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Georgia – Syria: A Jihad route from the South Caucasus

The vast territories controlled by the ISIS in Syria and Iraq are believed to be the key hotbed of terrorism today. It needs to be analyzed why Jihadism is spreading there so quickly. More and more political experts tend to see a link between the steps the United States, Saudi Arabia and, possibly, Turkey have been taking in that region in recent years and the emergence of new terrorist organizations there. But this is not the only source the ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Horasan and their kind have come from.

One of the brooklets that formed the violent stream of Jihad in Syria came from a South Caucasus country lying hundreds of miles away from Syrian al-Raqqah and Iraqi Mosul, from a place that is reputed as one of the key nurseries of terrorism in the Caucasus, namely, from the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia. The Georgian authorities keep claiming that this area is no longer dangerous for the Georgians and their neighbors, but facts prove the opposite. Terrorism does not recognize state borders, even more, it scorns them. So, it was through the territory of Turkey that the yet unseen mixture of barbarianism and martial art seeped from Pankisi to the Middle East. Much has been said about the role Saddam Hussein’s officers played in forming the ISIS, but only recently some experts traced some Caucasian ancestry in that group. One of the founders of the ISIS was Tarkhan Batirashvili, half-Georgian, half-Chechen, who is now called Abu Omar al-Shishani, the commander for the Islamic State in Syria, who was one of the key players in the capture of Iraqi Mosul in June 2014.

Pankisi has not become the key supplier of fighters for the ISIS. The group has enough other suppliers worldwide, including some other provinces in the selfsame Georgia (mostly-Muslim Ajaria and mostly-Azerbaijani Kvemo-Kartli). But it is exactly there that some of the “Jihad generals” are from.

Some retired Georgian leaders are now trying to distract people’s attention from this fact by blaming the current Georgian authorities for doing nothing to prevent the flow of hundreds of Georgian fighters to Syria and Iraq. In Nov 2013, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared from his political asylum in the US to blame his successors for neglecting the flow of their citizens to Iraq and Syria and to claim that he personally is doing all he can to keep back the Georgian volunteers wishing to go to Ukraine to fight “separatists” and Russian “occupants.”

Though seeming to be antipodes at first look, Batirashvili and Saakashvili have much in common. Both hate Russia. During the “five-day war” in South Ossetia Batirashvili was 22-year-old Georgian soldier, while Saakashvili was the commander in chief. Today, after several years, Batirashvili is an ISIS commander in chief, while Saakashvili is an anti-Russian advisor in Ukraine. In fact, both do the same – spread terrorism and hatred. One is doing this in Iraq and Syria, the other from the United States.

Saakashvili’s frantic zeal to do a service to his American patrons in Jan 2012 was the last proof that convinced the latter of his political incompetence. Saakashvili offered the territory of his country as a training ground for Syrian rebels in exchange for offensive arms and NATO membership. This offer was absolutely unacceptable for the Americans. But the echo of it can still be heard from some experts and even some diplomatic sources. In Sept 2014, Foreign Policy relayed Saakashvili’s idea once again, referring to Georgian Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze (1). Later Gegeshidze was forced to refute his having said such a thing.

One look is enough to see that the Americans have lots of better places in the region for training Syrian Civil War and other “moderate” fighters – they can do it in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Jordan.

Once The Wall Street Journal told the world the story of how Georgian sergeant Batirashvili turned into a Jihad general. It was almost immediately after the meeting of Obama and Saakashvili in Washington on Jan 30 2012 that the future al-Shishani was set free from a Georgian jail and sent via Istanbul to Syria.

In fact, Batirashvili and Saakashvili are two victims of “the five-day war.” While Saakashvili was suggesting the Americans the idea to train Syrian rebels in his country, they in the Pankisi Gorge were training future “Jihad generals.” According to different sources, from 5,000 to 15,000 “holy war” fighters have been trained in Pankisi. Some of them have joined the gangs of the Caucasus Emirate, others have moved through Turkey to Syria. And it was there that in 2012 Batirashvili and his comrades formed one of the wings of the ISIS, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar. Now the Americans are planning to open training camps for the Syrian Civil War and to graduate some 5,000 fighters each year. As a result, we will get the selfsame 15,000 fighters, whom 400 American instructors will train for “fighting” the ISIS. So, we can see that the key actor in this endless Jihad - anti-Jihad circle is the United States, and it was the United States that has given birth to Jihad general Batirashvili and anti-Russian advisor Saakashvili.

The idea to train Syrian rebels in Georgia has been repeatedly speculated on in the press since Saakashvili first voiced it in 2012. But the current Georgian authorities are wise enough to distance themselves from what Saakashvili has ever said or done and not to yield to any foreign political provocations that may have dangerous consequences for their country. Even one hundred of “moderate” Syrian oppositionists in their territory may one day turn into one more hotbed of terrorism and, together with the Georgian mercenaries currently fighting in Ukraine, may even be used by Saakashvili for his comeback. Saakashvili has proved to be a bad army commander but quite a good promoter of the Ukrainian movement against the Russian “occupant forces.” There is one “job” some former politicians and acting Jihadists like to do – to dig pits of blood. And one of them Saakashvili is digging in Ukraine and Novorossia for his own Georgian citizens.

EAD Analysis

(1) John Hudson, Georgia Offers to Host Training Camp for Syrian Rebels // Foreign Policy, September 23, 2014.

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