Beslan School tragedy - what memorial will it have?

Recent proposals to build a Christian cathedral on the site where the hostages were killed three years ago in the Beslan school terrorist siege have sparked heated discussions.

The Muslim community say their religion should not be overlooked in the plans.

For many of those who lost their loved ones in the Beslan massacre, the school has become a sanctuary.

But as the building, damaged by heavy gunfire and explosions, is literally falling apart, many of the relatives are growing worried about what is going to happen to the place.

“It should all be preserved the way it looks now. We need to commemorate the events so that people can see what they did,” says Susanna Dudieva, of the “Mothers of Beslan” organisation.

Beslan is a small town on the outskirts of the North Ossetia’s capital, Vladikavkaz.  On September 1, 2004, Beslan’s School Number One was attacked by a group of 32 terrorists. For more than two days students, their parents and teachers were held hostage. The standoff ended unexpectedly when explosive charges went off, setting the school gym on fire. Special Forces attempted to free the hostages, but more than 330 people died in the inferno.

Nurpashi Kulaev, the only terrorist who survived, is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

The Republic of North Ossetia-Alania is the only one in the North Caucasus region with a predominantly Christian population. The majority of the people in the other republics, including Chechnya and Dagestan, the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, the Karachaevo-Cherkessian Republic and Ingushetia, practice Islam.

Right after the tragedy, the locals were asked if they would like an Orthodox Christian cathedral to be built on the school premises. The poll did not specify any details on where exactly the shrine would be built and what it would look like, but the majority supported the idea.

Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz was one of the first to arrive in Beslan in the days of the tragedy. Now he is firm in his opinion, that there has to be a cathedral that will embrace the walls of the school gym.

“Mankind has not invented a better way to commemorate victims of crashes or terrorist attacks other than building a church. It is a place where you may not be distracted, a place where you must be thoughtful,” Father Feofan said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Muslim clerics expressed their concern about the plans to build a cathedral over the school walls. Russia has an influential 20 million Muslim community. Its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, says that the interests of those who practice Islam should also be taken into consideration.

“We believe, a memorial should be built on the site of the Beslan school that was seized by the terrorists. It would unite the nation, the religions,” he stressed.

Two-and-a-half years after the attack, Beslan’s community seems to have differing opinions on what’s going to happen in and around the school. While some nongovernmental organizations, like “The Voice of Beslan” are calling for more understanding for the Muslim side, others still support the idea of a Christian sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the “Mothers of Beslan” have yet another point of view. They suggest that all sides find a compromise. The mothers say all kinds of religious installations could be built on the premises, but the gym should remain untouched.

“I believe this place should be influenced neither by religion nor by politics. It will be a place any could enter, Christians or Muslims. Any person belonging to any confession could drop in,” Susanna Dudieva said.

Neither the Christians, nor the Muslims of Beslan have made a final decision.