Sergei Grits  /  AP file
Emma Tagayeva, right, and Kanna Gaitava, member of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, sit at a computer showing a picture of Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the only surviving suspect in the hostage standoff at the school in Beslan. He is on trial on terror charges.
By
updated 6/27/2005 1:18:10 AM ET 2005-06-27T05:18:10

Grief is sharing time with hunger strikes and graveside visits with political organization. Beslan’s raw emotions have given way to steely-eyed purpose since last September’s school massacre.

At the vanguard is a committee of mainly women who lost children and grandchildren and are demanding answers from a government they feel has failed them.

Founded in anguish as School No. 1 still smoldered, the Beslan Mothers’ Committee has evolved from a place of haven and consolation into a combination political organizing committee, survivors advocacy group, consulting center for victims and friendly gossip circle.

'This is the best therapy'
It provides a structure for women who might otherwise be agonizing alone while cooking meals, doing laundry or cleaning their apartments. And it gives purpose to women who would give anything to be walking their children to and from school.

“Without this, I don’t know how we could go on,” said Rita Sydakova, 44, who lost her daughter. “This is the best therapy.”

Ivan Sekretarev  /  AP file
A man carries an injured child who survived the carnaged the ensued when commandos stormed a school in Beslan, Russia, on Sept. 3, 2004, to free hundreds of hostages held by Islamic extremists.
During the Sept. 1-3 crisis, more than 1,200 hostages were held by 32 heavily armed Islamic extremists in the school’s sweltering gymnasium with no food and little water. About 330 people, more than half of them children, died when the standoff ended in a storm of explosions and bullets and bloodied children fleeing the building.

The absence of concrete details of what happened and the lack of an official accounting of the dead angered relatives and survivors.

Lingering questions
The committee has sought answers to lingering questions: Why were the militants so easily able to seize the school? Did anyone in the government or law enforcement know about the attack beforehand? Why did the standoff end in explosions and gunfire?

In December, the group organized a days-long blockade of the main highway through Beslan. In February, women from the group traveled to Moscow, where they held a news conference calling for the resignation of Alexander Dzasokhov, president of North Ossetia, the region where Beslan is located.

Critics say Dzasokhov turned a blind eye to rampant corruption, which many believe allowed the militants to drive into Beslan unnoticed to seize the school, located just steps away from a police station.

On May 31, Dzasokhov announced he was stepping down early. He made no mention of Beslan in his announcement, but Susanna Dudiyeva, 44, whose son died in the school, believes the mothers’ unrelenting criticism brought about the resignation.

Hunger strikes and protests
The protests have continued, with mothers carrying placards and going on hunger strikes outside the government headquarters in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, to criticize Dzasokhov’s Kremlin-appointed successor, Taimuraz Mamsurov, who they say has failed to meet with survivors.

On a recent warm night, in a room within sight of the school’s charred timbers, several women discussed a political demonstration scheduled for the next day. Others talked about ways to get government assistance.

Nearby on a desk lay a photo album containing hundreds of photographs of children, some wounded, most killed.

Sitting before a donated computer, next to a donated fax machine and donated printer, Ella Kisayeva, 41, said that before the horror at the school many of the women had no experience in anything but housekeeping and child-rearing.

“How could I sit at home alone after all this? Cooking? Cleaning? All by myself?” she said. “How could I stay silent?”

Men join in
The wallpapered walls are bare except for three white pieces of paper — the group’s political slogans. One reads: “Remember for whose sake we are here! Remember our children together! Remember they are our conscience!”

The committee started from a small group of mothers who turned to each other for consolation. Gatherings became regular and larger as their outrage focused on corruption and government incompetence.

The committee now numbers more than 100, and includes fathers, grandfathers and even sons of some adult victims, Dudiyeva said.

“There is a class of people here who are not indifferent, who will remind the authorities that without action, without someone taking responsibility, this type of (terrorist attack) could happen again,” she said.

More details of massacre uncovered
Dudiyeva said the committee had uncovered important details about the hostage-taking, such as that the truck carrying the militants to the school had a police officer as an escort and that weapons had been stored in the school ahead of time — a claim authorities have not publicly confirmed.

In the adjacent kitchen, no bigger than a closet, a discussion over theories about the hostage seizure’s violent end quickly moved on to memories of children — Sydakova’s daughter playing basketball, Zalina Tybloyeva’s 6-year-old nephew playing word games. Sobbing interrupts the conversation.

“Ours is the politics of grief. The politicians have done nothing for us,” said Tybloyeva, whose sister and niece also died. “From this grief comes our politics. Rita’s daughter, she wasn’t a politician. And now she’s dead.”

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