The Kist people's origins can be traced back to their ancestral land in lower Chechnya. In the 1830s and 1870s they migrated to the eastern Georgian Pankisi Gorge and some adjoining lands of the provinces of Tusheti and Kakheti. Named "Kists" (ქისტები) in Georgian, they are closely related culturally, linguistically and ethnically to other Nakh-speaking peoples such as Ingushes and Chechens, but their customs and traditions share many similarities also with the eastern Georgian mountaineers.
Around the same region of Georgia, there is also a related but still different community of Nakh origin called Bats.
In 1886, a total of 2,314 Kists were recorded as living in Georgia. In the Russian Imperial Census of 1897, there were 2,502 Chechens living in Georgia, of which 2,397 lived in the Tionetskiy District (which included the Pankisi Valley). In the Soviet Census of 1939, the number of Chechens living in Georgia was recorded at 2,533 people.