The Sad Tale of Beslan
The town of Beslan is not a tourist destination in Russia. It is not a community of celebration and festivity. Thoughts and the desire to enjoy fun-loving events has not been a part of the community’s culture since the year 2004. Before that, it was a town filled with poverty and hardship, but there was joy and it had loving families and friends to forget the lack of money. Before 2004, children laughed freely and parents smiled proudly. Now, there is just a shell of a town left, with distant memories of good times and a choking fear that still grips Beslan three years later.
Located in the Caucasus region of Russia, it forms part of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and has an estimated population of 35 thousand. The small town was founded in 1847 and has since become an important junction on the railway line that runs from Baku to Rostov-on-Sea. Its main source of income is produced from its agricultural and industrial sectors, with industries such as electronics, machine building, food processing, chemicals and the production of molasses and starch. Beslan has also been known as a vital producer of corn. Farming and breeding cattle in the beautiful and clean mountain pastures, also adds to the economic income of the town.
Tragically, Beslan’s simple way of life was destroyed on 1 September 2004. The day started as any other 1st of September would. It was the start of the new Russian school year and parents, children, teachers and grandparents all flocked to the school for the opening celebrations and events. A little after 09:30 in the morning, thirty-two attackers entered the school and crowded their hostages into the gymnasium. Armed with machine guns, bombs and an assortment of other weapons, they held both adults and children hostage for three days, without food or water. On 3 September 2004, chaos broke out with what was believed to be the accidental detonation of one of the bombs. As hostages tried to flee through a large hole in the gymnasium wall, caused by the explosion, a gun battle ensued. Through the flying bullets and fighting between the Russian soldiers and hostage takers, many versions of the exact events of the day have come to light. What is certain is that 334 people lost their lives that day, of which 186 were children. Those who did not die in the gymnasium from heat exhaustion or at the hands of the attackers, perished in the battle.
Today, the town is struggling to come to terms with the disaster. Some of the surviving children have been trying to overcome the tragedy that is mentally and emotionally disturbing for some, while others have to deal with the added devastation of losing limbs. As many outside organizations try to assist this solemn destination in Russia, with rebuilding their lives and economy, the walls of the old school and the pictures that adorn the ruins, remind visitors of a tragedy that tore apart a small community and rocked the foundations of the world.