Pankisi Gorge: Sons Of Wolves


“You’ve come here too late,” said Chechen Mussa and smiled crookedly. He has already lived in Pankisi village, Duisi for seven years. “Things happened here before but now everything takes its normal course.”

Refugees from Chechnya were sitting, peacefully playing cards, in a little yard of some dormitory.

Once, Russians named my great-grandfather “Peaceful Circassian”. These Chechens are probably also peaceful. Unwittingly, I remembered my native aul – Psouchadakha. Nowadays life isn’t in its full swing there either. The old club stands frayed; people are leaving for cities – Nalchik, Stavropol or Makhachkala. Blind region. Duisi is a deadlock too. Russian Chechnya, where it’s still unclear what’s going on – is on the North; Georgia, where the economy hasn’t restored yet – on the South. And Chechen refugees are sitting on the border, playing cards.

The only thing that reminds of bygone times is an inscription – “Ichkeria” – on the dormitory wall.


A lad about fifteen years old is tossing up his five-year-old sister with his brawny hands.

Have you been engaged in wrestling? – I asked.

No, kickboxing – he answers. – I’ve been recently to Tbilisi on competition… Charitable organization “Imedi” has been here. They opened a gym for kickboxing, but then the organization was curtailed and the gym was closed. So, we hang the pear ourselves and train.

I’ve heard you’ve got many legends about wolves.

Yes, and we are wolves ourselves – he points to his sister. – She is a wolf-cub as well.

And her hair-pins on her black plaits look something different – they look like wolf ears. I feel she likes to be a wolf.

We’ve agreed that next time he introduces me to those who can tell about wolves.

“Sons Of Wolves” have been living in Georgia for a long time. Kistins – are same Chechens. They speak the same language and have the same customs. The only difference is that Chechen surnames are ending with Russian inflections – “ov” and “ev”. And Kistinian surnames are altered in Georgian way and end in “shvili”. Kistinians know Georgian language quite well. They speak Georgian with only some accent – harder and more abruptly.


We’ve always known that our brothers live here and will receive us, – say Chechen refugees. – In the beginning we wanted to leave for Kabardino-Balkaria, but on the way to Nalchik federal forces have centered fire on our column of refugees. Therefore we decided to go another way, through paths that haven’t been controlled by forces yet.

My friends refused to reveal their names.

Many come here and ask and then we hear lots of cock-and-bull stories about ourselves, – says a man in a black shirt and a black Moslem cap. He looks like Aslan Maskhadov, but shorter and without such aquiline nose.

Another Chechen with half grey-haired beard said frankly:

– I won’t tell you my name.

But, how should I address you?..

He grinned:

Well, call me Arthur.

As Arthur says, nearly 300 refugees from Chechnya live today on the whole territory of Pankisi gorge. There were several thousands of refugees before. According to his words, those who remained – are people without citizenship. They are deprived of Russian citizenship and they haven’t got Georgian one yet. According to official returns, nearly 600 Chechen refugees live in Pankisi. There are 1140 Chechens in Georgia. 600 of them have received identity cards.The majority of Chechen refugees have left for other countries. According to Arthur’s words, less than 200 Chechens have returned to Chechnya.

“The Ministry of Extraordinary Situations of Russia conducts transmigrations into Chechnya”, – says another refugee, Mussa. “But our ten friends who returned to Russia have already disappeared. Nothing is heard of them”.

I’ve found out that returned refugees are settled in the beginning in the camp for checking on the territory of Ingushetia and Stavropol. And only after a while they will receive Russian passports.

A few have agreed to return to their native land. They aren’t allowed to return to their homes at once. First they are settled in the camp for refugees and are checked who is who. And only after several months they are given Russian citizenship and passports” – say refugees.

“And you? Don’t you have passports?”

“It turns out that no. They don’t give us Russian passports until we return to the territory of Russia. Moreover, there is no sense to return there without civil status. Anything may happen with you”.

Refugees do not have Georgian passports as well.

I’ve recently met with the deputy public prosecutor and asked him whether I can get a passport”, says the young man who came in the middle of our conversation.

“He answered that only president of Georgia grants citizenship, however, there is not much chance of getting passport for Chechen refugees. I was directly told that if I had my business or job then they would issue me a passport. They said earlier that after five years of residing on the territory of Georgia they will give you citizenship, but now – only after seven or ten years. Therefore, a passport is a problem”.

However the majority of refugees wish to receive identification cards of the United Nations and not passports, to have an opportunity to move outside the republic. Nowadays the only documents accessible to Chechens from Pankisi, are short-term certificates for refugees with which it is possible to move only within the borders of Georgia. In brief – the wolf passport.


Life conditions in Duisi – are not the most comfortable.

“Each family lives in one premise », – says Arthur. – « We have a kitchen, a hall and a bedroom in one room. And there are several people in each family. I’ve got four children, and the eldest is 17 years old”.

According to Chechens, you will not find any work in Pankisi.

“And what are you going to do here? The population is tiny… This is the way we live – relatives send us flour, we resell it, and we keep on that”.

Conditions of health services also leave much to be desired. There is only one commercial clinic that operates in Duisi. Surgeon Mahomet is its owner and the only doctor in the village.

According to him, “Doctors without borders” deliver medicines to his clinic. But medical staff should earn their living themselves. Scheduled operations are conducted on the spot. In case of emergency inhabitants are delivered to the First-Aid Station, located in the next village.

Education is not at the appropriate level in the village too.

– The most sensitive issue are children. – say Chechens.–Education at school proceeds on a low level. And what is there to demand, if teachers had received salary by flour earlier, and only last year it was established to pay them 150 GEL. We don’t know what to do with our children after school. You can’t send them to the Institute as they don’t have sufficient knowledge. Send them to work – but not in Duisi. There is not any work here at all. Even when our houses are repaired, they employ workers from other villages or cities. And we are just sitting here …

It turned out that studies at school are conducted in Russian. Three times a week children are taught Russian and three times a week – Chechen. Children fluently speak their native language, Vainakhian; know Russian quite well, but as to Georgian language – the thing is more complicated.

– If we lived among the Georgians, we would already speak this language – complains Arthur.


There are two Mosques in Duisi – old and new. Time of a trip presses. But I succeed to come into one of them during afternoon Mohammedan Prayer.

In general the mosque looks interestingly enough: it is constructed of red bricks; the minaret towers at about 20 meters high. Well-groomed lawns are growing green in the wide yard. Up to two hundred people can be placed in the quarters for devotion.

That day only young were in a mosque. The Mufti was absent, so a young guy was reading Azan. He was short, slim but very sinewy.

A two-meter Hercules was my neighbor during Mohammedan Prayer. To tell the truth, I was timid a little bit – whatever one may say, I was a new person, unfamiliar with anybody…. Anything can turn over in one’s mind. So I stood in 20 centimeters from him. But the guy has looked at my feet perplexedly. I was ashamed – in fact, during Mohammedan Prayer, it is necessary to stand so that your feet touch the neighbor’s ones. When the circuit has closed up, the guy has calmed down: he understood that I have really come to pray, instead of simple curiosity.

After Mohammedan Prayer I have talked to one of Ullems – assistant to mufti. At least he has told me his name – Abu-Bakr. He is Kistinian by origin. According to his words, the new mosque was constructed only several years ago. Both local Umma and Moslems from other countries were helping. The pile of literature lies in a mosque. Here are three different editions of Koran: in Arabic, Russian and Georgian.

We have received Georgian translation from Turkey, – says Abu-Bakr.

I am surprised, because works on translation of the Koran are being conducted in Tbilisi.

No, mainly Sufi literature is translated in Tbilisi, and those books along with the Koran which form the basis of Sunni Islam are not translated there.

I asked about Pilgrimage that each Moslem should make. It appears nobody from present parishioners of a new mosque – Chechens or Kistinians – have visited Mecca yet.

Alongside with monetary problems we also have problems with departure, – says Abu-Bakr. – Georgia hasn’t cooperated with Saudi Arabia in the field of religion yet, so invitations for Pilgrimage are not directed here as it occurs worldwide. We also cannot independently get into contact with them – there are problems with passports and a person who will represent our party in legal agreements. So, that’s the way it is for now.

Training of Muslim clergy also proceeds at a common level. The youth in the village cannot attend Islamic Institutes.

–I was trained by my seniors, – says Abu-Bakr. – And I, in my turn, train those who are interested.

Actually, there were about half-dozen children of ten years old in a mosque. So, if the Islam does not prosper, at least, it does not fade. In general, local residents come to Duisi from village Kareti – Kistinians and some refugees – Adzharians who practice Islam.


I feel more tranquil after mosque – if you do not commit blunders, much will be forgiven here. But not ad infinitum. “We are wolves”, I recall that guy.

It’s not clear how the questions of Chechens will be solved. We were refused to be given the quantity of immigrants from the Chechen Republic in the Ministry of Affairs of Refugees of Georgia – they have demanded inquiry in written form.

Employment of Chechens is also a question from the category of very complex ones. There is a huge percent of unemployment in Georgia itself. Immigrants from Adzharia live in the next village Kareti – they too do not know how to survive in Pankisi gorge. So Adzharians are going to return to their fatherland, though all of them should start from the beginning there. But it’s too dangerous for Chechens to come back.

In 1943 when Chechens and other people of Caucasus were forced to move from Kazakhstan, other people – Georgians, Ossetins, Cossacks from Kuban and Stavropol inhabited their lands. The local administration has declared the award – 5 rubles for a head of each Chechen, Karachai and other who will appear on their lands.

Hunting for wolves has begun in the middle of 20 century and continues till now …

Kanbolet Tuzarov, specialy for