HUNDREDS gathered yesterday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Beslan school hostage massacre as the painful memories of one of Russia’s worst tragedies begin to fade.
Left to themselves, survivors and relatives of the Beslan school tragedy grieved quietly in the small town in the country’s turbulent Caucasus region as parents in the rest of Russia sent off their children to school.
Five years on, a host of questions about the siege and the subsequent rescue operation remain unanswered, yet President Dmitry Medvedev made no mention of Beslan as he welcomed the start of a new academic year.
Survivors and relatives of those who perished in the massacre said they had yet to see a fair investigation into the tragedy and complained that the security situation in the volatile north Caucasus was deteriorating daily.
“Five years ago, after Beslan, we thought that the world had to change,” said Valentina Ostaniy, who was at the school with her son and nephew when it was stormed by Chechen rebel gunmen on the morning of September 1, 2004.
“But years later we see that nothing has changed. We are still afraid to send our children off to school because terror acts which have become yet more horrific and devious, take place in the north Caucasus every day.”
Several hundred relatives and survivors gathered at the crumbling ruins of Beslan’s School Number One to commemorate the disaster that took the lives of over 330 people, including 186 children, among more than 1,000 hostages.
They brought flowers, toys and water bottles in memory of the hostages who were without water during the three-day siege that ended in bloodshed on September 3 after a horrific battle between the rebels and security forces.
Yesterday’s memorial ceremony started with the school bell ringing at 9:15 am (0515 GMT), exactly the time when militants stormed the school.
An Orthodox priest performed the prayer service, and the North Ossetian leader Taimuraz Mamsurov, whose son and daughter are among the survivors, laid flowers.
The Voice of Beslan, an organisation representing the victims of the school siege, and other activists will hold a vigil at the school for the next three days and nights.
Only a few Russian media outlets gave space to the Beslan siege anniversary, with newspapers dominated by commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II.
Observers said even though the tragedy had left a deep scar on the nation’s psyche, it failed to unite the nation.
“Beslan has not become a benchmark. It’s almost forgotten,” said newspaper Vremya Novostei. “For most of the Russians, Beslan has remained someone else’s pain.”
Observers say then-president Vladimir Putin used the tragedy to tighten the screws on political life, eliminating gubernatorial elections under the pretext of improving security.
Violence in the Caucaus has been on the increase lately, despite fresh security clampdowns and suicide bombings have returned to haunt the region.
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