22 April 2013

Tokmok and Other Stuff about Boston

So when the news started trickling out on Friday about the background of the Tsarnaev brothers, I listened especially closely because they were supposed to have connections with Kyrgyzstan.  Since there aren't many Chechens still living in Kyrgyzstan, and since we knew Chechens in Tokmok, I wondered if they might be from Tokmok.  There was plenty of confusion as the day went on whether they were from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan which doesn't* surprise me, but by the end of the day, they were from Tokmok.

Some articles had them bouncing all over the Soviet Union, but it sounds like that's really not how it was.  From what I've read, their path, while not quite typical for Chechens, was far from unusual.  If you're short on Chechens' recent history, here's a quick summary.  Stalin deported the lot of them after WWII, as he liked to do, and sent them mostly to Central Asia (all those stories you hear about being sent to Siberia?  well, often they were actually sent to Central Asia).  They (and other deportees) were allowed to leave Central Asia in the late 1950s and most returned to Chechnya, although a reasonable number stayed in Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan.

The Tsarnaevs stayed and lived in Tokmok. Tokmok is right on the Kazakhstan border and it's easy to cross there, and many extended families are on both sides of the border.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union, most Chechens living in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan left for Russia, but some, like the Tsarnaevs, returned a few years later because of the war in Chechnya.  They apparently moved into a house across the street from School #1 (I probably have a photo of the gate on this blog somewhere because it was just down the street from our house).

Finally, the family left Kyrgyzstan with their Kyrgyzstan passports about 10 years ago, arrived in the US, and were granted asylum.  The older brother was about 15, and the younger was about 8.

I know this is mostly only interesting to me since we lived in Tokmok. I doubt the brothers' Kyrgyzstan roots have anything to do with what they did and I'm skeptical that they have connections with alleged Central Asian terrorist groups just because they grew up in Kyrgyzstan.  But if you're interested in their background, look at the Chechen diaspora in Kyrgyzstan because that was the family's community- and it still is, in some ways.  Chechen boys growing up in Tokmok would have had a significantly different experience than Chechen boys in Chechnya.

And about the parents' reaction to the accusations against their sons?  It's completely unsurprising, and I'm quite sure that most Americans would have the same reaction to hearing that their children were accused of a horrific crime in another country, especially one whose government they didn't trust.

*I do think it's crazy that the Czech ambassador had to release a statement saying that Chechnya has nothing to do with the Czech Republic.  I'm not surprised that lots of people made the mistake on Twitter or whatever, but if you're in a position to want to contact the embassy about it, you might notice that the spellings, at least, are quite different.  But there it is.


  1. Thanks for this - I found it interesting.

    As soon as I saw the suspects' names, I figured they were probably Chechen. I am surprised there has been so much confusion and misinformation about Chechnya. I guess I forget sometimes that maybe it's not normal for Chechnya to be on an American's radar? It's been on mine since we lived in Russia and there are a lot of Chechen students at my university. Obviously it's on yours, too. :)

  2. Thanks for the explanation, it is helpful. I thought of you right away.

    I was appalled that some people were scolding the parents for their very natural reaction.