Ever since the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were identified as ethnic Chechens, the national conversation about the incident seemed to focus on the connection between the violence and Chechnya. The two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, certainly lived in two places at once: in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in an imagined homeland in Chechnya and the North Caucasus more broadly. And although their ancestral land was something they knew mainly through family stories and nationalist mythology, they reveled in that part of their identity—at least judging from their social media profiles and the other traces they left in the public domain. In other words, the Tsarnaevs seemed quintessentially American. Perhaps that is one reason their involvement in the Boston bombing is so horrifying.

This is from Georgetown University political scientist Charles King writing at Foreign Affairs.  King concludes his piece by speculating that:

In the long term, the Chechnya link will probably end up being less important than, oddly, the Syrian one. In blocking further international involvement in the Syrian crisis, Russian officials have long maintained that Syrian rebel groups are dominated by al Qaeda affiliates, whose victory in the Syrian civil war will have dire consequences for the region and beyond. Now, Russians have already begun to portray the Tsarnaevs as an unlikely link between Boston and Damascus. There are somewhere “between 600 and 6,000” Chechens from the North Caucasus fighting in Syria, said Kotliar in a recent interview with Russian media, “and from what happened in Boston, perhaps Americans will finally draw the lesson that there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists, no ‘ours’ and ‘yours.’” Keep arming the Syrian rebels, the argument goes, and sooner or later you will have to face the consequences of a Syria overtaken by Islamist radicals.

That might not be a bad line of reasoning, especially given what we know about the complicated mix of ideologies and motivations inside the Syrian opposition movement. And after Boston, Moscow now has an additional argument, however tenuous, against greater international involvement in Syria. That is also why, from the perspective of the Tsarnaevs’ parents, things all look like a set-up—tarnishing the reputation of Chechens as a way of serving some vague end contemplated by an all-powerful Russian state. Chechnya’s moment in the American consciousness may end up leading in a bizarre direction: the tragic aftereffects of the death and maiming of people in Massachusetts may well be the continued killing and brutalization of a great many more in Syria.

The (ungated) full article is available here.

[Crossed-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Joshua Tucker

Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University.