Video: Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s teacher in Kyrgyzstan says he was affected by Chechen conflict

April 22, 2013

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspects in the Boston marathon bombing, spent some of their formative years growing up in the Chechen diaspora community in Kyrgyzstan. Radio Free Europe traveled to their former hometown of Tokmok to interview people who say they knew the Tsarnaevs. Friends and neighbors say the boys seemed normal, calm, incapable of such heinous acts.

How their family happened to move from Russia's restive southwest to this faraway former Soviet republic in Central Asia is part of a bigger story: The Soviet Union expelled tens of thousands of Chechens from their home to Kyrgyzstan in the 1940s. According to Radio Free Europe, the Tsarnaevs were part of that forced migration. They went home in the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union dissolved. But, like some other Chechens, they returned to Central Asia after the start of the First Chechen War, a failed bid for independence from Moscow. They later tried again to go home, or at least a little closer to it, moving to the Russian region of Dagestan, just next to Chechnya. From there, they left for the United States.

Most people in Tokmok interviewed for the story seemed to describe the Boston bombings as way out of character for the Tsarnaev brothers, remembering them as, for lack of a better word, normal.

Only one person seems to have seen any possible hint of why. Natalya Kurochkina, who taught Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the fourth grade, noted: "His family members were refugees from Chechnya. He was a very quiet boy, he had never been very active. I think he was somehow affected by what he had seen, all that was going on in Chechnya then — the terrorist acts, the war. I'd say he was calm, and even an apprehensive boy in class."

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