Does Georgia Have an In-House ISIS Problem?
The killing of an 18-year-old Georgian fighter in Syria has displayed Georgia’s homegrown radical Islam issue, just as this South-Caucasus country tries to contribute to the US-led efforts against Islamic-State terrorists.
Beso Kushtanashvili reportedly became the sixth Georgian to die fighting in Syria. Like all others, Kushtanashvili was from the largely Muslim Pankisi Gorge, an isolated area to the northeast of the capital, Tbilisi.
Whether or not he was fighting for ISIS is not clear. Villagers from the Pankisi Gorge told Georgian television channels that they last saw Kushtanashvili at a summer high-school graduation party before he left for neighboring Turkey. Friends and relatives say they are clueless about how he ended up in Syria.
Earlier on, one Pankisi resident Leila Achishvili lost two of her sons in the Syria war. She told Rustavi2 TV that she had travelled all the way to Syria to beg her sons to come back.
“I was telling them that this is not our war,” Achishvili told Rustavi2. She said that she even met Tarkhan Batirashvili, the Pankisi native who, under the name of Omar al-Shishani, commands a unit within the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The US recently placed Al-Shishani on its black list of terrorists.
No official information has been released about the number of men who have gone from Pankisi to fight for the so-called Islamic State or other radical Islamic groups.
A Pankisi local told EurasiaNet.org that about "50-60, no more" had gone to Syria to fight, but emphasized that the momentum for such migration has died down.
But the situation — Azerbaijan also has experienced an outflow of would-be fighters — might suggest that Georgia has some matters to tackle at home before setting up any anti-ISIS training center for its Western allies, as it reportedly has offered to do.
The Georgian government has denied, at least in part, Foreign Policy’s report about that alleged offer, but the publication still stands by its story.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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