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2019/Georgian Group about Faith

Interview of Eka Arveladze from the Georgian Group after the Training Course in Armenia "Face2Faith" 2019


The most important motivation for those who join the Salafi-jihadist movements in Georgia is the barriers facing Muslim communities in the country, impeding their political and socio-economic integration. Add to this the narrow autonomy of Muslim political institutions and the religious conflict between Muslims and Orthodox Christians.

Unlike the North Caucasus and Azerbaijan, where the majority of the population is Muslim, Muslims in Georgia represent a religious minority (about 10.7% of the population). Moreover, Georgia's Muslim community is ethnically diverse (comprising Azeris, ethnic Georgians, Kists and Avars) and incorporates various Islamic communities (Sunnis, Sufis, Shiites and Salafis). Eighty percent of the population considers themselves Orthodox Christians, and Orthodox Christians are the main force in Georgia's politics. Despite its compactness, Muslim settlements are close to Christian villages.

The Salafist-jihadist movement came to Georgia in the mid-2000s and became particularly popular among youth in the Pankisi Gorge and in communities where ethnic Georgians reside in the Adjara region. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, about 50 to 200 citizens have left Georgia to join the Salafi-jihadist groups in the conflict zone. About 30 of them died in hostilities in 2011. Most of the fighters who left Georgia are Pankisi Kists, but there are also reports of fighters from ethnic Georgian "eco-migrant" villages and Azeri villages.

In addition to the economic problems (unemployment, poverty, underdeveloped infrastructure) that plague the rural population of Georgia, Muslim communities have to deal with the additional socio-political barriers that have traditionally hampered their integration. Georgia's Muslim minority is not proportionally represented not only in government, but also in the services directly responsible for resolving religious issues. Because of isolation, low levels of development, and in some cases language barriers, Muslim communities have had little reason to suspect that even involvement in Georgia's political system could change their lives for the better. It was against this backdrop that the Salafi movement of Islam gained popularity, especially its jihadist wing, which refuses political involvement in favor of violence.

The rise of the Salafi movement of Islam in Georgia's Muslim communities has also created internal tensions. While the older generation of Muslims is more in favor of so-called "traditional" Islam (Shiite Islam, Sufism, or the Sunni trend), young believers are attracted to Salafi Islam. At the same time, Georgia's Muslim officials directly support the "traditional" course of Islam to suppress Salafism, which in turn shows the general perception that they are not impartial and are under the influence of the country's security service. Although in recent years the individual level not observed any serious confrontation Salafism followers and the other on the progress of Muslims, of a multi-ethnic regions of the inhabitants of Muslim and Orthodox Christians (especially Adjara, Guria and Samtskhe-Javakheti) between opposites which is increasing, which salapitur jihadist movement pouring fuel on the fire.

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