Tragedy in Beslan
Our Chechen correspondent Timur Aliyev visited Beslan in the aftermath of the hostage-taking tragedy. Below is his report and photographs from the grief-stricken town. The editors.
Red flowers on a black background. Roses and carnations everywhere, on the black floor of the burnt-out gymnasium, on the windowsills of the broken windows. Lighted candles. Children’s toys. And people, many people.
In Beslan’s school No. 1, where hundreds of hostages died, the personal pilgrimages continue. Relatives of the dead and ordinary local citizens leave flowers and toys in the place where the hostages perished. “This is our Wailing Wall,” people say as they move past.
In the literature classroom on the first floor of the school, where adult male hostages were shot, a chair stands with several burning candles, lit for the peace of the souls of the dead. Moving in and out of the room, men light cigarettes and place them on the chair. “It’s so they’ll have something to smoke in the other world,” they say. The chair is covered in ash.
According to official figures, of the 1,180 hostages, 338 died (213 of the dead ones have been identified), and 70 are missing. 401 people are in hospital.
Simply an angel
40-year-old taxi driver, Felix Khubetsov, lives on the third floor of a five-floor apartment building directly opposite the Beslan Palace of Culture, where the crisis staff was working for the release of the hostages and where journalists and relatives of the hostages were crowding.
Felix is unshaven and his eyes are red. Only yesterday, he buried his daughter, Alina. She turned eleven on August 31, the day before joining the sixth class at Beslan School No.1.
“She was simply an angel,” Felix says. “Just a small girl. What more is there to say?”
Alina turned out to be among those hundreds of hostages who were killed by the explosion in the school gymnasium. The hopes of her father, who stood waiting with his friends by the cordoned-off area for the whole three days of the siege, turned out to be in vain.
Words pain Felix. He lifts a large, framed photograph from the shelf, a photograph of Alina in her school uniform. Yesterday he was at the cemetery, holding this photograph in his hands while they buried his girl.
“She really liked to draw. She wanted to be a designer, a fashion designer,” Felix says. But he refuses to show me her work and her drawings. “I’m not looking for them,” he says, sitting on the couch with his hands drooping towards the floor and his head hung. Then he gets up and says, “Enough. It’s time for you to leave.”
Felix’s son might also have been among the hostages, but he was lucky. An older student in the 11th class, he no longer hurried to school, so he was late and missed roll call.
Chechens and Ingush
An anti-Vainakh [anti-Chechen and Ingush] mood is growing among Ossetians. The media are playing up the fact that Chechens and Ingush were among the hostage-takers, effectively making people in the republic believe that it is they who are guilty of the Beslan tragedy. Nobody remembers that Chechen and Ingush children also studied at School No 1.
“They have done this,” says an eighty-year-old man on a bus from Beslan to Vladikavkaz. “They have a different mentality. They are insolent and evil.”
“Who are they?”
“Chechens and Ingush. I don’t know why they come here. What do they want to come here for?” he says indignantly.
“But Chechens and Ossetians have good relations.”
“Only on the surface. In actual fact, Chechens have no respect for Ossetians, because our beliefs are different,” the old man replies.
But not everybody in the republic talks that way. Twenty-three-year-old Kazbek stops me in the main street of Vladikavkaz and says, “Brother! We are one people.”
"A political corpse"
In the central square of Vladikavkaz, opposite the parliament building, a demonstration is taking place with protesters demanding the resignation of the North Ossetian government. They accuse the republic’s authorities of not being able to save the hostages in Beslan. Particular discontent is aimed at Dzasokhov, President of Ossetia: the terrorists called him to negotiate but then didn’t wait for him.
Leaflets are passed around the crowd of demonstrators. “A great sorrow has befallen us,” they read, “which we will never be able to endure or forget. …largely brought about by the Dzasokhov administration which is corrupt, rotten to the core and incapable of preventing such events. Nor was it able to respond adequately to the seizure of the school. …Mr. Dzasokhov’s conduct has covered his name with genuine disgrace… The Dzasokhov regime has died and we demand that he, together with his team, cease to ruin the nation. Mr. Dzasokhov, you are a political corpse.”
Dzasokhov appears on the balcony of the parliament building. He has fired his entire cabinet of ministers, he says, and he himself is also considering resigning but has not yet made a decision.
“Within the next two days, a statement will be issued declaring the resignation of the government. We are taking this course of action because of the many issues in need of resolution and because all, regardless of rank, must be answerable for their actions…” he said.
P.S. Dzasokhov's decree on the resignation of the republic's government came into force on September 9. Candidates for the new Premier should be discussed by the Parliament in the nearest future.
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· Photographs from Beslan