Jahar's World

Page 2 of 5

During their first month in America, Jahar and his parents lived in the Boston-area home of Dr. Khassan Baiev, a Chechen physician and friend of Anzor's sister, who recalled Anzor speaking of discrimination in Kyrgyzstan that "went as far as beatings." This abuse would be the premise of the Tsarnaevs' claim for asylum, which they were granted a year later. In July 2003, the rest of the family joined them in Cambridge, where they'd moved into a small, three-bedroom­ apartment at 410 Norfolk St.; a weathered building with peeling paint on a block that otherwise screams gentrification.

There are just a handful of Chechen families in the Boston area, and the Tsarnaevs seemed a welcome addition. "They had wonderful children," recalls Anna Nikeava, a Chechen who befriended the Tsarnaevs shortly after they arrived. "They were very soft, like cuddly kittens, all four kids, always hugging and kissing each other." And the parents, too, seemed to adore each other, even while Anzor, who spoke broken English, worked as a mechanic, making just $10 an hour. For the first year, the Tsarnaevs received public assistance. But they never seemed to struggle, Anna says. "They were very much in love and enjoying life. They were fun."

Chechen families are very traditional – Anna, a warm and talkative woman in her late forties, tells me that in her country, "Ladies don't wear pants, you have to wear a skirt," and marrying outside the culture is taboo. The Tsarnaevs were atypical in that regard. Zubeidat was a "very open, modern lady" with a taste for stylish jeans, high heels and short skirts. "She had the tattooed eyebrows, permanent makeup, very glamorous," says Anna. "And her children were always dressed up nicely too."

Zubeidat adored her children, particularly Tamerlan, a tall, muscular boy she compared to Hercules. Jahar, on the other hand, was the baby, his mother's "dwog," or "heart." "He looked like an angel," says Anna, and was called "Jo-Jo" or "Ho."

"He was always like, 'Mommy, Mommy, yes, Mommy' – even if his mom was yelling at him," says Anna's son Baudy Mazaev, who is a year and a half younger than Jahar. "He was just, like, this nice, calm, compliant, pillow-soft kid. My mom would always say, 'Why can't you talk to me the way Dzhokhar talks to his mother?'"

There were five or six Chechen boys of roughly the same age in their circle, but Baudy and Jahar were particularly close. Now a student at Boston University, Baudy remembers family get-togethers in the Tsarnaevs' cramped, top-floor apartment, where Jahar and Tamerlan shared a small room with a bunk bed; in an even smaller room, their sisters shared just a mattress. There was never room for everyone around the tiny kitchen table, so the boys would engage in epic games of manhunt, or play video games on the giant TV in the living room, while their parents ate and socialized. Anzor was famous for his booming laugh, which Jahar inherited – "It was so loud, the whole room would know if he was laughing," says Baudy.

Jahar idolized his older brother, Tamerlan – all the children appeared to – and as a child, he followed his brother's example and learned to box. But it was wrestling that became his primary sport, as was also true for Baudy, a squarely built kid who competed in a higher weight class than the slender, 130-pound Jahar. "It's a Chechen thing," says Baudy. "When I went to Chechnya to see my cousins, the first thing they ask is, 'You want to wrestle?'"

Baudy is fiercely proud of his heritage, and Jahar, who shares a name with Chechnya's first president, Dzhokhar Dudayev (one of Anzor's personal heroes), had similar "Chechen pride." He embraced the national Chechen symbol, the wolf; learned traditional dances; and could speak Chechen as well as Russian. He even talked about marrying a Chechen girl. "He would always talk about how pretty Chechen girls were," says Baudy, though, to his knowledge, Jahar had never met one, aside from the sisters of some of their friends.

There were many, many Jahars in Cambridge: children of immigrants with only the haziest, if idealized, notions of their ethnic homelands. One of the most liberal and intellectually sophisticated cities in the U.S., Cambridge is also one of the most ethnically and economically diverse. There are at least 50 nationalities represented at the city's one public high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, whose motto – written on walls, murals and school-course catalogs, and proclaimed over the PA system – is "Opportunity, Diversity, Respect." About 45 percent of its students live in public or subsidized housing, largely in the city's densely populated working-class neighborhoods. There are more affluent areas, and in them live the children of professors from nearby Harvard and MIT who also attend Rindge, "but not in tremendous numbers," says Cambridge schools superintendent Dr. Jeffrey M. Young. "What you do have is some actively engaged political families" – like those of the school's most famous alumni, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – "and then there's the voiceless, who we try to encourage to have more of a voice."

All of the Tsarnaev children went to Rindge, as the school is known, but it was Jahar who assimilated best. Though he'd arrived in America speaking virtually no English, by high school he was fluent, with only a trace of an accent, and he was also fluent in the local patois. (Among his favorite words, his friends say, was "sherm," Cambridge slang for "slacker.") Jahar, or "Jizz," as his friends also called him, wore grungy Pumas, had a great three-point shot and became a dedicated pot smoker – something a number of Cambridge teens tell me is relatively standard in their permissive community, where you can score weed in the high school bathrooms and smoke on the street without much of a problem. A diligent student, he was nominated to the National Honor Society in his sophomore year, which was also when he joined the wrestling team. "He was one of those kids who's just a natural," says Payack, his coach, who recalls Jahar as a supportive teammate who endured grueling workouts and runs without a single complaint. In his junior year, the team made him a captain. By then, everyone knew him as 'Jahar,' which his teammates would scream at matches to ensure the refs would never mispronounce his name.

"I could never quite get his name – Dokar? Jokar?" says Larry Aaronson, a retired Rindge history teacher (Jahar, he says, eventually told him to call him "Joe"). Aaronson, a longtime friend of the late historian Howard Zinn, also lives on Norfolk Street, down the block from the Tsarnaevs' home. "I asked him once where he was from, and he said Chechnya. And I'm like, 'Chechnya? Are you shitting me?'" says Aaronson. "I said, 'My God, how did you cope with all that stress?' And he said, 'Larry, that's how come we came to America, and how lucky that we came to Cambridge, of all places!' He just embraced the city, the school and the whole culture – he gratefully took advantage of it. And that's what endeared me to him: This was the quintessential kid from the war zone, who made total use of everything we offer so that he could remake his life. And he was gorgeous," he adds.

Jahar's friends were a diverse group of kids from both the wealthier and poorer sections of Cambridge; black, white, Jewish, Catholic, Puerto Rican, Bangladeshi, Cape Verdean. They were, as one Cambridge parent told me, "the good kids" – debate champs, varsity athletes, student-government types, a few brainiacs who'd go off to elite New England colleges. A diligent student, Jahar talked about attending Brandeis or Tufts, recalls a friend I'll call Sam, one of a tight-knit group of friends, who, using pseudonyms, agreed to speak exclusively to Rolling Stone. "He was one of the realest dudes I've ever met in my life," says Sam, who spent nearly every day with Jahar during their teens, shooting hoops or partying at a spot on the Charles River known as the "Riv." No matter what, "he was the first person I'd call if I needed a ride or a favor. He'd just go, 'I got you, dog' – even if you called him totally wasted at, like, two or three in the morning."

"He was just superchill," says another friend, Will, who recalls one New Year's Eve when Jahar packed eight or nine people – including one in the trunk – into his green Honda Civic. Of course, he adds, the police pulled them over, but Jahar was unfazed. "Even if somebody caught him drinking," says his buddy Jackson, "he was the calm, collected kid who always knew how to talk to police."

He had morals, they all agree. "He never picked on anybody," says Sam, adding that much like his brother, Jahar was a great boxer. "He was better at boxing than wrestling – he was a beast." But while he could probably knock out anyone he wanted, he never did. "He wasn't violent, though – that's the crazy thing. He was never violent," says Sam.

"He was smooth as fuck," says his friend Alyssa, who is a year younger than Jahar. Girls went a little crazy over him – though to Jahar's credit, his friends say, even when he had crushes, he never exploited them. "He'd always be like, 'Chill, chill, let's just hang out,'" says Sam, recalling Jahar's almost physical aversion to any kind of attention. "He was just really humble – that's the best way to describe him."

Cara, a vivacious, pretty blonde whom some believe Jahar had a secret crush on, insists they were just friends. "He was so sweet. He was too sweet, you know?" she says sadly. The two had driver's ed together, which led to lots of time getting high and hanging out. Jahar, she says, had a talent for moving between social groups and always seemed able to empathize with just about anyone's problems. "He is a golden person, really just a genuine good guy who was cool with everyone," she says. "It's hard to really explain Jahar. He was a Cambridge kid."

Cambridge kids, the group agrees, have a fairly nonchalant attitude about things that might make other people a little uptight. A few years ago, for instance, one of their mutual friends decided to convert to Islam, which some, like Cara, thought was really cool, and others, like Jackson, met with a shrug. "But that's the kind of high school we went to," Jackson says. "It's the type of thing where someone could say, 'I converted to Islam,' and you're like, 'OK, cool.'" And in fact, a number of kids they knew did convert, he adds. "It was kind of like a thing for a while."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.