When Lilia Zhdanov of Gorham heard Friday morning that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were Chechens, her first thought was of a hostage crisis in 2004, when armed Islamic separatist militants from Chechnya occupied a school in the Russian town of Beslan. It ended with the deaths of more than 380 people.
“I thought, ‘Here in America? Unbelievable,’” she said.
Zhadanov, like many Russian immigrants in the Portland area, is from Kazakhstan, a republic in Central Asia.
The two brothers identified as suspects in Monday’s bombing lived in Kazakhstan before immigrating to the United States a decade ago, according to news reports.
Now, Zhadanov and other Russian immigrants from Central Asia fear that Americans will view them as belonging to the same ethnic group as the suspects. There’s a huge difference, she said.
The immigrants from Kazakhstan who live in Maine are mostly ethnic Russians. They are Christian, primarily Baptists. About 1,000 live in the area, mostly in Westbrook, Windham, Gorham, Portland and Cumberland, said Luba Gorelov, who owns the Medeo European Food & Deli in Westbrook, which stocks many Russian foods.
They even have their own church, the First Russian Baptist Church in Gorham.
Kazakhstan is populated mostly by Kazakhs, who are Muslims. After Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many ethnic Russians migrated to other countries, including the United States. Gorelov came to Maine in 1997.
The two bombing suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, have their ethnic roots in Chechnya, a province in Russia’s North Caucasus region. But their family left Chechnya long ago and moved to Central Asia, according to the Chechen government.
Two brutal wars for independence in Chechnya in the 1990s, followed by a prolonged insurgency, caused many Chechens to flee the province to other counties. Many ended up in Kazakhstan , including the family of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The Chechens have a culture of vengeance, Gorelov said. “It’s blood for blood,” she said.
Even though that culture may be far different from that of ethnic Russians, she said, it’s upsetting if immigrants from Russia are suspected of bringing terror to America.
“It’s shameful,” she said.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at