The Pankisi Gorge lies beneath the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the Kakheti region of North-East Georgia. The region is inhabited by around 15,000 “Kists”, an ethnic group closely linked to the Chechens across the mountain border. Kists have inhabited the Pankisi Gorge from as early as the 17th century, having arrived in the valley in search of fertile land and to escape from tribal disputes over the mountains in Chechnya. Since then, Kist identity has developed to incorporate Georgian traditions and Kist people have peacefully coexisted in Georgian society.
The Pankisi Gorge entered into international headlines during the first Chechen war in 1994, when to escape the war that engulfed Chechnya, thousands of ethnic Kists living in Chechnya and Chechen refugees crossed the mountains seeking safe haven in the gorge.
These civilians were accompanied by bands of Chechen fighters, who used the Pankisi Gorge to regroup and train before returning to Chechnya to fight Russian forces. During the late 1990s, the Pankisi Gorge was considered a dangerous place, but in the early 2000s, with the help of the US and Europe, the Georgian Government intervened to pacify the escalating situation in the Pankisi Gorge. The Pankisi Gorge has now settled into relative calm and efforts to rebuild the links between Georgian and Kist societies is in progress.