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Published on Mar 29, 2018
Locals of Pankisi are sick and tired of asserting they are not terrorists. The dwellers of the small Georgian gorge bordering Russia believe that the stigma dates back to the late XX c., the time of Moscow’s wars in Chechnya, the so-called “boeviks” (militants) and criminals. They also say that it was largely due to Russia’s influence that the place has become a kind of international “brand” for terrorism. In their words, it’s a hindrance to the development of the region since both the businesses and tourists stay away. Against the backdrop of the ISIS activities and certain reported facts, which sometimes raise unanswered questions, the stigma grows stronger. For all the differences about the customs and heated arguments, both fervent supporters of the traditional Islam and Islamic fundamentalists are at one where the security of the gorge is concerned. According to some sources, the Salafite community of the Islamic fundamentalists, often referred to as Vahabites account for 30%-35% of Pankisi’s total Muslim population while others say they make up as much as 75%-80%. Young people form the majority of the Salafites, and it was the radical Salafites who recruited people to fight in Syria a few years ago. The community members claim they feel sidelined by the State. Regardless of their religious beliefs, the Kists (Chechens residing in Georgia) point out at their closer involvement in the public affairs as the pre-requisite of their safety. The population, mostly the Kists of the small Georgian gorge of the Akhmeta municipality Kakheti region, is reportedly as small as 6000-7000.