The Pankisi Valley is situated in the Republic of Georgia. Once part of the Soviet monolith, Georgia became independent following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately the country turned soon in to a failed state where financial and political opportunists took advantage of the volatile situation.
Many of the Chechen refugees have suffered the consequences of the two major wars between Russia and Chechnya in 1994-96 and 1999-2000. For many of them life still is very complicated: they have to deal with financial problems, physical ailments and mental issues.
In the Pankisi valley there are no factories. The only source of income for them is the monthly allowance which they receive from the Government and occasionally some money from their relatives abroad.
The monthly allowance for the Chechen refugees is 28 Lari (about 17 US$). They need to pay 6 Lari (about 3.70 US$) for the electricity. They have 22 (about 13.5 US$) Lari to survive for one month. One kilo of sugar costs 2 Lari (about 1.20 US$) 1 litre of milk costs 3 Lari (about 1.80US$), the mini bus to the nearest town cost 1.50 Lari (about 0.90US$) one way.
They have been living in basic living conditions for the past 12 years. The lack of jobs create financial instability. Also the fact that it takes about 10 years to become a citizen of Georgia makes everything more difficult. Without a Georgian passport they cannot travel to a third country, nor access jobs. Many of them lost their original passport of simply it expired. Finally many of them cannot speak Georgian so it becomes more difficult to be integrated.
My main goal is to break down stereotypes about them. Many people in Georgia think that the Chechens are terrorist and the Pankisi Valley is a region only famous for lawlessness, kidnapping, weapons, drug running and a rise of Islamic extremism.
This is not the case, I want to show that the Chechen refugees deserve respect. They are trying to rebuild a life after it was shattered by war. Although they live in a harsh environment, they still manage to raise a family and pass on the elements of their customs and traditions to the new generation.
They have showed me great tenacity and honesty. They are very hospitable and their community contains a strong code of honor.
My responsibility is to make the public aware of the problems that they are still facing. I would like to produce an exhibition which can be shown around the world. Also I would like to be able to go back to Pankisi to produce enough images for a book.
I started this project in the summer of 2010 and then I worked there again from December 19, 2011 until February 22, 2012. I lived together with one of the refugees and we experienced daily life together.
I have also started documenting the lives of Chechen refugees in Istanbul and planning to extend my project to other countries in Europe.