Questions Remain as Beslan Remembers | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.09.2005
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Questions Remain as Beslan Remembers

Russia on Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the Beslan massacre. While the nation remembers, the survivors and relatives of those who died continue to search for the truth of what really happened in School One.

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Beslan has been compensated but the human cost can never be repaid

Three days of commemorative events are set to mark the seizure of the school in the Russian Caucasus town of Beslan on Sept. 1 last year by militants who demanded that Russia withdraw its forces from nearby Chechnya.

Of over 1,100 hostages seized in the crisis that began on the first day of the school year, 318 people, including 186 children, died. Ten Russian servicemen, two rescue workers and 31 of the hostage-takers were also killed in the climax to the crisis on Sept. 3, as security forces battled the militants and a huge blast incinerated the school's gymnasium.

It was a national trauma that continues to raise questions about Russian policy and history and is likely to be seen as a defining moment of President Vladimir Putin's leadership.


Three days of official mourning have been declared in the North Ossetia province where Beslan is located.

Russian schools will start this academic year on Thursday with a minute's silence, and officials say security at schools nationwide has been stepped up.

On Saturday, victims' relatives will attend the inauguration at Beslan's cemetery of a monument entitled "The Tree of Life," which depicts the children of Beslan ascending to heaven.

In Moscow, city authorities have called for a minute of silence to begin at 1:05 pm (09:05 UCT) on Saturday, a year to the minute after the explosion in the school's gymnasium in which most victims died.

A silent rally will also be held near Red Square, one of a number of such events being organized in a string of cities by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi under the slogan "Beyond Words."

Gifts, money, rebuilding but where is the truth?

But for many relatives the commemorations are not only a time for mourning, but a time for asking questions. A year on from the massacre, the people of Beslan seem to have everything they could possibly want -- bar the truth.

Schulkinder in Beslan

Beslan's recovery continues

The brutalized town has two new state-of-the-art schools where the children can learn to swim have access to the newest computers; they have gifts from the governments of Belarus and Kazakhstan, nearly every flat has been refurbished, survivors play with expensive mobile phones and the cost of living has reportedly quadrupled.

Despite the new affluence -- a result of government aid and donations from around the world -- the people are being denied the one thing they really want: information on what really happened to its children.

Events clouded by contradictory accounts

Did the siege start when ambulance workers set off a mine, or, as prosecutors suggest, when a militant took his foot off a pedal wired to the explosives all around the gym, or when a Russian sniper shot that militant? Were there more than 32 militants, and did some escape?

Nordossetien Feuerwehrmann in der ausgebrannten Turnhalle Geiselnahme

These and many other questions have led to four investigations being launched into the tragedy: one by prosecutors, one by the federal senate, another by the local parliament, and the terrorism trial of the only surviving militant from the siege, Nurpashi Kulayev, in the nearby city of Vladikavkaz.

However, while it seems that everything is being done to get to the facts of what happened in those fateful days a year ago, the separate investigations have provided widely differing accounts of the events.

Bereaved mothers demand meeting with Putin

Beslan Prozess in Nordossetien

In an attempt to get some answers, the Committee of the Mothers of Beslan has demanded a meeting with Putin that has tentatively been set for Friday to raise their concerns. Some mothers last week staged a sit-in protest at the courthouse where the sole surviving hostage-taker is on trial.

They have complained that the official federal investigation is not holding top officials accountable, has revealed little new about how the crisis was handled and they have charged that the security forces' heavy-handed response needlessly increased the toll.

In particular they say the security forces caused unnecessary destruction by using flame throwers, incendiary grenades and tank shells to end the stand-off -- an assertion the authorities have denied.

Prosecutor accuses mothers of political agenda

Nikolai Shepel, the deputy prosecutor general in charge of the investigation, said the committee's protest showed they had "developed a political character", hinting they may have had links with the local opposition. "They want me to promise I will prosecute the head of the siege operation before I have any evidence that a crime was committed. I am not a politician, but a lawyer."

Geiselnahme in russischer Schule, Beslan, Nordossetien

The Mothers of Beslan: Politically motivated?

He added: "There will always be a group of people who will never accept what we say because it is not convenient for them, because they are not independent."

The marking of such a tragic anniversary will undoubtedly be laced with a continuing anger and mistrust as well as grief and sorrow.

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