Beslan, 10 Years After...

September 2014

Arbi, a 24-year old Ingush, a fireman from Ingushetia’s capital Magas, gave me a lift on the Baku highway and invited for lunch. He lives with his mother Radimkhan in a settlement of the Prigorodny district which belongs to North Ossetia. The largest part of Maysky settlement population were Ingushes, the internal refugees, who had lost their homes during the Ossetia-Ingush conflict of 1992.

The mass deportation of Ingushes by Stalin in the 1940s and the ensuing uncalled-for changes of administrative boundaries became the reason of the bloodshed several decades later. The long-standing territorial dispute has not been resolved until now. Radimkhan had her own widow's way of looking at what had happened after the demise of the Soviet Union, and she had worn mourning ever since.

Беслан школа

"My husband was a builder," she remembered with tears in her eyes. “In the early 1980s, after graduation, we were sent together to a collective farm near Kursk, then we married and returned to Ingushetia. He had never been at war before, but that horrible autumn, when the clash of arms occurred, he voluntarily joined a self-defence troop to defend us. He was killed afterwards. I managed to flee together with kids. We had to leave our household in Chermen village.”

...Driver Akhmet stopped a truck loaded with ducklings near a fork to Beslan and gave me directions how to find the School No.1. Only in this North-Ossetian town, the academic year starts on the 5th of September, not on the 1st because the Knowledge Day was declared the day of Mourning. Ten years ago, the First Bell turned out to be the last for 186 pupils of the School No.1. The bloodbath also took lives of their relatives who came for the celebration ceremony and representatives of special forces who freed the hostages captured by terrorists. The death toll was 334.

The whole country shared the grief of Beslanians. Whereas we less often remembered the events, in this town with a population of 30,000, the pain had been fresh. Too many people were personally affected by the tragedy. I avoided to talk to passers-by, especially to women, but once when I was buying bread in a kiosk, I caught a sad glance. Grey, almost white hairs stuck out from the shopwoman's cap, but at a closer look, she, probably, was less than forty. She figured why I was there, and started talking: "On the 1st of September I sent kids to the school ceremony, the elder son has never come back... They say that the time heals, but it does not." The locals needed other people to come here to remember the bitter lesson.

That very school was on Cominterna street, almost in front of her kiosk, and a new one Number One, named after Spetznaz Heroes, the soldiers who shielded the Beslanians during the freeing of hostages was built nearby. This woman, as well as the other mothers who lost their kids in that terrorist attack, was vexed that the new school built instead the old one, had been assigned the same number. And the banner hanging above the entrance seemed even more irrelevant "If you want to be the first, join School Number One."

Beslan Children Temple was under construction on the old school's territory, and a stele with the victims' names was erected not long ago. The dust of victims rested in the town cemetery in the so-called Angel Town. The gym where hostages had been kept and then burnt down during the siege was covered with a protective envelope. A cross was installed in the middle of the hall, candles on. Fresh flowers were inserted in the floor holes created by exploded bombs. The walls were covered with pictures of children all around. People brought stuffed toys, candies, pictures, icons and open water bottles – the girls and the boys had been kept without giving them water for almost three days. Though an Exit sign was hung above the doorway to what once was a passage from the gym to the main building, there had been no exit for anyone then.

The rest of the school was fenced off by a tape due to the hazardous state of buildings. Very little had changed inside for the last decade. Only memorial boards appeared among remnants of school things, and the walls with traces of bullets were covered with words of condolences from people of different cities and countries.

Extract from Hitchhiking in the Caucasus