LEWISTON – Similarities between the Beslan school massacre and the causes of insurgents in Iraq were discussed Monday night at Bates College.

Georgi Derlugian, an associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, said, “You get terrorist tactics out of despair,” he said, adding, “then Islam enters the picture.” That provides the religious justification for actions, he said, and also amplifies the “ambiguity of religion.”

Comparing Iraq to Chechnya, where Russians removed an oppressive dictator several years ago, Derlugian said, “Once you march in, you become the dictator.” He said he advised Russian officials against invading Chechnya, but he was ignored.

In the talk, titled “If We Can Make Sense of the Tragedy in Beslan, Could We Also Do Something About It?,” Derlugian discussed the recent terrorist actions in the Ossetian region in Russia within the context of the conflict as a whole.

“Basically, the situation is very similar to what is developing in Iraq,” he said, noting that a very small minority of people commits terrorist acts. He said the people of Chechnya are not going to betray neighbors, just as Iraqis are not going to betray insurgents.

“They are relatives, they are neighbors, they are just fellow Chechnyans,” he said “Even if they don’t have much political support, they are not going to be betrayed.”

“On the other side, of course, the Russian government was very well served by the American war on terror because they say, Look, see, we have been doing the same thing much earlier than you.'” He said they feel that “this is a war and we’re defending our country,” and that justifies their actions.

“I don’t think that Russia can be changed right now, or that Chechnya can be changed right now by itself,” Derlugian said. “Apparently there will have to be a change at a more global level where war on terror becomes not just politically useless, but also illegitimate both politically and morally.”

Derlugian spoke in depth about the history of Chechnya and its people. He described the isolating role of the region’s surrounding mountains and the complexity of the many small Chechen communities, where even a town of as few as 600 people might have a unique language.

Derlugian also told how the Chechen people routinely carry guns as part of their everyday costume, and he emphasized the “society of blood revenge” that has shaped them.

On one day – Feb. 23, 1944 – Stalin ordered the displacement by train of 330,000 Chechnyans to Kazakhstan, where they were expected to become farmers.

“They felt a great betrayal by the Communist Party,” Derlugian said.

“Once you invade, people will remember,” he said. The people wanted a great wrong to be righted, and they also wanted to be acknowledged as loyal, good Soviet citizens, he said.

In comparisons ranging from Napoleon capturing Moscow to the recent overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Derlugian said, “It was a free-for-all. Just take your gun and, if you see a target, just defend your country.” He said a second effect was the “abolition, if not physical extermination, of the political middle ground.”

Professor Derlugian is a native of Krasnodar, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the former Soviet Union, and has traveled extensively in Chechnya and the Caucasus region as a whole. His most recent trip took him to Ossetia on the day the terrorist action occurred at the school in Beslan.


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