It has only been two weeks and two days since the tragic bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, so it is not surprising that information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and their parents continues to unfold. The Russians apparently encouraged us to be watchful regarding their mother, as well as the older son Tamerlan himself.
When information from a former customer of the mother for facials indicated that she herself started to show increased Islamic sincerity before returning to Dagestan, I began to wonder if she might have played some role in the "radicalization" of one or more of her sons. "The hand that rocked the cradle" may have helped rock our world as well. My main suspicion was that she might have exerted pressure on the younger son to go along with the elder.
Sometimes the names people choose for their children can be revealing. The similarity between Tamerlan Tsarnaev's name and that of the ancient Mongol warlord Tamerlane was obvious. The younger brother's name, Dzhokhar, is very possibly in honor of Dzhokhar Dudayev, a tremendously popular Chechen political leader who was killed in a Russian rocket attack in 1996.
Since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is older than 17 years, he was named for Dudayev while he was still alive. Dudayev was a man of many accomplishments, among them being the first Soviet general of Chechen origin and a commander of a nuclear-armed bomber squadron at a base in Estonia, where he made himself highly popular with the Estonians by not following certain Kremlin orders to suppress their independence movement and even flying the Estonian flag at his airbase. His later efforts to establish Chechen independence from Russia under Yeltsin earned him the Russian leader's deepest hostility.
I think that such a choice of names says something about who was admired and respected by one or both of the senior Tsarnaevs. They seem to reveal a deep passion for Chechen independence and perhaps a willingness to stop at nothing to achieve it - the choice of Tamerlan's name being more a sign of that than the other. I have been wondering from the beginning what it means when someone names their son after a Mongol warlord renowned for brutal conquest. It may indeed have been an anti-Russian choice, understandable among an ethnic group that was forcibly relocated by Stalin to central Asia with tens of thousands of lives lost. (They were finally returned to their homeland in 1957, I believe.) Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the philosopher, spoke of enduring scars on the Russian psyche from their long domination by the Tatar hordes - the Mongols. A Russian history professor I had in college spoke of his ancestor being known as "Oleg the Condemned" of Ryazan, so named because they suspected him of arriving conveniently late to a battle with the Mongols so he could line up with the winning side. The Russians have not forgotten the Mongols and naming a son after a Mongol warlord would indeed be an effective gesture.
How this would all translate into the tragic actions of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston on April 15, 2013, is perhaps something we should wait to find out, if we do, rather than speculating so early in the process. I still think that if their parents' choice of names had any influence in the matter, it was not a good one.
(See "About Me")