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RFE/RL Review September 10, 2004

The Best of RFE/RL Broadcast Service Reporting
Week of September 4-10, 2004

Coverage of the shootout at School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia -- with the terrible loss of so many lives and lingering questions about what really happened, who is accountable and what repercussions the tragedy will have on Russia, President Putin, Chechnya, and beyond -- dominated the broadcasts of most RFE/RL services, particularly those in Russian and in the languages of the North Caucasus (Avar, Chechen and Circassian).

During the Beslan crisis, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service aired several exclusive and extensive interviews with Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based official representative and spokesman for the separatist Chechen government led by Aslan Maskhadov. Zakayev said he was asked by Ingush and North Ossetian government officials at the start of the crisis to act as a mediator between Russian authorities and the hostage takers. Zakayev spoke about the request in an interview with the North Caucasian Service on September 3, just before the assault on the school occurred:
"Yesterday I spoke with the President of [North] Ossetia, [Alexander] Dzasokhov and the former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and I informed President Maskhadov about the content of our talks. For his part, Maskhadov pledged to do everything in his power to find ways to resolve this situation without blood and without harming the children. Today Dzasokhov and Aushev again called me and we spoke. I told them that I informed [Maskhadov] about our previous conversation. I also outlined [Maskhadov's] position and his efforts to do everything in his power to resolve this situation without bloodshed and any harm coming to the children. He said he was willing to look for ways to achieve this."
In another interview with RFE/RL aired on September 7, Akhmed Zakayev rejected Kremlin's accusations that Maskhadov's was involved in the terrorist act and cast doubt on Russian claims that foreign terrorists were among the hostage-takers:
"Claims of President Maskhadov's involvement in this terrorist act are part of a well-planned misinformation campaign, which also includes statements by [Russian] officials that there were Arab and African mercenaries among the terrorists. Their goal is to explain this terrorist act as being part of some foreign conspiracies. Those are lies."
Audio of the broadcast interviews with Zakayev can be found on RFE/RL's website, at

** The Director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, may be reached by email at <>.

NCA Correspondent Jeremy Bransten on September 9 drew together and compared various accounts of the attack on the Beslan school and was left with many troubling, and so far unanswered, questions.
The Russian government claims that the hostage-takers brought their arsenal with them in three cars, while some of the former hostages said the gunmen had smuggled weapons and explosives into the school and hidden them there before the September 1 assault.
It is still not entirely clear what precipitated the Russian storming of the school building. Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said the gunmen fired on the hostages who began fleeing when an explosion occurred in the school. But this official version is contradicted by many eyewitnesses and former hostages. A reporter for "Izvestia" says there were no initial explosions and that someone -- he does not know who -- opened fire from outside the school, at which point the militants fired back. Then came the explosions. Other witnesses suggest the initial gunfire may have come from among the crowd of parents and relatives waiting outside the school. Some say the explosions were actually Russian tank fire, which blew off part of the school's roof. Bransten's report can be found on RFE/RL's website at
NCA correspondent Jean-Christophe Peuch reported on rising tensions in the region on September 8. In the wake of the Beslan tragedy and a recent episode where police intervened to prevent an attack by Ossetians on the ethnic Ingush village of Kartsa, there are renewed concerns about ethnic violence erupting between the two groups.
In 1992, violent clashes occurred between Ossetians and their Caucasus neighbors, the Ingush, who demanded the return of lands and houses expropriated by Ossetians after Stalin ordered mass deportations of the Ingush to Central Asia in 1944. Estimates of the number of persons killed range as high as several thousands.
Pavel Bayev, a Caucasus specialist at the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute, told Peuch that memories of the unrest 12 years ago remain vivid in the region. According to Bayev, "This is a consequence of the fact that things couldn't be settled in full after 1992." Bayev went on to compare relations of the North Ossetians with Ingushetia and with Chechnya, saying North Ossetians are most angry with the Ingush, their immediate neighbors: "For the Ossetians, the Chechens are just 'our neighbors' neighbors.' Vladikavkaz is within a stone's throw of Ingushetia and the Prigorodny district [which has a substantial Ingush community] is very close to Beslan. For Ossetians, the Ingush are a much more immediate concern because they are in direct contact with them."
Peuch's feature is posted on RFE/RL's website at

** The Director of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs Service, Kestutis Girnius, may be reached by email at <>.

Western journalists and academics were invited to an extraordinary meeting at President Vladimir Putin's country house outside Moscow, on September 6, three days after Beslan tragedy, and immediately afterwards they gave interviews to RFE/RL's Russian Service. Putin used the meeting to present in detail his position regarding Beslan and the general situation in the Caucasus. By immediately interviewing participants, RFE/RL's Russian Service was the first source to broadcast Putin's view to the Russian audience.
Jonathan Steele of "The Guardian" spoke to RFE/RL about Putin's refusal to launch a public inquiry into the Beslan tragedy. Steele quoted Putin as saying he was concerned such an inquiry might become a political show, but said Putin added that "if the Russian parliament (Duma) wanted to set up its own inquiry, he would not object".
Other Russian Service reports on Putin's refusal to launch a public inquiry into the Beslan crisis are available on the Russian service website at NCA's feature on the issue is available at

** The Director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Maria Klein, may be reached by email at <>.

RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tatar-Bashkir services contacted Muslim religious leaders in their countries, asking for their response to events in Beslan. The Chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Spiritual Authority, Mufti Gusman Iskhaki told the Tatar-Bashkir Service: "Some people speak of those who have committed this terrorist act as of animals. In my opinion, if we said so, it would be an insult to animals, because the people who have done this are worse than animals --animals never kill their young, they have mercy. And what has happened is a big tragedy."
The Kazakh Service interviewed the Imam of Astana's Central Mosque, Qairzhan Bairbek-Uly, who said: "The Holy Koran teaches us not to make any human suffer. Real Muslims who know and understand the teaching of the Holy Script will never commit such a crime. It doesn't make sense to connect those crimes with Islam. As a religious person I would like to call on all Muslims to show patience and tolerance. We mourn together with our neighbors (in Russia)."
Sheikh Alauddin Mansur, president of the Koranic Center in Osh told the Kyrgyz Service: "Islam is the first enemy of terrorism. Those who are carrying out terrorist activities in the name of Islam are the enemies of Islam."

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Merkhat Sharipzhanov, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, may be reached by email at <>. The Director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Ferit Agi, may be reached by email at <>.

The impact of the Beslan horror continues to reverberate throughout the region. RFE/RL correspondents report a growing concern that similar terrorist attacks could occur elsewhere. In Kazakhstan, RFE/RL reports President Nursultan Nazarbayev called on Kazakhstan's special services and Interior Ministry to work more effectively to prevent terrorist and extremist activities in the country. Nazarbayev made the statement a day after the hostages were seized in Beslan. Nazarbayev also said that there was no comprehensive list of extremist organizations operating in Kazakhstan and that such a list is needed.
At the same time security measures were tightened all over the country. The police were ordered to increase their presence at secondary schools and universities. On September 8, the UN office in Astana held a special session on strengthening security in Kazakhstan's schools. Kazakh officials, experts and NGOs were invited to the session. The participants urged the government to make the protection of children an important part of its internal policies. Kazakh service reports on this issue are available on the service's website at:,,

** The Director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Merkhat Sharipzhanov, may be reached by email at <>.


RFE/RL's Online Journalism staff provided near-constant analysis of developments in Beslan and their broader meaning in articles posted regularly to the RFE/RL website. Such examples included "Is Al-Qaeda Operating Inside Russia?" by Roman Kupchinsky (; "Unanswered Questions In Aftermath Of Beslan" by Liz Fuller (; "A War on Terrorists or a War on Journalists?" by Robert Coalson (, "The Kremlin After Beslan" by Victor Yasmann (, "Organizing Spontaneity" by Julie A. Corwin ( and "The Kremlin's Reaction -- Stay The Course" by Robert Coalson (
All of RFE/RL's English-language coverage of Beslan was made available to Internet visitors via a special portal page, "Terror In Russia" ( That page -- which includes a brief introduction and includes stories concerning the late-August terrorist attacks on Russia as well -- continues to be updated with follow-up stories and analyses as they come in.

** The Director of RFE/RL OnLine, Virginie Coulloudon, may be reached by email at <>.

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Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. "RFE/RL Review" is a weekly compilation of the best programming produced by the 19 services of the RFE/RL broadcast network. RFE/RL broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of programming a week in 28 languages to 20 countries in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central and Southwestern Asia.

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