Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politics and Therapy for Beslan Mothers

APMzia Kochishvili, left, Rita Rubayeva, second left, and Marina Melekova, right, looking at a photo album of victims.
BESLAN, North Ossetia -- Some of the women sat at a wooden table littered with documents. Others hovered near a computer learning how to write a press release, or traded gossip over weak tea and chocolates. It could almost be a parent-teacher meeting or a ladies' social circle -- but for the tragedy that haunts this room.

The women are part of a group of residents who lost children and grandchildren in last September's Beslan school massacre, and are demanding answers of the government as they provide support and solace to one another.

Founded as School No. 1 still smoldered, the Beslan Mothers' Committee has evolved into a political action group taking aim at endemic corruption and lack of government transparency. It provides purpose to women who would give anything to be walking their children to and from school. "Without this, I don't know how we could go on," said Rita Sydakova, 44, who lost her daughter. "This is the best therapy."

In December, the group organized a days-long blockade of the main Beslan highway. In February, women from the group traveled to Moscow, where they held a news conference calling for the resignation of North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov.

Critics say Dzasokhov turned a blind eye to rampant corruption, which many believe allowed militants to drive into Beslan without notice and seize the school, located just steps away from a police station.

On May 31, Dzasokhov announced he was stepping down early. He made no mention of Beslan, but Susanna Dudiyeva, 44, whose son died in the school, believes the mothers' unrelenting criticism brought about the resignation.

The protests have continued, with mothers carrying placards and going on hunger strikes outside the government headquarters in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, to criticize Dzasokhov's Kremlin-appointed successor, Taimuraz Mamsurov, who they say has failed to meet with survivors.

On a warm spring night, in the room within sight of the school's charred timbers, several women discuss a political demonstration scheduled for the next day. Others talk about ways to get government assistance.

Nearby on a desk there is a photo album containing hundreds of photographs of children, some wounded, most killed.

Sitting before a donated computer, next to a donated fax machine and donated printer, Ella Kisayeva, 41, said many of the women had no experience in anything but housekeeping and child-rearing.

"How could I sit at home alone after all this? Cooking? Cleaning? All by myself?" she said. "How could I stay silent?"

The wallpapered walls are bare except for three white pieces of paper -- the group's political slogans. One reads: "Remember for whose sake we are here! Remember our children together! Remember they are our conscience!"

The committee started from a small group of mothers who turned to each other for consolation.

Gatherings became regular and larger as their outrage focused on corruption and government incompetence. The committee now numbers more than 100, and includes fathers, grandfathers and even sons of the victims, Dudiyeva said.

"There is a class of people here who are not indifferent, who will remind the authorities that without action, without someone taking responsibility, this type of [terrorist attack] could happen again," Dudiyeva said.

Dudiyeva said the committee has uncovered important details of the raid, such as the fact that the truck that carried the militants to the school had a police officer as an escort and that weapons had been stored in the school ahead of time -- a claim that authorities have not publicly confirmed.

In the adjacent kitchen, no bigger than a closet, a discussion begins with theories about the hostage seizure's violent end, then moves to memories of children: Sydakova's daughter playing basketball, Zalina Tybloyeva's 6-year-old nephew playing word games. Sobbing interrupts the conversation.

"Ours is the politics of grief. The politicians have done nothing for us," said Tybloyeva, whose sister and niece also died. "From this grief comes our politics. Rita's daughter, she wasn't a politician. And now she's dead."