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Across the Former Soviet Union Training in Israel Helps People Working with Russian Terror Victims

March 15, 2005
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Psychologists working with the victims of last year’s school massacre in Russia have spent a week of training in Israel. The program, which ended Sunday, featured training in such areas as trauma-debriefing techniques, relaxation methods and ways to include schools and communities in helping people overcome trauma.

The two groups also established phone and email hotlines to do follow-ups and to give the Russians an opportunity to turn to their colleagues in Israel should they need to do so.

The training is the brainchild of World ORT and is co-sponsored by it, along with the Russian Jewish Congress.

“Unfortunately, we have an extensive experience in dealing with such cases,” said Avi Ganon, the Moscow-based director of World ORT in Russia, Belarus and Central Asia. “Sixty of our ORT school students in Israel died in terrorist attacks in the last four years,” he told journalists on Monday at a news conference in Moscow.

A leading Russian psychologist said that although Russia has skilled professionals who have worked in Beslan since the first day of the tragedy, the Israeli experience in dealing with the psychological aftermath of terrorist attacks could prove invaluable for the residents of Beslan, where more than 350 people died in the September 2004 massacre.

“Israel is constantly dealing with the aftermath of terror,” said Alexander Asmolov, a psychology professor with the Moscow State University and president of ORT Russia. “We have come to the situation when we need to learn from this experience.”

One of the Beslan psychologists who was a member of the group that visited Israel agreed that the Israeli experience is relevant for Russia.

“Our colleagues in Israel have accumulated a tremendous experience in rehabilitating those who survived in terrorist attacks,” Igor Dulaev said.

Dulaev, a social psychologist, has worked in Beslan since September. He first arrived in Beslan because he wanted to help his friends whose children were among the hostages. His work has been entirely focused on this troubled community ever since.

“Our area has long been the scene for interethnic and interfaith conflicts,” Dulaev said of the northern Caucasus. Beslan is located just west of the border of the separatist region of Chechnya.

Yet he said he and other experts had dealt mainly with refugees and forced migrants before the attack.

“After Beslan, this experience was not enough,” Dulaev said.

A Russian senator representing North Ossetia, the autonomous republic where Beslan is located, said Beslan’s citizens will need professional counseling for a very long time.

“It’s very hard to live through such a tragedy, but the most difficult things occur after a while, when you already think it’s all over,” said Erik Bugulov, who is also a member of the Russian parliamentary commission charged with investigating the Beslan tragedy.

“And here we have come across a shortage of experts, of those people who could help to bring people to normal human existence.”

Experts in Beslan said the culture in the Caucasus prevents people, especially men, from seeking professional psychological aid.

“Sometimes they bring you their kids who cannot sleep or eat normally after what happened in the school, and you see that these are parents themselves who need help no less than the kids,” said one of experts from Beslan who attended the week of training at ORT Moshinsky Center in Tel Aviv.

Inna Abaeva, another Beslan psychologist who was with the group in Israel, said she learned a lot by meeting some of the parents whose children were killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks.

“Our people are not living with that yet, they are still there, in the time of the tragedy. Time has to pass for them to learn how to live their life in the ‘after time,’ ” said Abaeva. “That’s what I saw in these parents in Israel. You have to teach the people how to live normal life after what happened.”

Beslan is primarily an Orthodox Christian community, surrounded by the predominantly Muslim republics of Russia Northern Caucasus. Yet Jewish groups in Russia and elsewhere were among those that provided help to the victims of one of the worst terrorist attacks in this country’s history. The Federation of Jewish Communities, the Israeli Organization of Jews from the Caucasus and the World Congress of Russian-Speaking Jewry were among those groups that also provided aid to the victims of Beslan.

A spokesman for the Russian Jewish Congress said his group supported the project, together with World ORT, because of its importance for intergroup relations.

“This project involves people of different nationalities, and this is what we deem to be of great importance now when some people are trying to saw the seeds of nationalism and xenophobia,” said Yevgeny Fedorov, referring to the recent wave of high-profile cases of anti-Semitism in Russia.

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