The messenger logo

Who will stem the flow of Pankisi youth to the Islamic State?

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, December 10
A couple of days ago 21 year-old Pankisi resident Zelimkhan Chatiashvili was killed in Syria in the course of an offensive near Kobani city. He is the eighth extremist from Georgia killed fighting for the so-called Islamic State. Some people have accused the current government of Georgia of ignoring the issue. However, the government plans to adopt a law against this dangerous tendency. The law will set out punishments for those participating in illegal extremist organizations.

The extremist militant’s family confirmed the death of Chatiashvili, refraining from providing more details. There are five members left in the family – his parents and three brothers.

The story is quite standard. Chatiashvili went to Turkey to find a job, then moved to Syria and found himself among Islamist Caliphate fighters.

Zaur Gumashvili, head of the gorge’s Elders’ Council states that one of the motivations of the youth going to Syria from the gorge are the material interests, this is aside from the religious ideology.

According to unofficial information, up to 50 men from Pankisi are still fighting in Syria and their ages range from between 16 and 18 years-old.

The political party Free Georgia has appealed to the government to explain to the public how the youth managed to cross the borders.

“Law-enforcement bodies should state whether they investigate the cases of these men from Pankisi gorge who are traveling to Syria. The intelligence service should define how the people manage to leave the country and what the government plans to do as far as stopping this tendency,” the statement reads.

Irakli Sesiashvili, states that the parliament is drafting a bill that will prevent the flow of Georgian citizens.

“Our citizens should know that if they get involved in a terrorist organization or some other illegal group or organization abroad, they will be punished,” Sesiahsvili said.

The question remains: how will the law discourage this concerning trend when the individuals have a rather “safe” reason to leave the country – seeking jobs in Turkey. Moreover, representative of Chechen diaspora Meka Khangoshvili admits that in many cases the motivation for joining the “Islamic” State is not money. “These people are volunteers, who go to Syria based on their own will,” she says.

Several years ago, Pankisi youth used to go to Chechnya, where they joined Doku Umarov’s Caucasus Emirates fighting against Russia. However, since March 2011, when a rebellion broke out in Syria, Chechens decided to support Sunni rebels fighting against Shiite President Bashar Assad’s government.

Khaso Khangoshvili, a member of the gorge’s Elders’ Council, states that Pankisi is a “slowly ticking time bomb.”

“A provocation can be easily triggered from the place and the youth might be exploited in this way. I am very concerned,” he says.

The flow of Pankisi residents to Syria mainly attracts attention when one of the fighters dies there. The issue is very serious and sensitive, and requires deeper research and analyses.