09/14/2004, 00.00
RUSSIA
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The Caucasus, a religious powder keg after Beslan

The Christian witness of an evangelical pastor who, after losing two daughters, calls for forgiveness.

Beslan (AsiaNews) – The Beslan tragedy has rekindled old animosities between predominantly Christian Orthodox North Ossetia and largely Muslim Ingushetia. About a thousand people were killed in the 1992 border war between the two republics of the Russian Federation, a war that provoked the exodus of an estimated 35,000 Ingush residents from North Ossetia who found refugee in Ingushetia.

Experts in the politics of the Caucasus believe that recent events in Beslan risk rekindling hostilities between the region's various ethnic and religious groups. According to one Russian analyst "there is a real danger that Christian Ossetians will associate the Beslan terrorists with the region's Muslims. North Ossetia's neighbours in the Russian Federation (Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya, Daghestan) are mostly Muslim.

Authorities said that some of the terrorists who stormed the Beslan school were Ingush. This would have led a thousand Ossetians to take revenge were they not stopped by Russian police before they could attack an Ingush village.

In the meantime, survivors of the Beslan massacre are telling their story. Zalina, who was a hostage in the school, lost a son. She relates how in the first days, as terrorists started killing some adults, children began praying aloud to beg them to stop. "A woman with a gun and explosives attached to her waist then came in," she recalls. "She went to the children and told them 'Stop praying to your God! Start praying to Allah!'"

Irina, a Christian woman, was also locked up in the school with her two children. She said that during her ordeal she prayed and chanted religious hymns with her children. "I was praying with my boys that God would give the terrorists peace of mind to let the children out of that place."

What happened to Sergey and Taimuraz Totiev, brothers and both pastors in the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church, is heartbreaking. Of their combined eight children only two are still alive. Of Taimuraz's five children, Larisa (14), Liuba (12), Albina (11), and Boris (8) did not survive, only Magina did. The terrorists used Sergey's son Azamat as a human shield. He suffered injury in both eyes as a result of an explosion but is still alive. His sisters Dzerassa (15) and Anna (9) died instead in the school.

The two pastors are well respected in Beslan, a village where non Orthodox Christians are a small minority. Some 2000 children took part in the funeral ceremony during which the Totiev children were laid to rest. "It is as if my own children had died," some of those attending the funeral said. "Those boys and girls brought life to our streets."

Among the crowd some called for vengeance, but Rev. Sergey Totiev answered the call saying: "We have suffered an enormous loss, but we should not take vengeance for as God said 'Vengeance shall me mine'."

The Baptist pastor said he had not intention of leaving Beslan. "God has given us the strength to face the loss of our four children and he shall give us the courage to remain among our people, here in Beslan." (LF)

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