President visits Pankisi Gorge with EU and U.S. Ambassadors
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, February 2
Georgia’s President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, has visited the country’s eastern Muslim-populated Pankisi Gorge, together with the United States (US) and European Union’s (EU) Ambassadors to Georgia.
The officials met the local population, listened to their problems, awarded certain individuals for their contributions to the community and highlighted there was “absolute peace” in the gorge.
The journey came after a recent statement of Russia’s Foreign Ministerm Sergey Lavrov, who said that members of the radical Islamic group, the Islamic State (IS), are being trained and equipped in the Gorge.
“Together with the Ambassadors we have seen that there is peace in the Gorge. As the locals say, compared to some other parts of the country, few criminal incidents are recorded in Pankisi.
“The problems here are the same as in other parts of Georgia. Infrastructural problems need to be settled, locals should be provided with gas and they should have opportunities to work and have jobs,” the President said.
Margvelashvili awarded local woman Tamar Turkoshvili with the Medal of Honour for protecting and saving the Gorge’s library.
Speaking with local media, US Ambassador Ian Kelly said:
"First of all I want to thank the President for inviting me to come along to this beautiful region of Georgia. I think you know that the United States really wants Georgia to succeed as a democracy, and I think that an inclusive society is a strong democracy. And this is why we want to support the President in his visit to the Duisi village today."
In response to a question on America's position regarding allegations of terrorist training camps in the Pankisi Gorge area Kelly said:
"Actually, I have already answered this question. The Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that there are no training centres for terrorists here in Pankisi Gorge, and you have heard the President repeat that. And we of course cooperate very closely with Georgia in the fight against terrorism, and I take their words at face value. There are no training camps for terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge.”
The Georgian officials also strongly dismissed Lavrov’s statement, saying that the Gorge fostered no terrorist threats.
The Pankisi Gorge is mainly inhabited by Kists, people who came from the Dagestani Republic, currently under Russian control.
Currently, there are about 8,000 Kists in Pankisi Gorge who mainly live in Duisi, Jokolo, Birkiani, Jibakhevi, Tsalakhani and Omalo villages.
Together with the Kists, the Gorge is populated by ethnic Georgians from the mountainous regions.