The Kists of Georgia

This Google Map shows the heartland of the Kist people in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. The Kisti are ethnic Chechens and speak the Kistian dialect of Chechen (as well as, these days, Georgian).

They migrated to the Pankisi valley from Chechnya in the mid-C19th, probably to avoid pressure to convert to Islam. At that time, they professed their own Vainakh faith, which contained syncretic beliefs with pre-monotheistic roots and an admixture of Christianity. The location of a pre-Christian Anatori Jvari shrine sacred to the Kists is shown, with a blue pin, on the map.

Kist villages are shown with green pins on the map. A high proportion of the Kists of the village of Birkiani are Christian. At Jokolo, there is a church dedicated to St George and there was formerly a chapel in Omalo. Kists attend the annual Alaverdobi harvest festival at the Georgian Orthodox monastery of Alaverdi each September. Those Kists who have left the Pankisi valley and settled in Georgian towns such as Telavi tend to assimilate as Georgian Orthodox Christians.

For the most part, however, today the Kists are Sunni Muslim, albeit with an unorthodox colouring. The Kists’ main place of worship is the Sunni mosque in Duisi. There are three other modern mosques, constructed from 1996-2001 with outside finance. Duisi also has a shariat court. In these circumstances, it is likely that there will be tensions within the Kist community between those wanting to apply a strict interpretation of Islam and those with syncretic leanings or who are Christian.