Beslan: 15 years later

It’s been a few days and 15 years, but each time when the days of the tragedy come, it’s still hard for me to talk, write or even think about it.

Every country has its own tragic milestone that once and forever has changed the march of history. For Americans, it was 9/11. For Russia, it was Beslan.

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Most of you probably heard of it, but up to this day it is a bleeding wound in hundreds of families and it’s a terrible page in contemporary history when once again, two years after 9/11, terrorists managed to spread fear and killed innocent people fighting their own political war.

On Sept. 1, 2004, when all kids all across the country dress up, get flowers for teachers and head out to schools to celebrate the first day of classes, terrorists took everyone, all people who were on the territory of the School No. 1 of the Town of Beslan, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania at the moment, hostage. It was the biggest terrorist attack in Russian history.

All 1,128 people were taken hostage, and most of them were kids. They were held in the hot and overcrowded gym lined up with explosives for three days. (Older kids were forced to participate in laying handmade explosives, which were two halves of two-litre pop bottles filled with bolts and nuts). All men who could potentially resist the terrorists were shot in the corridor within the first hours.

In the beginning, the crowd was given water and were allowed to use bathrooms. But it lasted only until the TV reported that there were about 350 people inside the school. (The main explanation was that the government didn't want people to know the real situation not to get an unwanted reaction).

After that report, one of the terrorists said they could turn 1,128 people into 300. There were no more supplies provided and no moving around.

Some investigations suggest that Russian law enforcement agencies received data about the upcoming attack well-before and even on the day of the terrorist act, however, nothing was done. A semi with explosives and terrorists made its way to the school. Some witnesses stated later that several terrorists were seen in town a few days prior to the attack. The rest came on Sept.1 without anyone stopping or checking them.

The Russian government doesn't negotiate with terrorists. That was the principle. (Sometimes I wonder why was it such a strict principle that even the lives of hundreds of children couldn’t put a dent on it and made them try). It was ensured that no one (including journalists who were working in hot zones before) would get a hold of the terrorist leader. Despite all preventive measures, a few people could get a hold of another important person, who could affect the situation. But eventually, they didn't have time to keep talking.

On the third day, the school was taken by storm. Most analysts insist that it was obvious that the storm would result in numerous victims.

Many hostages were saved, but 334 people died. One hundred eighty six of them were kids.

Those who survived are young adults now, who had to grow and live with an enormous trauma, first physical, and then emotional. Many of them are still in Beslan and are still learning how to live.

Years after the events, when I just got enrolled with the university in Winnipeg, I was reading a book on terrorism and terrorism prevention. It started with quotes from a presentation delivered to the American government a few years prior to 9/11. The person, who prepared that presentation, a military official, was talking about how ineffective were the measures and approaches taken by the government. He was talking about the nature of terrorism – acts that are aimed at terrifying the masses, aimed at so-called non-combatants, aimed at hurting people who didn’t do anything and have no power, but when killed in front of the others become a valuable argument in that ugly bargain.

That person, a few years prior to 9/11 predicted that one day terrorists would deliver a massive attack right in New York and nobody would be able to do anything.

Beslan happened after. So did many other, less bloody, but no less terrible attacks. Terrorism changed its face since then, and instead of one enemy leader, the head of an operation that could be caught, we now often see terrorists driving their vehicles into crowds, serving "ideas."

I was still enrolled in school when Beslan happened. For short moments, I tried to imagine all that around me. I couldn’t. I still can’t, 15 years later. That tragedy and chaos people lived through, enormous pain of losing children, siblings, relatives, friends, and the ocean of fear.

Years passed by, but to a point, not much has changed. Terrorists still find their ways to spread fear making sure that we feel like there is no safe place that they couldn’t reach. And every year when it’s that time, I try to stop for a moment and double-check, if I’m actually living my life. Because even if I’m doing my best building my world the way I want it, others’ agenda may cross it at any minute. And I don’t want to regret.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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