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Afghan War Museum Commemorates Victims


FILE: Afghanistan activists protest against the former warlords and communist regimes of the 1980s and 1990s.

KABUL -- All Abbas Ahmadzai hopes for now is closure.

Like hundreds of thousands of victims of war in Afghanistan over the past four decades, Ahmadzai must shoulder his family’s tragedy for his entire life.

Now 40, he was just 6 months old when his father and uncle were taken from their home near the capital, Kabul, by Afghan intelligence agents. Zar Khan Ahmadzai and Gulab Khwazak Ahmadzai were never seen again after being seized by the Afghan communist regime in 1979 on the mere suspicion of being Akhwani -- supporters of Afghanistan’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

“They just vanished,” Ahmadzai told Radio Free Afghanistan. “My father was only 35 at the time.”

Ahmadzai’s family says their loved ones were buried alive like thousands of other Afghans who disappeared after the communist coup in April 1978. His mother never remarried and became a tailor to support her family.

Like other victims of Afghanistan’s various cycles of war, his father and uncle are honored at the newly opened Center for Memory and Dialogue in Kabul.

His father, who was a doctor, is remembered with a story inscribed on a white plastic board on top of a glass box showcasing his overalls, forceps, and scissors, as well as the needle and thread he used to stitch up the wounds of his patients.

The museum, home to scores of such memory boxes, is an effort to heal the invisible wounds of millions of Afghans who have endured violence, destruction, and displacement since 1979. More than 2 million Afghans are believed to have died in the fighting. Millions more were wounded while another 5 million were displaced. Before the outbreak of war in Syria, Afghans made up the largest number of refugees worldwide.

“My brother was only 12 when he was killed [during the civil war],” Horia Mosadiq, a top Afghan human rights researcher, told the gathering marking the opening of the center on February 14.

“He was not a combatant, and he was not involved in making any rockets,” she said through tears. “He was not involved in opposing any government. He was just a student.”

Months after seizing power by killing President Daud Khan and his extended family in April 1978, the Afghan communist regime resorted to enforced disappearances and killings. The atrocities provoked a rebellion, which turned into a global war after the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. The withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 paved the way for a brutal civil war in the 1990s.

The hard-line Taliban regime swept to power in the mid-1990s, but it was overthrown by a U.S.-led military attack following the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and injured since 2009. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most violent conflict regions.

As Washington attempts to negotiate peace with the Taliban, rights advocates hope for a just and lasting solution.

Richard Bennett, head of human rights at the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) in Kabul, says the memory boxes at the exhibition are significant.

“The center provides [a] poignant and timely reminder of the importance of memory, justice, and dialogue for reconciliation and sustainable peace,” he said.

Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, agrees. She says the center represents a step toward healing for Afghans who have endured some of the worst atrocities and humanitarian crises of modern times.

“The creation of such centers [museums] will encourage Afghans to forgive,” she said. “It will also help in ending violence and respecting human rights and commemorating the memories of many victims who never got a grave.”

The opening of the Afghanistan Center for Memory and Dialogue is the result of an eight-year project by the nongovernmental Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization.

Its workers held workshops nationwide to meet victims and their relatives, collecting stories and objects. The center now has hundreds of memory boxes with over 4,000 personal objects and stories.

“No peaceful future can be ensured without healing the wounds of the past,” Samar noted.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. 

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