``Georgia Today``:World Refugee Day in Pankisi-Longing for Chechen Sunrise and Exceptional Courage


<a href="http://www.georgiatoday.ge/">Georgia Today</a>, 24-30 June, 2005, Issue #260</p> <p>World Refugee Day in Pankisi</p> <p>Longing for Chechen Sunrise and Exceptional Courage</p> <p>by Maka Lomadze</p> <p>On the 20th of June 2005, together with its implementing partners, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG), the Charity Humanitarian Center "Apkhazeti” (CHCA) and in cooperation with central and local authorities, the UN. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized activities in Duisi, Pankisi valley. There were also celebrations in Western Georgia (Kutaisi, Tskaltubo, Senaki, Poti and Zugdidi) where there are many internally displaced persons from the Georgia’s two breakaway regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia). In Tbilisi, the activities were held in the Bagebi Community Center. Georgian State TV Channel I broadcast UNHCR’s "Global View” video to coincide with the especially significant date for both Georgians and Chechens.</p> <p> This is the fourth time that the World Refugee Day has been celebrated in Georgia. The theme for this year’s event was "Courage” and the intention was to pay tribute to tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) who have overcome enormous losses and hardships to start their lives anew. "While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish very personal, they all share common thread of exceptional courage- the courage not only to survive, but the persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.” –Antonio Guterres, UN. High Commissioner for Refugees, stated.</p> <p>Georgia Today attended the celebration in the village of Duisi, Pankisi region on June 20. Griboedov Theater troupe arrived from Tbilisi and performed Alexandre Pushkin’s fairy- tales. Special gifts were given to Kist and Chechen children who performed dances, songs and read rhymes to public.</p> <p>Pankisi Gorge, a mountainous area in northeastern Georgia, gained notoriety after Georgian authorities admitted 7.000 Chechen refugees in 1999. Since then, Moscow has exerted continues pressure on Georgia to crack down on the movements of Chechen fighters that they consider as separatists.</p> <p>Moreover, since the September 11 terrorist attacks in America, Georgia has also come under pressure from the United States to curb lawlessness in Pankisi and several special operations were conducted to arrest suspected terrorists.</p> <p>Naveed Housein, representative of UNHCR in Georgia, addressed the locals: "Today is a particular day to assess what we previously accomplished and outline what we are able to do in the future. I know the kind of difficulties that refugees experience in Pankisi. They have lost their homes. We will try our best to reduce their pain. During the last few years these Chechens experienced many frustrations and problems in their lives. And nothing can replace our native home. We try to raise money and find donors. No government, no person is obliged to provide money to refugees. Giving depends only on their benevolence. "</p> <p> Some Georgian Officials are concerned that the dire situation in Pankisi can impact crime and that this can be a bridge to a possible escalation in inter-ethnic violence. Pankisi is mostly populated by Kists, ethnic Chechens that have Georgia citizenship. Their families have lived here for more than 200 years. Many Kists can trace their roots back to the "cleansing” of the Chechen population by the Russian Empire in early 19th Century. Those living in Pankisi are one pocket of those who lived through this bloody period in the Russian imperialist history.</p> <p> Duisi is populated mostly by Kists. Although the have adopted many Georgian traditions and even took Georgia family names, they still maintain a strong sense of pride and Chechen cultural identity. They maintain cultural links with their ethnic kin in Chechnya. Speak fluent Georgian; they never forget their native Chechen language through. A major reason of Chechen refugees’ settlement in Pankisi is the existence of these ethnic and cultural links and the Georgian tradition of providing safe haven to those that are persecuted and victimized.</p> <p> "Today is a day of pain, not a day for happiness. This day recognizes the pain that refugees from all over the world have suffered and are suffering. Human rights are permanently being violated. In the world today there are several million refugees, "said Eter Astemirova, Minister for Refugees and Placement.</p> <p> "Chechens in Panksisi have lost all sorts of rights. Now they are fighting to retain their traditions, their genotype. Chechens always managed to maintain their national aspirations and rugged individualism. I hope the war in Chechnya will soon end and Chechens will come to Georgia as guests and not as refugees. They want to return to an independent Chechnya and live their lives as a proud and free people "she added.</p> <p> For Zezva Machalikashvili, local policemen, "the gorge is no place for conflict and it is good that everything has calmed down. Even before, the situation was not as irritating and tense as it was perceived by outside observers. Many Chechens are refugees to Chechnya. Others live her peacefully. At night, patrol controls the surrounding area, and in the daytime special forces help us maintain order. "</p> <p> Pankisi, an area that has become synonymous with lawlessness, did not look like a dangerous place on this Saturday afternoon. Residents of Duisi repeated to visitors that the level of crime is not higher than in any other part of Georgia. Pankisi serves neither as an asylum for terrorists, assured village people. One thing for sure though, as in many other Georgian regions, it is place where people can hardly makes ends meet. Refugees hope that one day their children can watch a Chechen sunrise over a peaceful and flourishing Chechnya.</p> <p>Related article:</p> <p><a href="http://una.ge/eng/artdetail.php?id=61&amp;group=articles">World Refugee Day in Pankisi Valley</a>