The media wakes up to Dagestan’s silent war

The media wakes up to Dagestan’s silent war

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the media and investigators quickly turned their attention to Dagestan, the Russian province where the two suspects — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — have deep family connections. In subsequent coverage, the region was described as "plagued by violence," "known to grow and export terrorists," and "the site of a long-running Islamic insurgency." It had taken a bombing on American soil — one with what may turn out to be a spurious connection to Dagestan — to wake the press up to the persistent turmoil in the North Caucasus.

That dynamic was on vivid display today, as news broke that a bombing had killed two teenagers near a Dagestan shopping mall. The media — both in the United States and around the worldseized on the story (a quick English-language Google News search yields roughly 40 results). But as coverage of Dagestan over the past weeks has made clear, attacks of this nature are far from rare in the province. 

On May 3, 2012, for instance, 14 people were killed and 87 injured in a twin bombing in Dagestan. But the international media paid scant attention to the event. According to a LexisNexis search of international newspapers, only five picked up the story.

And when there are fewer casualties, the results are even more dispiriting. On Feb. 14, 2013, a suicide bombing killed four and injured five at a Dagestan police post. Three newspapers picked up the story. 

As Anna Nemtsova recently wrote in Foreign Policy, even Russians refuse to pay attention to the conflict in the Caucasus until it arrives at their doorsteps: 

In the first four months of this year alone, 67 people have fallen victim to terror attacks in Dagestan, but the news media hardly mention the casualties. Russians only pay attention to the insurgency when suicide bombers attack the Moscow subway or the airport. Whenever this happens, experts invariably urge the Kremlin to analyze why the jihad by Salafi community in North Caucasus keeps on simmering.

It’s an important reminder of how parochial the media’s interest can often be.