September 2019/Day 1: We arrived at the Russian State of North Ossetia after visiting the neighboring and independent country to the south-South Ossetia. To enter North Ossetia, we crossed over the beautiful snow-covered Caucuses Mountains.  Both Ossetia’s are located in the Caucuses Mountains, and both have the same culture of people, but one is a Russian state and the other an independent country, albeit heavily dependent on Russia. We arrived at the capitol of North Ossetia, Vladikavkaz in the early evening just as the city was erupting in soccer chaos. A huge game between the local soccer team and one from Moscow was underway and the city was brimming with excitement. Everywhere we went we could hear chanting, cheering, firecrackers…the game was a big deal to the city and the streets were mostly empty with everyone being inside fixated to their television sets or at the stadium, where the game was being played.

We had a hard time finding a hotel, since many were booked for the game, but we did eventually find rooms in an old Soviet era hotel-Aleksandrovskiy Hotel. This was fine with me because I have always had a soft spot for all things Soviet especially the hotels. 

Caucuses Mountains

Huge Steel Sculpture of an Ossetian Folk Hero Protruding from the Cliffside

Where is Kavikavkaz, North Ossetia

Map of Kavikivkaz

North Ossetia, a predominately a Christian State, is located in a rough neighborhood. There is Georgia to the south, which is still technically at war with South Ossetia and there are the predominately Islamic Russian States to the East-Daghastan, Ingustia and Chechnya, which have all seen fighting between Russian forces and separatists and Islamic militant insurgents over the decades. Some of the fighting has spilled over into the State of North Ossetia. 

The Siege of Beslan School

Day 2: The next morning on the way to the airport, we stopped to pay our respects to the victims of the Beslan School siege, where one of the most horrific tragedies in modern history occurred, which has also been named Russia’s 9-11.  During the dates of 9/1/2004-9/3/2004, 31 armed to the teeth, suicide vested Chechnyan, and Ingushetia terrorists disguised as repairmen strapped invaded a primary school in Beslan on Knowledge Day, a day when parents attend school with their children to meet the teachers. 1,100 hostages were taken, most of them were children. For 3 days children, parents and teachers were held hostage without food and water during a time of recordkeeping heat while the school was surrounded by local police forces. The siege ended when the police with tanks, and heavy weaponry stormed the school. The terrorists detonated their suicide vests and, in the aftermath, 333 were killed, excluding 31 terrorists. of the dead were 186 children. 

Beslan School

Bullet Holes

When I arrived to Beslan, I expected the school to have been demolished and a fancy modern memorial to be built in its place. Instead, I found the school to be much like it was during the siege, in ruins, abandoned and pockmarked with bullets and artillery. Instead of demolishing the school, the victims of the tragedy elected to preserve the school as it was left by the siege to honor the memory of their loved ones. The school is empty and there are no guards or entrance fees. It is a somber place, and it is hard to visit without feeling overwhelmed with sadness. This is especially true when you enter the gymnasium where most of the children were killed, and you see all of the teddy bears and the children’s portraits posted alongside the walls. 

The gymnasium where the hostages were kept during the siege and where many met their end. 

Water bottles left in memory of the dehydration the victims suffered during the siege 

The conditions of the siege were pure hell. In the siege there was no food, medicine or water and the heat during this time was extreme. The terrorists did not allow anything to enter or leave the school. The bodies of executed victims were not allowed to be removed from the school and loud music from the German heavy metal band, Rammstein was blasted in the gymnasium both day and night.  Victims were extremely dehydrated forcing some to drink their own urine. Because of this visitor leave water bottles in memory to the victims.

There were a few other Russians visiting the school also paying their respects. We as well as the other visitors remained silent. I can honestly say that Beslan school is one of the places that affected me the most. My thoughts were preoccupied with it for days to come, and I scoured the internet reading about it trying to understand why something so terrible could happen. Of course, as is the case with so many places of horror and tragedy that I have visited around the world, it just didn’t make any sense. Humans are simply cruel to one another. Around the school are apartment block neighborhoods. I wondered what it would be like to go about your daily routine with the school nearby-a constant reminder of the unspeakable death and cruelty that occurred there.

teddy bears left in memory of the children

Photos of children that died in the siege 

Men that died fighting to free the hostages

Empty hallways of Beslan Schools

Outside of town a few miles from the school is the cemetery where most of the victims of the school massacre are laid to rest.

Graveyard of the school victims 

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