Associates of Allakhverdov family puzzle over ‘Misha’ claims

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A red-bearded, Armenian-Ukrainian immigrant described by some relatives as a mentor to the elder suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told the New York Review of Books that he was not Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s teacher, and has been fully cooperating with the FBI.

Mikhail “Misha” Allakhverdov, 39, born in Baku, Azerbaijan of an Armenian Christian father and Ukrainian mother, moved with his family to the United States about 15 years ago, associates said.

He converted to Islam in the United States, he told the New York Review of Book’s Christian Carlyl, in an interview Sunday from his elderly parents’ West Warwick, Rhode Island home.

“I’ve been cooperating entirely with the FBI,” Allakhverdov told Carlyl. “I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.”

Mikhail, in the brief interview, did not deny knowing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the slain elder suspect in the April 15th Boston bombings, but said he had not seen him for a few years.

“I wasn’t his teacher,” Allakhverdov told Caryl. “If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this.”

The Allakhverdov family–father Yuri and mother Lidiya, sons Sergei and Mikhail–moved to the United States in the 1990s from Ukraine where they lived for a few years after fleeing anti-Armenian violence in Azerbaijan. Sergei, an historian, was seeking a publisher for an atlas of hand-drawn maps of the ancient world, he told an Armenian diaspora newspaper in 1999.

Mikhail Allakhverdov is listed with his brother Sergei as an officer of a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation called the Educational Organization for Improvements in Historical Studies, Inc. A telephone number listed for the company at a Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts address was no longer in service Monday.

Gennady Napadensky and Victoria Poupko, a Massachusetts couple from the former Soviet Union, who are listed as professional associates of Mikhail’s older brother Sergei, told Al-Monitor in a phone interview Monday that as far as they knew, Sergei was an atheist and the family was of Armenian Christian descent. Mikhail, they thought, converted to Islam after his immigration to the United States.

Gennady Napadensky told Al-Monitor he met Sergei about eight years  ago when he was looking for an historian and found him through a Russian bookstore in Brookline, Massachusetts.  They formed a company that produces digital interactive maps.

Victoria Poupko, Napadensky’s spouse and a former Northeastern University math professor who has worked as a human rights activist on behalf of persecuted ethnic minorities from the former Soviet Union, said she believes she met Mikhail Allakhverdov only once several years ago.

An activist on behalf of Chechen refugees, Poupko, of Russian Jewish descent, said she saw Mikhail in a car with a Chechen once, but she did not know who it was.

Azerbaijan brutally expelled ethnic Armenians like the Allakhverdov family after Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh voted in a referendum in 1988 to join Armenia. Subsequently, many Chechens fled to Azerbaijan in the 1990s during the Russian wars against Chechen unrest, Poupko said.

Sergei Allakhverdov-Amatuni (as the brother spells his names in some official listings) is also listed as a director of a Massachusetts non-profit, the Transitional Assembly for Peace and Democracy in Chechnya, Inc. Registered in 2003, the group lists as its president Salman Masayev (or Musayev), who has subsequently appeared in media reports as the deputy head of the Caucasus Muslims Organization, based in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Nadezhda Banchik, a California-based human rights activist for persecuted former Soviet minorities who is a friend of Poupko’s, told Al-Monitor in a phone interview Monday that she does not know the Allekhverdovs, though she is listed with Sergei Allekhberdov-Amatuni as an officer in the Transnational Assembly. (She thought the group’s listed president Musayev might have been a Harvard student of Chechen descent who later returned to the region. Poupko later said she met Sergei through Musayev, who introduced him as a doctor-professor.)

Banchik noted, in a telephone interview, that the Boston Marathon bombings occurred a few days after the US publication of the Magnitsky list, and suggested that it was strange, if Russia had suspicions about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that it did not arrest him when he was there for six months in 2012. Similarly, Russia has reportedly shared with the US in the past week alleged recordings of intercepted  phone calls from 2011, in which the suspects’ mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is alleged to have “vaguely” discussed jihad. But Zubeidat returned to Dagestan, in southern Russia, in 2012 from where she has given dozens of interviews in recent weeks. Russian authorities have apparently not found her of enough concern to detain her, Banchik noted.

The Russian-speaking diaspora in Boston, much of it Jewish, turned far less sympathetic to the plight of the Chechens after the Beslan school massacre and Moscow theater bombings, said Vladimir Napadensky, who is listed as an associate in the map company his father and Sergei created. He said he did not know Mikhail, and said of Sergei, only, “he makes maps.”

Sergei Allakhverdov described his family’s complicated ancestral geography in a 1999 interview with an Armenian American newspaper about his atlas of maps, for which he was seeking a publisher.

“Allakhverdov’s family has wound its way around [the] Transcaucasia and Europe. His grandfather moved from Iran to Russia, then Karabakh and finally settled in
Baku when he was 18 or 19,” the Armenian Mirror-Spectator wrote in 1999. “After the Ukraine, the family moved to the United States to be with Allakhverdov’s parents, who had earlier settled in New Jersey.”

Efforts to reach Sergei and Mikhail Allakhverdov by Al-Monitor Monday were unsuccessful. A call by Al-Monitor to Richard Nicholson, the Rhode Island attorney representing the Allakhverdov family, was not immediately returned.

Attorney Nicholson told reporters gathered Monday outside the West Warwick, RI apartment building where Mikhail’s parents Yuri and Lidiya live that they were upset and frightened by the media scrutiny.

“We love this country,” Allakhverdov’s father Yuri told the New York Review of Books Sunday. “We never expected anything like this to happen to us.”

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