After the visa-free regime was launched for Georgian citizens with EU, since March 28, 2017 to present, more than 300 young people left Pankisi Gorge. It is not a small number considering the fact that according to the recent census (2014), about 6 600 persons lived in the gorge. According to the information collected by the Pankisi Community Radio, in 2017-2018, 121 pupils left the public schools in the gorge. Majority of the migrated youth went to Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Finland to seek asylum. Some of them are working on construction or other places. At least 30 asylum-seekers were deported back to Georgia.
Why do the youth from Pankisi leave Georgia? The Pankisi Community Radio interviewed some of them.
„What could I do there? I graduated from the university three years ago and could not get job anywhere. What can a person do in the Gorge? No enterprise is working there. It is impossible that everybody arranged hostels in their houses; there are not so many tourists in the Gorge.“
„The main reason is unemployment and feeling of injustice. There are no private enterprises and we cannot work in state institutions without the permission of the State Security Service. We could not start a business either. When one day, there was nobody to play a football with in the yard, we got even more depressed. I was thinking several months, what should I do? Then I left and have been here for more than a year. I am waiting for the asylum.“
„When State Security Service killed Temirlan [Machalikashvili] in his bedroom and then planted a bombshell in his hand to justify the shooting, but never investigated the case, it was one of the reasons why the youth left the gorge.“
„The state policy, not only during the current governance but during the previous governments too, was repressive and various facts prove that,“ - Luiza Mutoshvili recalled the 2012 special operation in Lopota Gorge during the governance of the United National Movement.
„It was not necessary to conduct similar special operation. The government tries to blame the Pankisi Gorge in terrorism. However, they do not have grounds to declare the community to be the terrorists,“- Khaso Khangoshvili, the member of the Union of Elderly in the Pankisi Gorge, said. According to him, it is not correct that the State Security Service is in charge to supervise the Gorge. „I always say that we need ideological work here rather than repressions. To prevent the youth from being busy with the religion during 24 hours, it is necessary to enhance employment, sport and education activities here.“
Before 19-years-old Temirlan Machalikashvili was shot to death and ethnic Kists Aslan Margoshvili, 22, and Bahaudin Kavtarashvili, 26, were killed, in 2005, special riot police liquidated Avto and Vakho Gumashvilis in Duisi village of Pankisi Gorge. According to the police, Avto Gumashvili, accused of wounding a person, who was officially sought, resisted the law enforcement officers during the detention. According to the witness testimonies, the police shot Avto Gumashvili and his guest Vakho Gumashvili, though they had their hands up to surrender. As a result of fire, the house of the Gumashvilis got on fire and the wounded men burnt inside.
„None of the significant human rights violations were investigated [in the Gorge] so far,“- the former public defender – Ucha Nanuashvili, director of the Democracy Research Institute, said. „It creates ground to worsen the situation.“
„When a friend in Tbilisi asks me if he needs a passport to arrive in Pankisi Gorge, it is a serious problem. People in different regions still believe that everybody is fully armed in the gorge and it is dangerous to arrive there as you might get kidnapped,“- Luiza believes it is the result of incorrect policy of the government in relation with the Gorge; on the other hand, the participation of the Pankisi Gorge youth in the activities of the Islam State also encouraged similar feelings.
„In the past, we used to say that it was most important to speak and work on the issues which compelled the people to go to Syria and participate in the military operations. There are many questions – when the residents of the Gorge cooperated with the law enforcement bodies – the parents used to send personal data of their sons to them and urged not to allow them to cross the border; when 17-years-old school-girl was taken to Syria from the Pankisi Gorge and married the warrior from Pankisi Gorge there, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Education had information about it but she was allowed to cross the border. All governments used the Gorge for their own interests.“
34 men from the Pankisi Gorge have been killed in Syria.
The State Security Service opposes the radicalization and violent extremism mostly with violent methods. In accordance to the international experience, similar policy is less results-oriented in long-term perspective and particularly in terms of prevention.
„Any threat has its determinant. If we speak about violent extremism and radicalization, the latter is mostly caused by the crisis of the social identity and social deprivation, or the situation when people cannot find their place in the society and when people feel frustrated n their state.
It is inadmissible that only security services are the key actors in the country. Otherwise, we will see the situation when these institutions work with their methodology but the existing factors, like religious, social, economic, cultural, information or other, will remain beyond the attention and we will continue responding to the threat rather than preventing the threat,“- Giorgi Gobronidze, the specialist of international relations, who is a co-author of the survey – Improving Mechanisms for the Prevention of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Georgia. The document reviews the international experience of the fight against violent extremism and radicalization.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain is a EU member state that has been actively fighting against violent extremism for many years. The major strategic paper for Great Britain is „fighting terrorism“, and the main approach of the strategy is prevention. Within the Prevent component, various programs are implemented that aim at stopping people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Before this approach was announced as a priority, the UK Government had concluded that it was impossible to significantly reduce the violent extremism threat based only on coercive and punitive measures.
The Government of the Netherlands applies multidisciplinary approach in the fight against violent extremism. The Government develops individual action plans for persons suspected of being involved in extremism or sensitive to violent extremism. With the support of the Office of National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, local governments work closely with the police, the prosecutor's office, social workers, child protective services, education workers and community leaders to develop action plans.
In the Netherlands, the rehabilitation of the former extremists is promoted. The Government of the Netherlands considers repressive measures, including arrest and criminal prosecution as extreme steps to be taken only if preventive measures do not bring the desired result. Terrorist fighters returning to their homeland undergo terrorism threat assessments. Afterwards, some of the fighters are charged and some of them become beneficiaries of rehabilitation programs.
The preventive approach is also a priority in Germany too. The so-called Exit to Enter program is successfully implemented against the violent extremism. The program offers people informal education or employment that helps them to distance themselves from radical groups.
In Georgia, the National Strategy on the Fight against Terrorism was approved based on the government’s edict N 53 on January 23, 2019. Before that, the country did not have any strategic document in this direction; however, for the fight against the violent extremism the legislation became stricter in 2014. Article 3231 Part 2 (participation in the international terrorism) was added to the Criminal Code of Georgia, according to which participation in the international terrorism or/and military support of a foreign country or its body by a group of people or other physical or legal person for the purpose of terrorism is punished by the imprisonment from 12 to 17 years in length. Article 3271 Part 1 was added to the same code (Recruiting a person as a member of a terrorist organization) that is punished by imprisonment for a term of five to ten years. Several citizens of Georgia serve imprisonment term for the participation in the ISIS activities, for the support and recruiting a person as a member of a terrorist organization in Georgia. Some of them were arrested upon arrival in Georgia.
The National Strategy against Terrorism is based on seven principles: collection and analysis of the information in relation with terrorism, extremism and radicalization, prevention, protection, readiness, prosecution, development of legal framework and international partnership. Nowadays, no state programs are implemented for the fight against violent extremism, neither rehabilitation programs for the former warriors who have returned from Syria.
„The main challenge is perceptions about the people living in Pankisi Gorge, according to which they are permanently perceived as dangerous group. During years, the state policy relied on this vision that is mostly oriented on repression and punishment.
Another significant challenge is the social problems, low chance of employment and high migration. We see how people leave the Gorge every day. Naturally, beyond social and economic reasons, the migration is triggered by frustration of the local population after the recent developments in the Gorge. For example, murder of Temirlan Machalikashvili, the developments about the construction of the hydro-electro stations and large-scaled police operations in 2019. The locals do not feel themselves protected and secure and that the political system considers them as plenipotentiary citizens of Georgia. Social hopelessness is particularly wide-spread in the Gorge,“- said Tamta Mikeladze, lawyer and the Equality Policy Program Director at the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC).
She added that the Government of Georgia tries „to respond” to the challenges. Tamta Mikeladze underlined the 2019-2020 action plan of the Pankisi Gorge’s Development, which was developed by the office of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality: “The plan is substantially weak. It includes various activities, which are already implemented in the Gorge by the state. On the one hand it aims to survey the local needs and on the other hand, it is oriented on the implementation of infrastructural projects; the plan is less focused on the welfare programs of social protection – better support of education, enhanced employment opportunities, etc.“
EMC recommends the Government of Georgia to orient the security policy on social justice and human rights, which aims to enhance the work of the Ministries of Education, Healthcare, Economics and Reconciliation in the Pankisi Gorge.