Towards Effective Policies to Tackle Youth Radicalization in the Pankisi Gorge

USAID

Immediately after returning from Istanbul, where I held a workshop for Georgian, Abkhazian, and Ossetian journalists for the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) and Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), I spoke at a closed meeting on youth radicalisation in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge.

The meeting, attended by civil society and government officials, is a much needed first step towards tackling the problem in earnest and the organisers, the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) and IWPR are to be applauded for doing so. As the meeting was closed I can’t go into any details, but can at least post information about the event as well as my presentation slides.

As was the case at last week’s UNODC counterterrorism expert group meeting in Vienna, I started my presentation with a positive image from Pankisi. I also used quotes from some of the experts in counter radicalisation and counterterrorism that I’ve had the privilege to interview recently to further support what I spoke about.

Towards Effective Policies to Tackle Youth Radicalization in the Pankisi Gorge

Recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris brought back to the media and political spotlight the theme of the Pankisi Gorge, an enclave situated in North-East Georgia on the border with Russia and mostly inhabited by Kists, an ethnic minority group related to Chechens. Earlier media reports of several dozen to hundreds of local inhabitants, including teens, having been recruited, and some killed, in the ranks of ISIS while fighting in Syria have raised concerns about the threats of youth radicalization in what is a predominantly fundamentalist Muslim community, and has led to calls for government intervention, including via more effective youth policies. Pundits believe that the Pankisi issue is not only about law-enforcement and counter-terrorism, requiring interdiction of smuggling of Pankisi residents as Foreign Terrorist Fighters at the border, but it is first and foremost about ideology and pro-ISIS propaganda that must be countered though comprehensive social policies, the media and preventive measures in the community.

To help address these issues, ACCESS plans to hold a government-CSO Policy Forum that aims to bring together a narrow policy community – government decision-makers (both responsible for youth policies and security), Pankisi- based CSOs and issue-area experts in an open and problem-oriented dialogue over the youth situation and policies in the Pankisi Gorge. On the one hand, the Forum will give an opportunity to ACCESS grantees working in the Pankisi Gorge (Kakheti Regional Development Foundation, Civil Activities Center, and Center for Security and Development) to directly communicate with the policy-makers, and share their insights and recommendations on the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. On the other hand, government officials with competences on youth policy and schools will inform the audience about their activities and future plans, and receive feedback for improvement from local CSOs with hands-on experience. An international expert will also share his vision on what Georgia can do to counter youth radicalization.

Representatives from security sector will also attend.

The Forum is meant to improve the policy-making process over the issues facing the Pankisi Gorge by building a policy consensus and communication between the government and the CSOs. The event will be closed to the media and limited to a smaller target group of participants in order to avoid a damaging publicity and promote sincere discussions between policy-makers, local CSOs and experts.

Program Outline

Introductory remarks
ACCESS Chief of Party, Mrs. Tamuna Karosanidze

Presentations by CSOs (ACCESS grantees) and Experts
Problems and recommendations: youth radicalization, religiosity and socio-economic difficulties in the Pankisi Gorge

Mrs. Tamar Bekauri, Kakheti Regional Development Foundation (KRDF)

Mr. Gela Mtivlishvili, Civil Activities Centre

Mr. Onnik James Krikorian, a British journalist and media consultant contributing articles on youth radicalization in Pankisi to Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)

Mr. Vladimir Lozinski, an American former international news producer, founder of Pankisi Times and Roddy Scott Foundation English Language Program in Pankisi

Presentations by Government Officials
Schools, Education Programs and Policies in the Pankisi Gorge

Mrs. Lia Gigauri, Deputy Minister of Education and Science (TBC)

Youth policies, programs and activities in the Pankisi Gorge, Mr. Nugzar Kandelaki, Head of Youth Affairs Department, Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs

Civil integration of ethnic minorities and the Pankisi Gorge, Ms. Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, First Deputy State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality

Interventions by representatives of other public institutions

Mr. Tengiz Shergelashvili, Deputy Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure

Q&A & Round-Table Discussion

Other Attendees:

Ministry of Internal Affairs

Crisis Management and State Security Office under PM

State Security Agency

Office of National Security Council under President

Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure

State Agency on Religious Issues

Ministry of Defense

Board of Georgian Public Broadcaster

Office of Public Defender of Georgia

NGO “Chaikhana”

European Center for Minority Issues (EMC)

Georgian Center for Security and Development (GCSD)

Open Society Institute – Georgia Foundation (OSGF)

Partnership for Human Rights

For background information on radicalisation in Georgia, please see the English version of my recent BBC Azeri piece on Democracy and Freedom Watch

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