Russian Area Studies Hosts Expert Panel on Caucasus Region

April 25, 2013

Wellesley College Russian Area Studies faculty members: Philip Kohl, Kathryn Wasserman Davis Professor of Slavic Studies and Professor of Anthropology; Nina Tumarkin, Professor of History; and guests, including former Ambassador Thomas Simons, will host a panel discussion addressing the complex political, historical, and religious context of the Caucasus region. Thomas Hodge, Professor of Russian, will moderate.

The talk, “Chechnya, Russia, and the Marathon Bombing,” will take place this evening, Thursday, April 25, at 8 PM in the Knapp Atrium. It is free and open to the public, parking on campus is also free.

The Boston Marathon bombing suspects are ethnic Chechens who have been linked to Dagestan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. The panel will touch on some of the publicly available facts of the Boston Marathon case, but the subject of the talk is the native region of the Tsarnaev family, chiefly Chechnya and Dagestan.

According to Hodge, “Local and federal authorities and the news media have made a great deal of the link between the Tsarnaev brothers and the Caucasus region, Chechnya in particular, which is an area that has a very troubled history. The Chechens have fought for nearly 200 years against Russian annexation; they endured a brutal mass deportation by Stalin during WWII and have fought two horrific wars with Russia in the last twenty years.”

“Radical Islam has become progressively more prevalent among the Chechens in recent decades,” Hodge said. “The violence-ridden North Caucasus is packed with small ethnic groups, predominantly Sunni Muslims, who have struggled against each other as well as with Russia.”

Hodge continued, “If the hypothesis is correct that the Marathon Bombings were somehow linked with religious or ethnically based extremism or Chechen separatism, then the better we understand the complicated Caucasus region, the more chance we have of grasping the motive for the atrocity of 15 April and possibly preventing such attacks in the future.”

The panelists hope to illuminate the history of Chechnya, recent terrorist acts committed in the name of Chechen independence including the Moscow theater hostage crisis (2002); Beslan school hostage crisis (2004); and the ideologies and religious convictions of the relevant ethnic groups in the Caucasus (Chechens, Avars, Ingush, Ossetians).

“The complexity of the region is not easily conveyed by the mass media,” Hodge said, “so our hope is to draw on the considerable expertise of [the panelists] to give our community a deeper understanding of what may lie behind the Marathon Bombings.”

Wellesley professors have also been called upon by the media to participate in the conversation about last week’s events in various forums. Tumarkin, Kohl and Professor Emeritus Marshall Goldman spoke with the Metrowest Daily News (Now available on The Street) to offer an expert opinion that "Chechen past probably did not influence bombers," and Psychology Professor Julie Norem who spoke with WCVB’s Chronicle on Monday evening about the #BostonStrong movement.