Out of the Shadows

Thursday, 18 November 2021

All 272 members of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music's community airlifted out of Kabul and en route for a new home in Portugal

Members of ANIM community leave Kabul for Doha, Qatar, on November 11 (photo: courtesy of ANIM)
Members of ANIM community leave Kabul for Doha, Qatar, on 11 November (photo: courtesy of ANIM)

"Music education and performance is vital in rebuilding a war-torn country and contributing to the establishment of a just and civil society." - Dr Ahman Sarmast

Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, son of the late well-known Afghan composer, conductor, and musician Ustad Sarmast, founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010 as a direct counter to the war-torn country's lack of resources for teaching what has historically been and important and vibrant part of Afghan culture. The school, where students are taught Afghan and Western classical music as well as receiving a general education, was a great success, with ensembles such as the Afghan Youth Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and Zohra, the all-women orchestra.

This was threatened when the Taliban took over the country again in August, and the Taliban’s top spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told the New York Times that because music was “forbidden in Islam,” it would “not be allowed in public,” and the Taliban “hoped to persuade people not to listen to it.”

Since 2 October 2021 there have been a series of airlifts from Kabul airport, and recently the fifth such has taken place which means that all 272 students, faculty, staff and family members from ANIM are currently in Qatar, en route for Portugal where they have been granted asylum and plan to rebuild the music centre.

Performers from ANIM in concert
Performers from ANIM in concert

The rescued ANIM community encompasses both master musicians like Ustad Rasool Azizi, who at 85 years old is a leading exponent of traditional Afghan music on the tanbur, down to the young students including including violinist Gulmeena Khushdi, aged 20, who commented, "The Taliban took away our freedom and all our rights. We did not even have a safe place to live. Now we have our freedom back, I hope to live my life and pursue my dream of becoming a successful musician."

The whole project has been a complex international one, involving  the State of Qatar, which provided aircraft, diplomatic assistance and temporary accommodation, and the government of Portugal, where ANIM community members have been granted group asylum, as well as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductor Daniel Barenboim, and other members of the artistic community, as well as politicians, philanthropists, diplomacy experts, military veterans and pro bono lawyers.

Further information from the ANIM website, where it is also possible to donate to help support them.

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