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Pankisi Valley (2:01) Excerpt from film "Greetings From Grozny" July 2002
The Pankisi Valley, a no-man's-land in the Northeast of Georgia, has become home to Islamic rebels, radicals, and refugees.

Country: Chechnya
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  • Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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    Guiding Questions
    1. Describe the community featured in the film clip. How does this film clip show the complexity of the situation in Chechnya? The difficulty of defining the makeup of rebel forces?

    Background Essay
    The Pankisi Valley, a no-man's-land in the Northeast of Georgia, has become home to Islamic rebels, radicals, and refugees. The Georgian authorities have largely abandoned the Pankisi to the Chechen rebels, and the rising power of fundamentalist Islam in the area is cause for international concern.

    Small but fiercely independent, the republic of Chechnya has been involved for years in a war for self-determination against Russia. The ruined cityscape of Grozny and the scarred roads and fields of the countryside are evidence of a conflict that has been marked both by brutal occupation and terrorist resistance.

    In 1991, General Jokhar Dudayev, leader of the separatist party, was elected as president of Chechnya and promptly declared Chechnya's independence from the Soviet Union. This declaration of independence was not accepted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who at the time was trying to build a new regime. After a failed attack by the Russian counter-intelligence, Yeltsin directed Russian troops to invade Chechnya in December of 1994. Russian forces seized Dudayev's presidential palace. Despite this and other Russian strategic gains, the rebel attacks continued. Russia momentarily appeared to gain an upper hand in April 1996, when Russian forces killed the Chechen president in a missile attack.

    A peace agreement was signed in August of 1996 that postponed consideration of Chechnya's political status until 2001 and recognized de facto independence. Unfortunately, internal conflicts between rival Chechen warlords continued, despite the introduction of varied means of control, including Islamic Sharia courts. In 1999 Russian mounted a second, extended, military intervention in the area in an attempt to reclaim Grozny and weed out rebel fighters. Russian forces instituted a campaign of zachistki - "clean-up operations" - among the civilian population, resulting in the disappearance or death of hundreds of Chechen civilians. Many of them fled the area. Russian attempts to convince Chechen refugees that they can safely return to their homeland are ongoing, but, set against a backdrop of ruined cities, mined fields and an ever-changing security situation, have not met with success.

    The Wide Angle film GREETINGS FROM GROZNY is a journey that leads the viewer behind the lines on both sides of the Russian-Chechen conflict. Film crews accompany Russian troops on "cleansing missions" through residential districts of Grozny, and spend 24 tense hours at a Russian checkpoint. They also go undercover in the border regions where there is evidence that radical Islam increasingly motivates Chechen fighters, and provide glimpses into the webs of special interest woven around this horrific conflict by the United States, the Wahabist Muslims and the Georgians.

    In the high north-east corner of Georgia lies the Pankisi valley.

    Even before the Chechen war, this was something of a no-man's land, favored by drug smugglers and criminals as their base of operations. But during the war, thousands of heavily armed Chechen rebels and refugees trekked across these mountains into the valley, making it a sub-plot of the war for Chechnya.

    Now, the Georgian authorities have abandoned the Pankisi to the Chechen rebels. Islamic Radicals, rebels and refugees can all live here more or less openly.

    Western journalists and aid workers have been taken hostage here.

    During our visit, there were plenty of heavily armed men wandering the streets, but we were not allowed to film them.

    Islamic law is enforced. There is no alcohol in the kiosks. There are no women with their heads uncovered, or in pants.

    There have been persistent rumors that members of al Qaeda -- perhaps Bin Laden himself might be hiding in the Pankisi.

    What on earth would Bin Laden be doing here? He's probably back in his own country. And god bless him. I know he hasn't done anything wrong.

    Osama Bin Laden is a fairly well-known and well-respected person among many of our Mujahadin fighters and of course maybe some of our people might have met him somewhere, maybe. But I don't think he or al Qaeda have any influence in Pankisi. It's ridiculous.

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