Breaking reports indicate that the alleged perpetrators of the horrific Boston Marathon terrorist attack were born in Chechnya. This Russian-occupied, landlocked Muslim nation of 1.3 million is the center of a Russian war that has taken the lives of more than 200,000 people over the last two decades. It is also one of the world's most poorly understood conflict zones.
On social networking profiles, the Boston bombers reveal themselves as supporters of "Chechen independence." Given the media spotlight that will descend on the region in the next few days, it is absolutely essential to separate the country's three major political groups: Russia's puppet dictatorship, led by Ramzan Kadyrov; the radical Islamist rebellion led by Dokka Umarov; and the legitimate government of Chechnya, headed by the exiled Akhmed Zakayev.
Chechnya has been ripped apart by Russian aggression for centuries. Most notoriously, Stalin deported its entire population to Kazakhstan in 1944. One-fifth of them died in the forced relocation and were only allowed to return after the dictator's death. In 1991, when Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and other former Soviet states proclaimed their independence, so did Chechnya. Russia launched two devastating separatist wars since, the first between 1994 and 1996 and the second since 1999. Several Chechen presidents have been murdered by the Russian government, and in 2007 Zakayev was forced into exile. Moscow installed its autocratic puppet Kadyrov in his place. At the same time, Umarov's Islamist terrorist network proclaimed a "Caucasus Emirate" in Chechnya.