“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.”
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.
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
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.
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)
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
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).
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
The following pictures and text belong to journalist Derek Henry Floods.
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
Georgian song about the love for a Kist-Chechen woman… Kavkasiuri Balada (Caucasian balad)