The Bombers’ World

Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times
From left: Anzor Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the parents of the alleged Boston bombers, and Patimam Suleimanova, their aunt, at a press conference, Makhachkala, Russia, April 25, 2013

If you were to run into eighteen-year-old Baudy Mazaev on a multicultural Boston street, you’d probably take him for a Portuguese or an Italian; in a pinch you might guess his family origins to lie somewhere farther east. He has straight black hair and an aquiline nose and a build that attests to a long and successful stint as a high school wrestler. Nor does his speech provide any particular clues to his ethnicity: he has the distinctive accent of someone who has grown up on the banks of the Charles River.

Baudy is a native-born American, but like many Americans from immigrant families he also has another identity: he’s a Chechen. His parents, Anna and Makhmud, come from Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic, a small province (about the size of Vermont) in Russia’s North Caucasus. That gives the Mazaevs a special place in Boston’s astonishingly rich mosaic of ethnic groups.

Though Boston’s population of Russian-speaking immigrants numbers in the tens of thousands, all but a small number of them are Russian Jews who emigrated from the Soviet Union back in the 1970s and 1980s. By contrast there are only a handful of Chechens in the area; those in the know speak of seven or eight families. Makhmud (who prefers to go by the name “Max”) and Anna moved to the United States in 1994, the same year that war broke out in their homeland: Chechen nationalists had declared independence, and the government in Moscow sent in its forces to repress a rebellion that has never quite stopped since.

Soon after his arrival in the US, Max Mazaev, who had worked as a urologist at a hospital in Grozny, learned that he wouldn’t be able to receive accreditation to practice his specialty in his new homeland (he was in his forties, too old to requalify), and so he shifted to nursing—a line of work that he soon transformed into a solid family business. Today he and Anna run two social centers for elderly Russian-speaking émigrés. I met up with them at one of their venues in the Boston suburb of Newton, a big, well-lit space that, when I arrived, was decorated with multicolored balloons and bore an inscription on one wall that read, in Russian, “Happy Birthday.”

“We’re the first [Chechen] family who lived in Massachusetts,” Anna told me with pride. And for that reason it was only natural that they saw themselves, like so many other immigrants, as part of a support network for members of their own ethnic group who arrived later. In 2002 they welcomed a new family to the community: the Tsarnaevs. “They seemed like a really nice family,” she says.…

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