As a result, many Chechens who fled to Central Asia did not find refuge, just harassment and continued uncertainty. It should not be surprising that thousands moved on, as apparently the Tsarnaev family did 10 years ago. The United States has been a country of refuge for people fleeing conflict in the former Soviet Union -- and not just in Chechnya. After the 2005 massacre in Andijon, Uzbekistan, for example, many Uzbeks who fled the government crackdown were able to settle in the United States. The United States has granted asylum to some Chechens who've fled the wars there, though we don't yet know if the Tsarnaev family was among them.
We'll have to see if any of this sad history is relevant to this week's bombing in Boston. Chechens have had a raw deal, chased from country to country and rarely integrating well. The community where the two brothers were apprehended, Watertown, has a large Caucasus population, though it's unclear how many are Chechen. There are also enclaves of Chechens in California, and a few live in Washington, DC. But it is difficult for such small numbers -- perhaps only a few hundred in the whole country -- to form supportive expatriate communities.
We have one hint that the Tsarnaev brothers weren't assimilating well. In a photo essay featuring Tamerlan, who died this morning in a shootout with the Boston police, he told the photographer, "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them." And in his profile on VK, a Russian-language social-networking site, Dzhokhar posted some YouTube videos that are supportive of Islamist extremism.
There's little we can conclude right now about the motivations of these young men, but any personal alienation would have played out in front of a historical backdrop.