Linda Gunashashvili, 18, Pankisi

„My twin sister and I were born in Chechnya. We were very small when the war broke out and our parents took us to Georgia together with other refugees. Since then we have lived in the Pankisi Gorge. Now there are already six siblings in the family. My father works in Ukraine and supports us from there.

Our religion is Islam. Recent developments in the world have discredited Islam. I have not read the Quran to the end, it is rather difficult, but from what I have read, I have concluded that Islam is one of the most tolerant religions. It is just used for ill intentions. I have heard that in some Muslim countries girls are prohibited to study. This is not right either, because I have read that Islam is the religion of educated people and the people who follow it should be educated as well. So I think that education is necessary for the girls living in Pankisi.

History is my favorite subject at school. I want to become a historian. I am also interested in archeology but this profession is not of much use in Pankisi. And, most importantly, I want to continue studying at the music conservatory.

My twin sister and I sing in the ‘Pankisi’ group of singers. We sing both folk and European songs. I am not sure whether you know that according to Wahhabism, singing is prohibited. My uncles, who are followers of this ideology, think that we should not be on the stage, but I love singing very much and I think that everyone should have their own opinion and do whatever they think is proper. You see, I do not even wear a headscarf because if you wear a headscarf you have to give up singing but I cannot live without music.

I remember when I first appeared on stage. I was so nervous that I could not sing well. Then I sang in Pankisi, in this hall for guests from Tbilisi. They liked it so much that asked me to sing again. Since then I have not been scared of the stage or audience. We often have tours in Georgia. We have had concerts even in Chechnya and Turkey. When we have performances in different parts of Georgia, people come and tell us that they thought we were different but they could see that in fact we were ordinary children. Because of our religion and recent negative developments in Pankisi, they think that we are rather reserved and do not come into contact with the Georgians.

Actually this was really so in the past, but frequent contacts with the Georgians and joint events have contributed to our closer relationships. When they see during concerts that we are people just like them and we also love music and entertainment, their views of Pankisi change drastically.

Several years ago, I wanted to take part in the show X Factor but they did not accept me. Probably they had much more talented candidates or they had special requirements for their show. But I will sing on a stage for a large audience, no matter what! If I cannot do it in Georgia, I will go to Europe and sing there. Right now it seems an impossible dream but we’ll see…

I do not think that my faith will be the obstacle that will keep me from achieving my goals because I believe that people in Georgia understand that they should respect all religions and they should love everyone because love is that matters most in this world.“