The Pankisi Valley (Gorge)
The Pankisi Valley (or Gorge as it is often called) is about 10 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide. It is located south of the Georgian-Chechen border in the mountainous Kakheti region of Georgia. It is situated along the south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains where the headwaters of the Alazani River flow down though the woody mountains and foothills of the gorge. The Alazani flows 351 kilometres south into Kakheti’s famous wine region and eastwards into Azerbaijan before joining the Caspian Sea.
One of the biggest migrations of Vainakhs to the territories of Georgia and the southern slopes of the Caucasus took place in the 13th century after the Mongol Golden Horde occupied the steppes of the North Caucasus and turned the steppes into nomad territories.
A number of factors combined to force the Vainakhs to permanently leave their traditional lands during the 18th and 19th centuries to seek refuge in Tusheti, Pshavi, Khevsureti, Khevi and Pankisi in Georgia. Foremost was the economic hardship brought on by fifty years of military operations by Russia to conquer the Caucasus and secondly the tradition of blood feuds which formed a major part of criminal justice among Caucasian highlanders. The tradition of sharing pastureland (baytalvaakkhar) and strict Islamic influence under Shamil during the long resistance to Russian rule and constant invasions from Dagestani chiefs, further encouraged migration among Vainakhs. This highland region of north-east Georgia was marked by constant warfare and its habitants endured considerable economic hardships.
The Kists migrated from remote mountainous villages in northern Caucasus and settled in the valley between 1830 and 1870. It was around this time the new settlers became known as “Kists” to their Georgian hosts. Today’s Kists are Sunni Muslims. Despite assimilating to Georgian culture Kists have proudly kept their own customs and traditions refusing to assimilate with other north Caucasian nationalities such as Chechens and Ingush. They are typically bi-lingual in Georgian and Chechen, but also adept in Russian, and for official purposes declare themselves of Georgian nationality.
Many centuries ago the inhabitants of high mountain districts in north-east Georgia came into contact with Vainakh people who had left their homeland and found shelter in Georgia. The communities of Tusheti, Pshavi, Khevsureti and Khevi provided them with land and livelihood. In time the Kists established five village settlements in Pankisi Valley namely Duisi, Jokolo, Omolo, Dzibakhevi and Shua Khalatsani.
In more recent times since the departure of other ethnic groups such as the Ossets, Tush and Pshavs, the Kists have settled in Birkiani, Dumasturi, Khvemo Khalatsani and Zemo Khalatsani. Outside the valley smaller communities of Kists live in Shatili in the Khevsureti region, Akhmeta, Telavi and Tbilisi.
In the 1880s the Kists of the Pankisi Gorge appeared in the Georgian press. A Kist from Pankisi called Albutashvili wrote many letters which were published in the Iberia newspaper. He published his work in journals and produced a detailed historical and ethnographic survey of the region. In 1893 Albutashvili began working as a priest in the Saint George Church in Jokolo village after graduating from the Tbilisi seminary of clergy. He knew the Kists extremely well and made great efforts to raise their level of education.
Usup Margoshvili, another prominent Kist also from Pankisi, succeeded Albutashvili as a school director. Margoshvili founded the school in Duisi and wrote an unpublished manuscript on the Pankisi Gorge which later his daughter Leila Margoshvili, an ethnographer, used along with Albutashvili’s writings to write about the traditional and contemporary life among the Pankisi Kists.
The 9th century Georgian historian Leonti Mroveli gives an interesting account of the Vainakh or Dzudzuks peoples in his “Georgian Chronicles”, in which he mythologizes a common origin for the peoples of the Caucasus. According to historical sources, the Georgian and Dzurdzuk noblemen were linked by blood. Relations between the two were not always friendly and they fought numerous battles.
During the middle ages the Vainakhs came under the political and cultural influence of Georgia and Christianity. According to historical sources the Vainakhs and other North Caucasus tribes spoke the Georgian language and actively participated in Georgian-led military operations against foreign invaders and internal enemies, for which they were granted spoils.
The settlement structures differed for each ethnic group. The Kist migrants who descended from the same clan (teyp in Chechen language) would settle together in one district or neighbourhood (ubani in Georgian). Kists in the Duisi village started settling around the Baltagora Mountains but gradually moved closer to the banks of the Alazani River due to rapid growth in population. Today, all the Kist villages are situated next to the river.
Traditional form of group settlement was difficult where settlements tend to be scattered geographically in the valley. Therefore, Kist villages were divided into residential quarters where representatives of the same teyp lived closely together. Since the teyp indicates a blood relationship, intermarriage within the teyps is strictly forbidden even today. It was important among the Kists, Chechens and Ingush to have lots of men as guardians of the teyp because of the tradition of blood feud.
Nazy's Guest House
Republic of Georgia