A project with Maximilian Mann
The Pankisi Valley is usually a quiet place in northern Georgia. Located between the mountains of the Caucasus and the Alazani River, nine villages form the community of Pankisi. But by the calm appearance of this beautiful landscape, one would never know that the small region near the Chechen border was internationally known as “The Valley of Terror”. During the Chechen crisis in the 90s, the valley was a safe haven for refugees but also a hiding place for smugglers and militants. The American government even speculated Al-Qaida forces being in the surrounding mountains, and in 2016 about 50 young men from the local villages joined ISIS in Syria.
The whole region still suffers from this bad reputation. About 8000 people live in the local villages, the majority of them being Kists – a very hospitable Muslim minority which originally fled from Chechnya around 200 years ago. Despite their challenging past, most villagers dissociate themselves from radical beliefs and try to attract investors for the valley. Slowly but surely change is coming to the region around the Alazani River. Guesthouses, cultural events and traditional craftsmanship bring economic growth and stability – a foundation for a better future.