The wrong context

Prof. Eliot Borenstein’s piece in The Washington Post is a good primer on racial and ethnic stereotypes and prejudices in modern Russia.

But is it relevant to the Tsarnaev case? As far as I know, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev only lived in Russia for a year or two, in a city dominated by “Caucasians” in the Russian sense of the word, with ethnic Russians making up only 5% of the population.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born and spent the first 7-8 years of his life in Kyrgyzstan, an independent state since 1991. The majority ethnic group in that former Soviet republic are the Kyrgyz (70%+), who tend to be East Asian in appearance. Dzhokhar’s Chechen ancestors were probably deported to Kyrgyzstan from the North Caucasus by Stalin in 1944 but did not return to their homeland when Khruschev allowed that in the late 1950s. Do the Kyrgyz see the Chechen minority as “Russian,” “white,” “European,” or otherwise? I have no idea and the author does not discuss the Kyrgyz context or the long-term impact of the 1944 displacement.

The Tsarnaev family moved to Russia in 2001 – not to Moscow but to Makhachkala, the capital of the multiethnic republic of Daghestan. Ethnic Russians are a small minority there, 4% in Daghestan and 5% in Makhachkala. Almost all other residents belong to ethnic groups native to the Northern Caucasus. Daghestan is also over 90% Muslim. Zubeidat, Dzhokhar’s and Tamerlan’s mother, is an ethnic Avar. The Avars are the largest ethnic group in Daghestan and Makhachkala, with a 27% and 29% share respectively. Dzhokhar may not have felt at home in Makhachkala, but he would not have experienced ethnic discrimination by a majority Slavic population.

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