Caucasus: Remembering Tsarnaev as a New Immigrant
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is scheduled to be arraigned July 10 in Federal Court on 30 criminal counts connected with the Boston Marathon bombings. For the man who helped the Tsarnaev family get resettled in the United States over a decade ago, the fact that 19-year-old Dzhokhar stands accused of carrying out such a heinous act is still difficult to believe.
Khassan Baiev, a native of Chechnya and a plastic surgeon by profession, remembers the day in 2002, when sitting at home in Boston, he received a call from a Chechen who was living in Canada at the time. The woman told him that her brother’s family was immigrating to the United States from Kyrgyzstan, and requested his help in easing their transition to their new American surroundings.
Given the honor code that governs personal ties among Chechens, Baiev drove to New Jersey to meet Dzhokhar and the rest of his family when they landed in the United States.
The family stayed at Baiev’s home for a month after their arrival, moving out after finding a place to live on their own. During that time, Baiev recounted how Dzhokhar’s father, Anzor, would describe the family’s difficulties back in Kyrgyzstan.
“The father told me they had lived in Kyrgyzstan since the deportation of the Chechen people by Stalin in 1944,” Baiev told EurasiaNet.org. “He also said that they had never been back to Chechnya and had left Kyrgyzstan to escape discrimination, which would go as far as beatings. They would always have problems there.”
The impression Baiev gained back then of Dzhokhar and his elder brother Tamerlan is one that he finds hard to square with the crimes the pair allegedly committed on April 15 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“They were a normal family, not very religious. I never saw them again after they left my house,” Baiev recalled. ““When the bombings happened, I was so shocked.”
These days, Baiev spends his summers back in his homeland, working at the children’s hospital in Grozny, the Chechen capital. He regards it as his duty to try to help those of his compatriots who were wounded during the two wars that ravaged the North Caucasus republic over the past two decades.
When the first Chechen war broke out in 1994, the 50 year old surgeon decided, unlike many doctors in the republic, to stay and treat war victims. He was forced to flee to the United States in 2000 after he treated the rebel warlord Shamil Basayev, the Kremlin’s most wanted man at the time. Baiev eventually settled in Boston with his family.
In Grozny during the weeks following the Boston Marathon bombings, posters expressing support for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev started appearing on the streets. “[Tsarnaev] badly needs your help now and your support, even if it's just moral support,” one poster read. “We ask you not to stay indifferent; the more people know about it, the easier it is to get justice.” Although it remains unclear who was behind the distribution of the posters, many residents of Grozny seem convinced that the Tsarnaev brothers were framed.
Sayeed, a dentist who lives in the village of Alkhan Kala, not far from Grozny, echoes an opinion held by many locals: either American or Russian secret services were responsible for the Boston bombings.
“Most people here think some secret service is responsible for the bombings,” Sayeed said. “We don’t know why they did it, but they must have some goal. This is why they used those two young brothers.”
Andreane Williams is a journalist focusing on the former Soviet Union.