A family’s journey: The story of the Tsarnaevs and their life-changing travels, in one chart

April 29, 2013

Click to enlarge. (Source: Staff reports. Bonnie Berkowitz and Alberto Cuadra/The Washington Post)

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers accused of conducting the Boston Marathon bombings, followed a distinct but far from unique path across Europe, Asia and the United States. The Tsarnaevs' journey is in some ways peculiar to this family, which emigrated to the United States in a "quest for a good living," according to The Washington Post's immersive profile, but also characteristic of the larger Chechen story, of a people repeatedly pushed out of and returning to their home region in the Russian North Caucasus.

This chart allows you to trace the family's travels across their ancestral home in Chechnya, to the nearby Russian provinces of Kalmykia and Dagestan, to the Central Asian former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and finally, for the young brothers, to the United States.

Here's how to read the chart: The yellow line shows the path of older brother Tamerlan and the red line shows younger brother Dzhokhar. Mother Zubeidat and father Anzor are marked by the dark and light blue lines.

One of the most potentially interesting curves in the Tsarnaev story is elder son Tamerlan's trip back to Dagestan in early 2012. Was the trip just another story of a young, first-generation immigrant visiting his homeland, or does it offer some clue to the attacks he's accused of conducting in Boston?

Here is an excerpt from The Post's investigation, which found that "if Tamerlan’s radicalization was cemented or enhanced during his stay, evidence of that has not emerged."

In January 2012, Tamerlan arrived in Dagestan for what would be a six-month visit. He saw his father and other relatives — his mother was still in Cambridge then; she returned to Dagestan in the summer and recently reconciled with Anzor.

The city Tamerlan came to in search of his roots is beset by intrigue and contradiction. Makhachkala is Muslim but known for its cognac. Weekly shootouts produce a heavy murder toll. Many Dagestanis are turning toward Salafism, a strict fundamentalist sect. Police gun down fundamentalists they say have turned militant. Police are methodically blown up with makeshift bombs.

Looking for the answers to Boston in any one turn of this chart — like trying to deduce what would lead two previously normal-seeming young men to commit a horrific act of terrorism — is probably futile. Is the Tsarnaev story, in all its complexity, one of a crumbling family? Does the larger narrative of the Chechen diaspora offer some insight? Or are these just two young men who went a little crazy? Only the Tsarnaev boys themselves can know for sure. But, particularly with Tamerlan dead from a shootout with police, following his and his brother's twists and turns across continents, experiences and ideologies is one of the few ways that we can try to understand.

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Caitlin Dewey · April 29, 2013