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What Do Chechens Have Against Russia?

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By The Week Staff

The Boston Marathon bombing suspects are ethnic Chechens. Did their homeland's plight help radicalize them?

Who are the Chechens?

They're an ethnic group in the Caucasus region that has been fighting for independence from Russia for four centuries. Most Chechens are Sunni Muslims, many of whom practice in the mystical Sufi tradition; most Russians are Orthodox Christians. But the independence struggle has long been more about nationality than religion. Chechen identity is fiercely independent and anti-hierarchical, and rests on clan honor and — to a great extent — hatred of Russia. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's high school friends say he rarely talked about his ethnicity, except to quickly correct anyone who suggested he was Russian.

What do Chechens have against Russia?

They deeply resent its attempts to dominate their homeland, which date to the 16th-century reign of Ivan the Terrible. In the Soviet era, the Chechens balked at the government's efforts to seize private property and collectivize farming and herding. Furious at their resistance, Stalin used false allegations that Chechens collaborated with Nazis as an excuse to deport almost the entire Chechen population — about 500,000 people — to the desolate steppes of Siberia and Central Asia during World War II. The transfer was one of the most devastating acts of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century; at least a third and possibly half of the Chechens died in the first year. Most of the survivors eventually returned to Chechnya, but the Tsarnaev family stayed through the 1990s in Kyrgyzstan, where Anzor, the father of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, worked as a lawyer. While the father clearly inculcated a Chechen identity in his sons, any hopes he entertained of taking his growing family back to Chechnya for good evaporated when Chechens were forced to flee again.

What were they fleeing?

Two brutal wars with Russia that together turned Chechnya into "probably the most dangerous heart of darkness in the world," in the words of historian Brian Glyn Williams. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, carried away by his success in freeing Russia from the Soviet yoke, told all the Russian provinces to claim "as much autonomy as you can handle." Chechnya promptly declared independence, which was more than Yeltsin had had in mind. In 1994 he sent in troops to quickly reassert Russian sovereignty, but when Chechens fought back, the crackdown turned into a nightmarish slaughter. At least 50,000 civilians were killed; the capital, Grozny, was completely flattened; and some 200,000 women and children fled to neighboring provinces and farther afield. In 1999, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was preparing to succeed Yeltsin, blamed a series of deadly bombings in Moscow on Chechen militants and launched a second war.

What happened to Chechnya?

It became a breeding ground for radicalism. So did the neighboring province of Dagestan, where the Tsarnaev family settled for a few years before coming to the U.S. about a decade ago. A few Arab jihadists came to help the Chechens fight and introduced Wahhabism, the very strict form of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Chechen Islamist militants seized a Moscow theater, and 41 of them died, along with 129 hostages, when Russian special forces moved in. In 2004, Chechen militants led a siege on a school in Beslan; more than 330 people, mostly children, were killed. And in 2010, two female Chechen suicide bombers killed more than 40 people in the Moscow subway. Now some Chechen militants may be looking beyond Russia for targets. Over the past two years, Chechens have been charged with involvement in terror plots in Spain and France, which were foiled. "If there is any connection between these kids and the insurgency there, it will be the first time they have struck a target outside of Russia," Georgetown University professor Christopher Swift told The Wall Street Journal. Chechnya itself has been ruthlessly pacified, but the militants are active in Dagestan, where Tamerlan stayed for six months, until last July.

What did Tamerlan do in the region?

That is a major focus of the ongoing investigation. Even before he left on that trip, he'd grown markedly more religious and angry, his family says. Russian security services say he had already visited Dagestan in 2011, and was communicating with radicals there. In the last year, Dagestan has seethed with violence. Dozens of police were killed in operations against Islamist militants, a cleric was assassinated by bomb, and two suicide bombers hit the capital, Makhachkala, where Tamerlan was living with his father for some of the time. Tamerlan traveled twice to Chechnya as well, though only to visit cousins, his father claims. But upon his return to the U.S., Tamerlan made a YouTube playlist of Chechen protest songs and jihadist videos. One video is dedicated to the prophecy of the Black Banners of Khorasan, which says an invincible Islamic army will rise in Central Asia. "It is essentially an end-time prophecy," says Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is definitely important in al Qaida's ideology." It's still far from clear, though, whether Chechnya's conflict-filled history and the radical ideas spawned there played a major role in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Chechens in the U.S.

Very few — perhaps 1,000 — of the tens of thousands of Chechen refugees who fled the grim plight of their homeland have settled in the U.S. Most of them, like the Tsarnaevs, made a case for being refugees fleeing political or religious persecution at home. The small community is horrified by the actions attributed to two of their sons. "Most of us would be dead right now if it wasn't for the United States giving us a home and saving us from all the violence," said Boston resident Ali Tepsurkaev, who came to the U.S. about a decade ago. "It feels embarrassing for us,'' he said. "After all this hospitality we're getting from Americans, to hear that some Chechen... It's hard. It's difficult to explain."

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

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