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The Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, commented upon the out migration of youth from the Pankisi Gorge to Syria and the rising level of the ISIS problem. Mr Gharibashvili stated: "Our government has doubled and quadrupled interest toward the Pankisi Gorge. I would like to remind you that more than a hundred locals from the Gorge left for Syria before we came to power. After we took office, perhaps a very few juveniles went to Turkey. Later on, probably they moved to Syria. There might be three or four-to-five juveniles who have left. The problem of ISIS is a headache for the whole world and global leaders cannot find a solution on how to prevent and stop the movement of volunteers to Syria."

FactCheck

took interest in that part of the Prime Minister’s statement which concerns the number of youth who left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria and which underscores that a maximum of five individuals have gone to Syria under the current government’s rule whilst that number exceeded a hundred under the watch of the former government.

Initially, FactCheck

contacted the Prime Minister’s Press Service Office. The Office could not tell us the source of the information upon which Irakli Gharibashvili made the aforementioned statement.

Not a single governmental organ has official data about the exact number of Pankisi Gorge locals who are now in Syria. In 2015, we know that there were six juveniles from the Pankisi Gorge whose departure for Syria was reported by the media and confirmed by locals and members of their families. This does not include those individuals who were presumed to have left for Syria but came back to Georgia at a later time but declared that they had been in Turkey.

The following are some news reports:

12

January 2015 – The Kakheti Information Centre reported that Beslan Margoshvili, 18, left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria. However, as reported by the same media outlet, the aforementioned individual has returned to Georgia. As claimed by his mother, Mr Margoshvili told her that he had been in Turkey and had not moved to Syria.

2

April 2015 – Two individuals, Ramzan Baghakashvili, 18, and Muslim Kushtanashvili, 16, left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria. The Kakheti Information Centre obtained a photo of these two young men standing against the background of the flag of the Islamic State.

15

April 2015 – Jamlet Borchashvili, 18, left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria. Mr Borchashvili’s parents stated that their son had notified them on his intention to leave for Syria a week before.

1

May 2015 – Another minor, a 17 year old female, left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria. According to the last information of the Kakheti Information Centre, the underage girl was married to a Pankisi Gorge native, Beka Tokhosashvili, who fights in Syria for the so-called Islamic State. Beka Tokhosashvili left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria one year ago in 2014.

17

May 2015 – According to unofficial information, two young women left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria. This news was reported by internet agencies and Rustavi 2 TV.

According to the information of the Kakheti Information Centre based upon the narratives of Pankisi Gorge locals, approximately 50 youngsters have left the Gorge for Syria in the last three-to-four years (as stated by the editor-in-chief and the author of the Centre’s publications in a private conversation with FactCheck).

The identities of those who left the Gorge to fight in Syria are usually revealed after their deaths are reported. According to Conflictologist, Mamuka Areshidze, since 1995 more than 170 individuals have left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria and Iraq.

The Kakheti Information Centre has written that as of February 2015 there were nine juveniles from the Pankisi Gorge who had been killed in Syria. However, this information was soon after altered as the death of another individual was further reported. As of 28 June of this year, the death tally reached 12.

Conclusion

In 2015, there were six young people from the Pankisi Gorge whose departure for Syria was reported by the media and confirmed by Gorge locals and members of their families. Of the total number of fighters who left the Gorge for Syria, 12 were killed as asserted by the local population.

According to Pankisi Gorge residents, approximately 50 young people have left the Gorge for Syria during the last three-to-four years. Officially, not a single governmental organ has information regarding the number of Gorge natives who are fighting in Syria. The Prime Minister’s Press Service could not name the source upon which Irakli Gharibashvili made his statement. Therefore, it is unclear for FactCheck

as to the period in which the aforementioned 50 individuals (as claimed by the locals) went to Syria as opposed to the one hundred as claimed by the Prime Minister. Additionally, based upon the latest information we might presume that the number of individuals who have left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria is more than "four-to-five."

Taking into consideration the absence of official public information on the exact number of Pankisi Gorge natives who migrated to Syria and the unofficial numbers differing from each other (although none of the numbers matches that stated by the Prime Minister), FactCheck

leaves the statement of the Prime Minister without verdict and offers its readers only an analysis of the facts.