With USAID Support, Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge Builds Connections Through Community Journalism

Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Mari interviews local residents to gather information about recent events.
Pankisi Times

The Georgian region of Pankisi Gorge is famed for its spectacular natural beauty.  Located between the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the north and wine country to the south, Pankisi is home to lush rolling hills contrasted with snow-capped mountains.  It’s also home to the ethnic Kists, a Sunni Muslim minority group with a long history of peaceful interaction with neighboring regions.  This interaction was disrupted by the lawlessness of the 1990s and early 2000s, causing Pankisi to be stigmatized and largely isolated from the rest of the country.  The lack of integration has hampered economic development and rendered the region vulnerable to malign influences.

USAID supports efforts to integrate Pankisi into the wider society, recognizing the need to strengthen communities and enable local residents to contribute to Georgia’s overall development. That’s the motivation behind USAID’s Pankisi Community Links Activity, an initiative to build social and economic bridges both within Pankisi and with the rest of Georgia.  One of the activity’s notable success stories is Pankisi Times, a youth-led news platform that promotes understanding between Pankisi and the wider world. The platform, supported by a small grant from the American people, counters the disinformation and distrust that has contributed to the region’s recent isolation.

Mari Kavtarashvili, the managing editor of Pankisi Times, is a young journalist from the village of Kvareltskali. With a lot of hard work and a little support from the American people, Mari is helping tell the story of Pankisi. She recently told us about her work, her future ambitions, and what she finds inspiring about local journalism.

What inspired you to get into journalism?

I wanted to share my opinions and attitudes with the world. As a representative of a small ethnic minority community in Georgia, I wanted to show that my people are loving and interesting people. Also, it’s a chance to listen and learn from others, and communicate what I learn as news. It’s simply great life experience!

What is your goal for Pankisi Times? What impact has it had on your community?

When we got together to talk about Pankisi Times’ goals, we discussed the general situation in Pankisi, and what we as journalists wanted to do. The main goal was to break the stereotypes about Pankisi, talk about our identity and culture, and to share factual information with others.

How does Pankisi Times function as a source of accurate information for members of the community?

Pankisi is a very small area and we all know each other. Information spreads very quickly and as journalists we always try to cover all the questions raised on the case. We, at Pankisi Times, were delivered a USAID-sponsored training course on how to process information and to answer five basic journalistic questions- what, why, where, when and how.

How do you get accurate information for your stories?

To get accurate information we visit locations where events of interest took place, and we interview people who were involved. Also, we meet with village elders and decisive people in the region, and we interview them to get more information and backstory.

How does Pankisi Times give voice to the people of Pankisi? Outside of Pankisi, who is your audience?

Our audience is anyone who is interested in our lives. It’s an English-language online platform that is accessible to anyone, especially those interested in Georgia and its diversity!

If there was one story that you would tell the world about Pankisi, what would that story be?

As we all know, there are lots of negative things that pop up whenever Pankisi is mentioned. Journalists usually come to Pankisi when it comes to the global problem of terrorism and the Syrian war, and they mostly look for the connection between Pankisi and the aforementioned problems.

I would say that Pankisi is a very beautiful place, full of humble, honest, and friendly people. Frankly, this place is full of positive things, and my story is to speak truth about our unique culture. Khaso Khangoshvili was the first person to write a book on the history of the Kist people, called “Kists”. Much like Khaso, my story would be about our culture, and the historical background that makes us, the Kists, a unique and interesting people.

 

 

Last updated: April 27, 2020

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