The terrorist attacks in Russia have roots that go back centuries

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: There's been no claim of responsibility yet for the bombings in Russia or any definitive link to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi. But Russia has a history of terrorism. We turn now to The World's history guy, Chris Woolf, for a look back. So, Chris, two horrific attacks in a twenty-four-hour period. I mean does it fit into any pattern that you know of or attacks, terrorists attacks or otherwise, in Russia in recent years? Christopher Woolf: There have been a number of attacks in recent years and they all have been carried out by, so far it seems, people from the Muslim minorities in southern Russia. Particularly suicide bombers, they have all been from the Muslim minorities, and so this is the primary area of investigation at the moment. Werman: Right. And so what are the causes for some of these people who want to resort to violence? Woolf: Well, there's immediate causes and then there's the longer-term roots. I mean the immediate causes of these people is kids just grow up and studies show that they are angry at the poverty they are enduring, they are angry at the lack of opportunity that they have for just living a normal life, a lack of hope. Then there's perceived and actual discrimination against them. Because of the connection with terrorism, they do seem to have a harder time than other Russians at getting jobs. And then there's the memory of atrocities in the past against maybe their own families or other communities, and you don't have to look that far back for that. And then other studies have shown that there is a pull, there is an idealism to this strand of Islam that appeals to a tiny minority of individuals within these communities. We should never say that all these communities are prone to this violence, there's just a few individuals who were drawn to this kind of thing. It doesn't take many, unfortunately, to create this kind of trouble. Werman: I bet a lot of people in Russia at the Kremlin will be looking at Chechnya as a possible source. Of course, we don't know who's responsible or what evidence is out there right now. They'll be looking at Chechnya. Remind us who the Chechens are, Chris. Woolf: Well, the Chechens are just one of many ethnic groups in the north Caucasus Mountains. You've got to imagine that the north Caucasus Mountains are very different to the rest of Russia. You're driving across southern Russia towards the Caucasus, it's like driving across Kansas and Colorado, going down I-70 and suddenly you can see the mountains in the distance and you know everything is about to change. That's just what you could imagine southern Russia being like and everything does change. You get out of the Steppes, that's where the Russians live, and you get into the mountains. Every valley has its own minority of different predominantly-Muslim people and they've been for countless centuries and then just brought into the Russian orbit in the last two hundred years. Werman: So what's the back-story? If you look at longer-term causes, how far do the roots of this dissatisfaction go? Woolf: There's kind of a shorter sense of a longer term. If you look to the wars of the 1990s when the Chechen attempted to become independent. The Russians crushed them pretty brutally in two major wars to the point where in the end it's believed that maybe three hundred thousands Chechens died. That's about a quarter of the entire population. And their tactics were so brutal at one point people were saying that outside of the government-controlled areas, there were no adult males left alive. Werman: And we need to be careful here because we're not saying that any of these people who committed these bombings came from Chechnya, but we're looking at possible causes here. So if we are looking at Chechnya, why did the Chechens rebel in the first place back in the 1990s? Woolf: They have a memory of an even more brutal repression under Stalin back in the 1940s or during the World War II era when they were perceived to be collaborators with the Nazis and that in turn was built on a repression and conquest under the Tzars in the 19th century. Let's not forget that Sochi was a Muslim town until 1864. when it was finally put under Russian domination. Werman: As far as the Chechen insurgency today, where do things stand there? Woolf: Well, it's not so much a Chechen insurgency anymore. There is an insurgency in the northern Caucasus and it has kind of spread to the east and to the west into Dagestan and Ingushetia. These are the areas where now the guerrillas are believed to be hiding out. So from there there have been occasional terrorists attacks in Russia proper, but not for some time, but then there have been sporadic attacks on security forces within those areas. And in fact, a report last year from the International Crisis Group warned that, given the continued ethnic, religious, political, and economic grievances, the killing is unlikely to end anytime soon. Werman: The World's history guy, Chris Woolf, there.