capital of nearby Kabardino-Balkaria, have issued their own appeal to the international community demanding “an international investigation of the October events in Kabardino-Balkaria and of the massive repressions against young Muslims” (regnum, December 7).
It seems that the West should be ready for a flood of appeals by victims of the war in the North Caucasus if it continues to turn a blind eye to Putin’s repressive policies in the volatile region.