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Pankisi gorge

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“Amid the spectacular natural beauty of the Pankisi Gorge; among all the quick smiles and sudden humor and endless generosity of spirit; in spite of the incredible bounty of the autumn harvest; nestled next to the dreams of children; lying just beneath the surface of a warm hello; carried on the winds between the notes of a haunting polyphonic melody; momentarily illuminated by a thunderstorm’s lightning flash; rarely talked about but omnipresent, lies the stark reality of relentless poverty, crushing hardship, stinging prejudice, and the yearning for a better life. It blankets 2 little boys, who live in a cowshed, offering no comfort or warmth. It makes fighting a jihad in Syria seem attractive to more than 100 of our young men, 4 of whom died there this summer. It makes our girls not question teenage marriage and motherhood, or dropping out of school. It crushes creativity and dreams of a better life by offering no means of realizing hopes for the future. It makes it difficult to see the value of education when there are no jobs. Or if one does have a job, and only 10% here do, it pays next to nothing. It fosters hopelessness, often misidentified as boredom and laziness. It breeds illness and disease that are preventable but remain untreated. It is so big.”
–Suze Rutherford


Pankisi valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist people

Pankisi is a region situated in the North of Georgia near the border with Chechnya. Pankisi valley harbors 8 villages, and further out is the Pankisi gorge, cut in between the high peaks of the Caucasus mountains.

The population of around 15.000 people, with 75% of them having Chechen ethnic background. They are either Kist people, or recent Chechen refugees.

The Kist people are a Chechen tribe that arrived in Pankisi between 1830-1870. It is believed they originate from southern Chechnya’s beautiful Meiste region.

In the early 20th century, many received Georgian citizenship and Georgian surnames, a fact which spared them from deportation in 1944. Despite receiving a certain Georgian influence, the Kist community is bilingual and still preserves the Chechen language dialect, culture and traditions.

 

During the second Chechen war, several thousands Chechens found refuge  in Pankisi. After the end of the war many left, but a few have remained in the valley.

The second Chechen war greatly altered the economic and social structure in the region; until 2009, UNCHR was assisting locals. Small steps were attempted at developing tourism but additional support is needed. The locals live in dire conditions – see more here  The “notorious” Pankisi valley

The small Roddy Scott foundation helps children with english/computer lessons.  Set up in the memory of British journalist Roddy Scott, who was killed by Russian snipers along Chechen rebels near Pankisi in 2002.

Roddy Scott

Roddy Scott, killed alongside Chechen rebels

In the memory of their only son, his elderly parents decided to help the children of Pankisi. The children recently set up a local “newspaper” – www.pankisitimes.com

www.pankisi.org – informational travel website created in 2008 with the help of the Polish Foundation for Intercultural Education

Pankisi valley gorge Georgia North Caucasus

Despite being Muslims, the locals produce (and consume) home-made red wine, which is a tradition in Georgia.

Batsara Nature Reserve lies near Pankisi – w240 hectares of yew-tree woodlands – which are 1000 years old and older. It represents a unique and unspoiled part of the world.

Pankisi gorge valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2002, British journalist Roddy Scott went to Pankisi to research the conflict from the Chechen side (which was often neglected by the media). After gaining the trust of both locals and fighters, he departed with a unit belonging to Ruslan Gelayev. They were all killed in Ingushetia not far from Pankisi.

Roddy Scott’s body was never returned to his family by the Russian authorities. His video footage was confiscated, though BBC managed to obtain a few of Roddy’s last photos – see gallery below. After a visit to Pankisi, Roddy’s parents set up a small foundation to help the disadvantaged children of the region.

BBC news report Killed reporter’s Chechen rebel pictures

Roddy’s last pictures before they were all killed (click on photo to view gallery)

 

Roddy's parents set up a foundation to help the disadvantaged children of Pankisi in the memory of their son

Roddy Scott in 2001 – After his death, Roddy’s parents set up a foundation to help the disadvantaged children of Pankisi in the memory of their son

Children of Pankisi

Children of Pankisi

chechen girl in Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus chechen people

children in Pankisi valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

children Pankisi Georgia North Caucasus people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people boy

child Pankisi  Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi Georgia kist chechen children North Caucasus people

chechen girls in Pankisi Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people kids

Local kids enjoying their new computers. These 6 computers were kindly donated by the Estonian Embassy, the staff of the Embassy also spent their weekends redecorating the classroom (the Estonian ambassador himself painted the walls). source: Roddy Scott Foundation

 

www.pankisitimes.com – the local “newspaper” set up by the Pankisi children who are learning English at the Roddy Scott foundation. The project is run by Roddy’s parents and a handful of good-willing volunteers. New funds are being raised every year to keep the classes going, if you want to help donate here www.roddyscott.co.uk

One of the founders speaks about the children and the project

Chechen refugee children from the Pankisi Valley perform a traditional dance to celebrate World Refugee day in Mtatsminda Amusement Park, in Tbilisi, Georgia

Chechen refugee children from the Pankisi Valley perform a traditional dance to celebrate World Refugee day in Tbilisi, Georgia

In 2002, when Roddy Scott was trying to document the war, another young Chechen director was shooting a movie in Pankisi gorge. At the time, along Chechen refugees – the Chechen guerillas were settled in the region, under the command of Ruslan Gelayev (who married a local woman).

Ruslan Gelayev with his forces

Ruslan Gelayev with his forces

With his first film, a young director tries to do nothing less than explain his people’s agony to an uncomprehending world  ‘Terrorist” With a Camera

Murad Mazaev, young Chechen director

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The following pictures and text belong to journalist Derek Henry Floods.

An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya’s Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. I was struck by how incredibly hospitable these people relentlessly vilified by the FSB were. They told me of the horrors of Putin’s onslaught on their villages while offering endless cups of tea and bread me. I felt powerless, having nothing to givein return  but a sympathetic ear. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya’s Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. I was struck by how incredibly hospitable these people relentlessly vilified by the FSB were. They told me of the horrors of Putin’s onslaught on their villages while offering endless cups of tea and bread to me. I felt powerless, having nothing to give in return but a sympathetic ear. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. He was a young refugee living in limbo like thousands of others. Though there was condemnation of all-out war in Chechnya at the time, there was no real action to back it up. Or should I say nothing ‘actionable’ was ever done. Challenging so-called tin pot regimes in weak states was acceptable and even fashionable for a time among liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles for a time but challenging Russian neo-imperialism directly has never been on the table. One could even draw a continuity between inaction on the Caucasus then and Crimea now. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. He was a young refugee living in limbo like thousands of others. Though there was condemnation of all-out war in Chechnya at the time, there was no real action to back it up. Or should I say nothing ‘actionable’ was ever done. Challenging so-called tin pot regimes in weak states was acceptable and even fashionable for a time among liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles for a time but challenging Russian neo-imperialism directly has never been on the table. One could even draw a continuity between inaction on the Caucasus then and Crimea now. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani where I stayed in 2002. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani where I stayed in 2002. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

In 2009, when the guerillas were long gone and many of the refugees had left to resettle elsewhere, the Russian ministry was still bringing accusations of  “terrorism activity” in Pankisi.

Georgian journalist Lizaveta Zhahanina went to search for “terrorists” in Pankisi after the Russian allegations. In 2010, the U.S. Department of State released an annual country report on terrorism, saying that “Russia’s claims of Georgian support for Chechen terrorist and harboring of such individuals in the Pankisi gorge were unsubstantiated”.

Click on link to read the Lizaveta’s story

Pankisi Valley: “The Chechens are the Bravest Men”

Pankisi dancers

Georgian song about the love for a Kist-Chechen woman… Kavkasiuri Balada (Caucasian balad)

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