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Pankisi Teen Reportedly Threatened After Refusing To Join IS In Syria


The recruitment of teenagers to IS has sparked anger and concern in Pankisi, and accusations that there is a network whose members are actively recruiting Pankisi's ethnic Chechen Kists to join militant groups abroad.

The recruitment of teenagers to IS has sparked anger and concern in Pankisi, and accusations that there is a network whose members are actively recruiting Pankisi's ethnic Chechen Kists to join militant groups abroad.

A teenager from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia has reportedly received death threats after refusing to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group.

Georgy Borchashvili, 19, told Georgia's Rustavi-2 TV channel this week that unnamed Chechen men had threatened him.

"The Chechens are coming after me and saying that I should go to Syria. Otherwise they say that they will cut my head off and kill me. They're threatening me...the authorities should take note in case these people do something to me," Borchashvili was quoted as telling Rustavi-2.

Borchashvili's claims come after two other teens from Pankisi -- Muslim Kushtanashvili, 16, and Ramzan Bagakashvili, 18 -- traveled to Syria via Turkey to join IS earlier this month.

The recruitment of Kushtanashvili and Bagakashvili to IS has sparked anger and concern in Pankisi, and accusations that there is a network whose members are actively recruiting Pankisi's ethnic Chechen Kists to join militant groups abroad. Some residents of the gorge have complained that the government have failed to put in place effective measures to stop those who are recruiting young people to militant groups like IS.

Community leaders and the boys' parents have blamed the Georgian authorities for allowing the teens to fly to Turkey without questioning them. The boys' parents have also said they are trying to find out who recruited their sons to IS.

In the aftermath of the two teens' recruitment to IS, Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri has pledged to punish anyone caught assisting Pankisi residents to travel to Syria.

"Regarding the Pankisi issue, there is no new information. We are working [on it]. I don't want to announce anything. We are conducting an investigation. I promise the public that all those who conduct propaganda for terrorist activities and promote sending young people to Syria will be punished," Gomelauri was quoted in the Georgian media as saying on April 20.

Anger In Pankisi

Although 16-year-old Kushtanashvili was not the first Pankisi resident to go join IS in Syria, his recruitment has been the final straw for many in the gorge, who are furious that a network of IS recruiters is luring young people to their deaths in the Middle East.

Georgian journalist Gela Mtivishvili, who heads the Kakheti Information Center media agency, told RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus earlier this month that the recruitment to IS of Kushtanashvili was a step too far that angered many in Pankisi.

One Pankisi resident, Elizbar Margoshvili from Duisi village, accused the IS recruiters of exploiting inexperienced Pankisi youth as "cannon fodder," sending local village boys to their inevitable deaths. "Most of those traveling to Syria have no idea what a weapon is, they don't know how to shoot, most of them have never been farther than their own villages," Margoshvili told the Georgian media.

Margoshvili's accusation that IS cynically sends young, inexperienced men to their deaths in Syria is all the more chilling because this is the very tactic that Pankisi's most famous -- or infamous -- IS recruit has been accused of employing. IS's military commander in Syria, Umar al-Shishani or Tarkhan Batirashvili, is notorious for sending new recruits with no battlefield experience out to the front lines to die, according to one of his former associates in Syria.

Mothers Against IS

The Georgian government has proposed some steps to help stem the outflow of its citizens to Syria, such as criminalizing recruitment to groups like IS, though some analysts have doubted whether such measures will be effective.

Meanwhile, some Pankisi parents have decided to take matters into their own hands.

A newly formed grassroots organization, Pankisi Mothers For Saving Their Children, aims to counter the networks that are recruiting young men to IS and has so far attracted an army of about 150 local women, according to Voice of America.

The group still believes that the Georgian authorities should do more to deal with the problem, however.

"There are groups working with young people to convince them to go [to Syria]. An example of this was the recruitment of the minor [Kushtanashvili]. Someone influenced him. It would be good if law enforcers would take timely measures," Meka Khangoshvili, one of the founders of Pankisi Mothers For Saving Their Children, told the media.

Both Pankisi residents and the Georgian authorities are keen to track down those involved in the shadowy network who are recruiting Pankisi youth to IS.

Georgian journalist Gela Mtivlishvili, who was summoned to the Interior Ministry's Counterterrorism Center for questioning as a witness on April 17, has reportedly handed over video footage of a meeting in the village of Jokolo of those involved in sending Pankisi youth to Syria.

Mtivishvili believes that about 70-80 young people from Pankisi have gone to Syria. His Kakheti Information Center has documented 10 Pankisi residents who have been killed in Syria. The 10 were named as: David Sviakauri, 24; Israfil Tsatiashvili and his 21-year-old brother Jabrail Tsatiashvili; Guram Gumashvili, 22; Beso Kushtanashvili, 18; Ruslan Machalikashvili, 36 (also known as Seyfullakh al-Shishani, a prominent military commander whose group is part of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra); Khalid Achishvili, 24; Khamzat Achishvili, 26; Rustam Gelayev, 23; and Abdul-Malik Mutoshvili, 23.

Of those killed, only Gelayev's remains were transported back to Georgia for burial.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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