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Moscow Babylon March 6, 2002
 
The Pankisi Whore
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
 
Page 6 of 7
 
The Georgians have been supporting the Chechen separatists. Now they're bringing in the Americans with the aim of splitting their new alliance with Russia and drawing the Superpower into their muddle, to use them like they used Russia and squeeze as much cash and military cover as they can manage before squandering it all on the next civil war.

Even so, Russia provides nearly all of Georgia's oil, electricity, heating, gas and so on, in spite of debts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Russians are just too goddamn nice for this cruel and heartless world.

* * *

Back to the Pankisi Gorge. I described it as a ditch, a gutter, and a sandbox all for one simple reason: I'm probably the only Western journalist who flew into Tblisi, stayed in Tblisi, filed a story in Tblisi, and left without getting within 100 kilometers of Pankisi -- and folks, FYI, Tblisi is roughly 100 km from the Pankisi Gorge.

Before coming out on assignment for my hometown California newspaper, in a post-poppy fit of paranoia, I called some Georgian journalists and asked what they thought about going into the dreaded Pankisi Gorge.

"Don't even think of it," Alyona, from Black Sea Press, told me. "No one goes there without accompaniment by a parliamentary security detail. The kidnappings are serious, and now with Al Qaeda and Danny Pearl..."

I contacted my editor, who told me to just stay in Tblisi and keep far from the bug-infested gorge.

Only a certain thin English journalist I know taunted me when I let my cowardice show: "show some grit, ames.what are you, some kind of toothless limey limpdick?" he wrote.

Just before leaving, I got an email from California: "Patrick Tyler from the New York Times got in the Pankisi Gorge." He left the "and I expect you to as well, even though you're getting paid negro wages for this" unsaid. Patrick Tyler? The same graying golf-preppy who works with horse-sperm-pie lover Michael Wines? He went into Pankisi?

It got worse. At the airport in Tblisi, I met a tall aging American hippie cameraman from CNN who was also planning to head up to Pankisi. When I told him I was from the eXile, his face twitched and his ponytail started slapping at imaginary flies near his neck. I've grown used to that look of utter loathing from our detractors -- it's what gets me up in the morning.

"CNN? Oh! You guys did a one hour documentary on the eXile," I chirped.

"On the eXile?!" he snapped. "No, you don't know what your talking about."

"Yeah, you did. A one hour documentary."

"No," he said more loudly, "you DON'T know what you're TALKING about."

"Yes you did. You guys filmed a one hour documentary, you followed us around for weeks."

"I work at CNN. You have no idea, I mean NO IDEA, what you're talking about! I would know!" By this time his ponytail was whipping into his glasses, and he was stamping his left foot madly.

"Do you want to bet?" I asked.

For the final sword into the heart, a CNN producer stepped in, confirming what I'd said. The hippie neighed loudly, apologized, acted friendly and self-deprecating, then stormed off to the $250/night Sheraton Metekhi Palace.

Two days later, that hippie, along with diminutive left-handed correspondent Jill Dougherty and their crew of Gore-tex-armored yuppies, were in Pankisi. A day earlier, lowly Alice Lagnado of the Times UK, half my height and ten years my junior, had slipped in to Pankisi. She'd offered me a chance to join her, but I missed the ride and stayed in Tblisi to interview officials for the assignment. (The next day, in a drunken incident I don't recall, I apparently threatened to kill Alice, a threat she said she took seriously.) Every journo I bumped into had a Pankisi Gorge warless-tour-tale. The NTV crew I flew out with and the TV Tsentr crew I flew back with all made it up to Pankisi, tagged it, and ran back. All told me the same thing: it's incredibly quiet, nothing to see, and narrow as hell.


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Ames
Browse author
Email Mark Ames at editor@exile.ru.
 
 
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