IWPR, EurasiaNet, and BBC Azeri publish my pieces on radicalisation in the South Caucasus


Following on from my work with various international bodies responsible for countering radicalisation and the recruitment of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF), EurasiaNet and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) have published my pieces calling for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) measures in Georgia while my recent BBC Azeri piece includes Azerbaijan.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) did so in July, and have also quoted me in a few pieces since, while EurasiaNet published my commentary on the need for CVE in August:

In his paper, Folklore and Terror in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, Paul Manning, a professor at Trent University in Canada, recounts a joke told by locals: “Georgia – you know. It’s near Pankisi.”

Home to 8,000 ethnic Kists, a Muslim minority group related to Chechens in the North Caucasus, Pankisi is a picturesque valley just 10 kilometers long, situated in northeastern Georgia. The gorge gained a notorious reputation as a refuge for militants during the Chechen wars of the 1990s and 2000s, a perception fueled by an influx of refugees from Chechnya to the region. Now, security concerns are reemerging, as the gorge is seen as a seedbed of potential recruits for militant groups, including Islamic State.

Estimates cited by the US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism put the number of Georgians fighting in Iraq and Syria at up to 100. Thirteen men from the Pankisi Gorge are known to have been killed in action. The highest-profile Pankisi-born militant fighting in Syria is Tarkhan Batirashvili, also known as Abu Omar al-Shishani, a senior Islamic State military commander.

To address security threats in Pankisi, official policy in Georgia to date has mostly focused on promises of economic development. Authorities have also taken steps to prevent would-be militants from traveling by tightening border controls. But such measures are not sufficient.

A factor that is pressing Tbilisi to improve border controls is United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, a measure adopted last September to make it tougher for jihadists and other types of militants to travel to conflict zones to fight. A key element for the successful implementation of Resolution 2178 remains missing in Georgia – namely programs that are classified as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Such measures are designed to prevent radicalization by engaging local communities and non-governmental actors in countering extremist narratives. To do so, CVE programs aim to empower youth and families, as well as local religious, cultural and educational leaders.

The BBC’s Azerbaijan service also published another piece in September which looked at the situation in Azerbaijan as well. Both pieces also quote academic research on the matter. The English version of the BBC Azeri piece is here.

Children jump over puddles on the pock-marked street outside the mosque in Duisi, a small village situated in Georgia’s scenic Pankisi Valley. Inhabited by 8,000 ethnic Kists, a minority group related to the Chechens of the North Caucasus, Pankisi is also home to refugees from Chechnya who fled during the wars of the 1990s and 2000s.

Women dressed in in colourful chadors circumvent the water-filled holes caused by years of neglect while others have their heads uncovered or simply obscured by traditional Kist head scarves. Young men are also diverse with some clean shaven and others sporting long, but religiously-symbolic beards indicative of an increasing divide between local culture and imported Salafist ideology.


Estimates cited by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism put the number of Georgians fighting in Iraq and Syria at 50–100. Thirteen residents from Pankisi are known to have died. Neighbouring Azerbaijan also faces a problem with radicalisation as well, with most foreign fighters attracted to the Islamic State, as is the case in Georgia.”

At least 272 Azerbaijanis have been involved in the conflict since 2012 and there are likely at least 100 more so I’d estimate between 400 and 500,” says a prominent Washington D.C-based analyst who writes on Azerbaijanis fighting in Syria for Jihadology.net and is quoted by media such as The Economist and Radio Free Europe under his blogging handle, North Caucasus Caucus.

“In terms of motivations, the Azeri cases are not that much different than the vast majority who go to Syria,” he told BBC Azeri. “Often they have connections to those who already went or they are young people looking for purpose.”


Increasingly CVE practitioners repeat such concerns in other countries, including in the U.K. where there is the growing need to empower local communities as well as the victims of terrorism and disillusioned former radicals to tackle the problem instead of solely interdictive and punitive measures implemented by the government.

“We must all rise to the challenge of responding to the corrosive appeal of violent extremism by promoting tolerance, mutual respect, pluralism, inclusion, and cohesion,” declared the OSCE at the launch of United in Countering Violent Extremism, a new campaign among the organisation’s 57 participating states.

My piece for IWPR is here, for Eurasianet here, and for BBC Azeri here (English version here). Another piece is coming soon, but until then, for more on the OSCE’s #UnitedCVE campaign see here.

Onnik James Krikorian is a freelance journalist, photojournalist, fixer, media consultant, and trainer from the U.K. currently based in Georgia and contributes to the BBC’s Azeri Service, IWPR, EurasiaNet, and others as well as holding workshops and trainings in conflict-sensitive journalism and social media for journalists and civil society activists from the South Caucasus. From 2007-2012 he was the Caucasus Regional Editor for Global Voices Online and has covered conflict in the region since 1994. 

He has been a speaker and participant in expert working group meetings, seminars, and conferences on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), Counter Narratives, and Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) organised by the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), Hedayah Center, International Center for Counterterrorism – The Hague (ICCT), the OSCE office in Tajikistan, and the OSCE Transnational Threats Division.

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