Borderland Massacre

Post image for Borderland Massacre

by Casey_Michel on 6/14/2012 · 1 comment

A strange, sad story’s emerged recently from the otherwise placid, if armed, reaches of the Chinese-Kazakh border. Fourteen members of the Kazakhstani border guard, along with one local, were found charred in their barracks two weeks ago, their weaponry stolen and the lone remaining member of the patrol missing. Panties were found on one of the bodies. Bullet wounds were found in all. Nazarbayev called the murders, prima facie, “a terrorist act,”* and a national day of mourning was held for the nation’s deadliest moment since Zhanaozen. Heads rolled. The Chief Military Prosecutor was called upon, and a special commission was set up to investigate.

It didn’t take long. On June 5, a week after the carnage, the sole survivor, Vladislav Chelakh, was found, settled in a winter hut and dressed in new civilian clothes. It would seem – since the interior minister claimed their suspect quickly gave them a statement – that Chelakh didn’t put up much of a fight, either in escape or against their accusations. He was found hauling his commander’s pistol. He was found in a “stupor.” Little more needed to, or could, be said.

And so, he was arrested. And he’ll go to trial, and he’ll be convicted of 15 murders, and he’ll serve the rest of his days in some tubercle-infested prison outside Balkhash, rotting away because on that one day things just went bad. Because he couldn’t handle the hazing and the bullying, or the fact that another soldier just wouldn’t get out of bed. He had to “boil over and flip.” He had to snap.**

The videos that have come afterward make Chelakh seem sane, sound. And watching them, and reading the details, reminds me a bit of Porfiry Petrovich’s psychological profile of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, when the former reveals his theories for the latter’s murders. As Petrovich recounts, Raskolnikov’s crime was simply “a kind of lapse; because, in all conscience, a lapse is what it was.” And so, based on the clear-headed kid we see in the video, it would appear to be here. The panties, the confession, the surrender, the stupor – a lapse. A snap. A temporary insanity, just as Dostoyevsky would have it. As Petrovich said, then as now, “This is a fantastic, a somber case – contemporary, an incident of our time, yes, when the heart of man has grown dark.”

The thing is, this kid – and that’s exactly what he was – had always wanted to be a border guard. Chelakh always wanted to be there, serving his country, securing the borders of the only nation he’s ever known. And that’s one of the most heartbreaking things about the entire case. He was 20. So are the borders. Sometimes, things just match up, and all you can do is sit. Just sit and wonder.

So, no – as it appears, despite Nazarbayev’s claims, this wasn’t some terrorist unleashed in the south. This was a kid who’d had enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s Columbine or Fort Hood or Argkangerken – hazing will always exist, until it goes wrong. And then you’re left with 15 bodies, and a bug-eyed kid whose remaining life will be found in an eight-by-four cell. And we’re left trying to look for the morals of the story, trying to foist a pattern or a lesson onto an event that just won’t let us. Because sometimes, there is none.

Sometimes, it’s just sad.


*There was a time – late last year, as I recall – when The Vulture would have avoided the ‘T’ word like it was democratic reform. No longer. Maybe he’s scrounging for DoD dollars. Maybe he’s trying on a new, tougher-than-thou face, a la Romney. Maybe he actually thought it was terrorism. Who knows.

**Or that’s the story, anyway. It’s worth noting that one newscaster’s already resigned, saying he refused to share this “false” confession. It’s also worth noting that, according to RIA Novosti, investigators were looking into extraterrestrial forces. As the saying goes, This Is Kazakhstan.

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This post was written by...

– author of 29 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Casey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, focusing on Eurasian political and social development, and he has worked with both International Crisis Group (Bishkek) and as a Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, RFE/RL, Al Jazeera, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, and Slate. You can follow him on Twitter at @cjcmichel.

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{ 1 comment }

Rafael June 15, 2012 at 3:24 am

What a strange case it was. No economic or political objectives? They were 14 rangers, with military training, all killed by a 20 years old freshman? Sounds strange to me.

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