A surprising number of Twitter users were reportedly having a tough time getting their heads around the ethnicity of the two brothers -- one of whom was killed in a firefight with police
and the second of whom was captured alive
after a massive manhunt -- suspected of perpetrating the deadly Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. They're also thought to have shot and killed a campus police officer four days later, with authorities closing in on them.
The two are 26-year-old Tamerlan, who died in the shoot-out, and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechen immigrants who have been in the United States for about a decade. (To further complicate things,
the elder Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan and the younger's birthplace
was Daghestan, according to a former family neighbor in Kyrgyzstan.) Dzhokhar reportedly became a naturalized American citizen in 2012.
Media in the Czech Republic have picked up on a string of tweets erroneously linking the "Chechen" suspects with "Czechs." One of the most popular news websites in the Czech Republic laments the confusion in an article titled "America Rages At Czech Republic, Confuses It With Chechnya
The iDnes.cz website also suggests major Western media made the same mistake:
In English, Chechnya is written "Chechnya," which some Americans preferred to regard as a shortening of "Czech Republic." It's possible, however, that media adopted this information. One user writes that the headline "Chechnya is a suburb of Czechoslovakia" appeared on the website of the "New York Post." Others insist that CNN and BBC wrote the same.
By the time the story came to our attention, there was no evidence of such mistakes by those media outlets.
[UPDATE: But a YouTube video
is now circulating in which an on-air expert clearly confuses Chechnya with the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia:
"...and also, you know, the young brother, Dzhokhar, named after -- the similar name, anyhow, to the first president of the Czech Republic, the Islamic republic, that was formed there. So I don't know if there's anything about identity there, when you're given a name like that as a youth, um, what kind of, uh, what does that do to your mindset and your identity and what's expected of you. It'd be interesting to hear the profilers talk about that."
All three of the CNN anchors standing next to the man making the statement (who is identified by "tilna65," who posted the video, as a "former CIA agent" but whom we have not identified) appear to visibly shudder at the comment. But whether they actually failed to catch the mistake or simply regarded it as inessential or impolitic to set the record straight, none offers a correction:
The perception proved sufficiently embarrassing to the Czech Republic that the Czech ambassador to Washington felt compelled to issue a public statement
confirming that no, the Czech Republic indeed is not Chechnya (hat tip: Foreign Policy
's Marya Hannun).
The statement came out within an hour or so of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dramatic capture, and read in part:
As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities - the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.]
Here are some of the Twitter posts conflating the two or, alternately, taking people to task for the mistake:
[UPDATE: @Courtneyabb0tt9's tweets were changed to "protected" status after this article was written, presumably after the user's mortification at being the center of so much unexpected attention. Here's an image
that was circulating of the thread.]
The satirical website "The Onion" may have been too close for comfort with its item suggesting an appalling American lack of awareness about Chechnya, "Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens
Here's an excerpt from that faux news brief:
Following FBI reports this morning that the suspects implicated in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing are of Chechen descent, efforts to thoughtlessly stereotype the alleged terrorists were impeded by the majority of Americans’ lack of basic knowledge about Chechnya or the Chechen people, a new study has confirmed. “Our research shows that, while many Americans would like nothing more than to make sweeping, insensitive generalizations about these two individuals based purely on their ethnic identity, this process is largely impeded by the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans truly know next to nothing about Chechnya, including even the very barest details of what or where Chechnya is,” said lead researcher Dr. Tim Kinane, adding that a majority of American citizens are almost totally unaware of Chechen history and culture, how to locate Chechnya on a map, whether Chechnya is a country or a city or a region, or that a person from Chechnya is called a Chechen.
Here's our effort, with our North Caucasus Service Director Aslan Doukaev, to help alleviate that real or perceived problem: "Interview: More About Tsarnaev Brothers And Their Ancestral Homeland
-- Andy Heil