|There are seven mosques in Pankisi.
The largest one is located in Duisi village.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili raised concern over “the Wahhabism threat” in the Pankisi Gorge, adding that Pankisi “cannot become a center of Wahhabism.”
The statement follows after week of Saakashvili’s visit to Moscow, which was accompanied by the friendly rhetoric between the officials of the two countries.
Pankisi Gorge in Georgia’s northern mountainous region, which border with Russia’s rebel republic of Chechnya, was a safe haven for Chechen militants and foreign mercenaries in 2000-2002. However, as the Georgian authorities claim the gorge has been cleaned up as a result of anti-crime operation in 2002-2003.
“The spread of Wahhabism ideology in Georgia is inadmissible and we will carry out the most severe measures against them. Georgia is a secular state and we have not donated Pankisi to Wahhabis,” President Saakashvili said at a news briefing on February 18 after introducing new Security Minister Zurab Adeishvili to the Ministry employees.
Many political analysts in Georgia see the Saakashvili’s statement as a continuation of Georgia’s conciliatory stance towards Russia, which was started with Georgian President’s visit to Moscow.
The term "Wahhabi" is often used very freely. The Russian media uses it as a term of abuse for Muslim activists in the Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya. The term is properly used to describe an Islamic revivalist movement which sprang up in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century to resist a deviation from the original Islamic rules.
Georgian State Security Ministry admitted for the first time functioning of schools of Wahhabis in Pankisi Gorge last year. "There are children in Pankisi, who speak Arab better than Georgian," Georgian State Security Ministry official told Civil Georgia.
President Saakashvili said Wahhabis schools have been opened in the Pankisi Gorge and Wahhabism is being propagandized there.
However, later on the same day Georgian President specified that his statements about the Wahhabism should not be regarded as an attack against the religious minorities.
“We are for freedom of religion, but that [Wahhabism] is not a religion. It is a violence propaganda directed against the Georgian statehood,” Saakashvili said.
The Georgian President also did not rule out the danger of infiltration of Chechen fighters into Pankisi after the snow starts melting.
“Any armed person, who crosses the Georgian border, is a potential threat to each Georgian citizen. We should not permit the penetration of militants,” the Georgian President said.
He also stressed that those Chechen refugees who found shelter in Pankisi gorge after the second Chechen war has broken up, “really need protection.” There are around 3,700 Chechen refugees in Pankisi gorge.
During his visit to Moscow on February 11-12 Mikheil Saakashvili agreed with the Russian leadership on cooperation over the protection of the troubled Chechen-Ingush section of Russian-Georgian border.
|Internal troops have been deployed in Pankisi
since summer 2002.
Commander of the Georgian Border Guard Department Valerie Chkheidze and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Promichev signed on February 11 a protocol on exchange of information regarding the situation at the Russo-Georgian border.
Valerie Chkheidze after the Moscow visit that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Promichev is expected to visit Georgia in April and during which the sides will sign an agreement on joint patrolling the Chechen section of border.
Valeri Chkheidze said that the “joint patrolling” means coordinated measures to increase control over the border. He explained that after the agreement both Georgia and Russia would be equally responsible in case the armed groups violate the border.
Chechen refugees living in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge fear that conciliatory stance between Moscow and Tbilisi might threaten their security.
A group of Chechen refugees staged a demonstration in Pankisi on February 18 to protest the disappearances of two Chechens, Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov.
These two Chechens were acquitted by a Tbilisi court on February 6 of having violated border regulations and entered Georgia illegally.
The men were among a group of 13 Chechens arrested by the Georgian border guards in the late summer of 2002, five of whom were forcibly extradited to Russia.
The relatives of the two men acquitted fear they have been abducted and secretly handed over to Russia.