Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Beslan Aid Row Deepens
Relatives of Beslan school siege victims say that almost three months after the tragedy that claimed 330 people they have received little of the aid money that has poured into the town.
“The whole world sent us millions of dollars, while President Putin has calculated the death of my son at a pitiful 100,000 roubles [3,500 US dollars],” said Susanna Dudieva, who lost her 13-year-old son in the massacre on September 3.
More than 33 million dollars has been collected for the families of people who died in the Beslan atrocity, but – like Dudieva – all they have received so far is one hundred thousand roubles. This is the standard government compensation for a family that has lost a member at the hands of militants – fixed after the Moscow theatre seizure of 2002.
Suspicions are growing in Beslan about what the government will do with the rest of the money - about 928 million roubles worth - which is currently gathering dust in a bank account for the victims at the Bank for Development of the Regions (Bank Razvitia Regiona) in North Ossetia.
Though the bank has no formal government connections, North Ossetia’s acting finance minister used to be its chairman before he joined the government.
Public Council, a relatives group set up to distribute humanitarian relief in the town, last week rejected the latest government plan to hand out the aid money, which had proposed sharing it proportionately between the families of the dead, the wounded and orphans.
All this means emotions are running high in the regional administration building where Mairbek Tuayev, the council chairman who lost his 16-year-old daughter in the siege, meets with victims seeking advice and compensation.
There are frequent arguments and tears, and Tuayev often struggles to solve the many problems before him.
A middle-aged woman, dressed in black with tears in her eyes, explained her sister died in the school. She said her sister’s husband was an alcoholic who often beat his wife and young children, but by a decision of the prosecutors office would receive the compensation. Worried about her nephews, the woman asked if the payments could be made through her.
The Karkuzashvili family had a similar story.
The two brothers, Kazbek and Makharbek, aged 13 and 14, never knew their father, who left them soon after they were born. But after their mother was killed, he reappeared and is now trying to win a court verdict entitling him to compensation money.
“What makes the situation even more complex is that several people have already received money from other foundations or in direct help when the money was sent straight to them,” Tuayev said. “This makes others jealous, and they begin to ask for the same money for themselves.”
Public Council is among several organisations that have formed since the school siege to help victims.
Money is still flowing into the Teachers’ Committee of Beslan, set up in the days following the tragedy by teachers who had been hostages.
It began paying out 3,000 dollars to every affected family, but was abandoned soon after, amid acrimony and suspicion, by the South Ossetian government, which said it had not been legally registered.
Vissarion Aseyev, the head of the committee - which continues to exist unofficially – said he could not understand the government’s decision.
“We are simply occupying our own niche,” he said. “Our main activity is to provide information to help people send aid directly.”
The Teachers Committee website, www.beslan.ru, has posted full lists of the victims and anyone can make a direct transfer to the family via a Western Union money order or on the site itself.
“It is everyone’s right to help and we are only guaranteeing that right. The decision of the prosecutor’s office on what makes a person a victim is not a criterion for us, we are acting without that and we can account for ourselves at any minute,” Aseyev said.
A third Beslan aid group, the International Foundation for Terror Act Victims (www.moscowhelp.org), was set up following the tragic end of the Moscow theatre siege in 2002. It has so far collected more than one million dollars and handed out 150,000.
Ella Bitarova, who represents the foundation in Beslan, said there are many people in the town unhappy about the way money is being distributed. She predicts no further funds will arrive until donors see the situation has improved.
“Many organisations and ordinary people who want to give financial help for Beslan are waiting for the distribution to begin of the money that has already been collected, so they can be convinced it is going to the right recipients. Then the second influx will begin,” she said.
Alan Tskhurbayev is a freelance journalist in North Ossetia.
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