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Commemoration in the Basement: Kabul’s hidden war victims museum (2)

Commemoration in the Basement: Kabul's hidden war victims museum (2)


Abbas Ahmadzai in entrance of the reminiscence field for his ‘disappeared’ and later confirmed killed father and uncle at AHRDO’s Kabul warfare victims museum. Photograph: Thomas Ruttig.

With the Afghanistan Centre for Reminiscences and Dialogue, a brand new museum devoted to the victims of the Afghan wars of the final 4 many years and their households has opened in Kabul in February this yr. It was initially presupposed to be housed within the capital’s landmark Behzad cinema however now’s confined to a provisional venue. In a follow-up to AAN’s first report on the museum (“Peace in The Air, However The place Is Justice? Efforts to get transitional justice on the desk”) that appeared on the absence of the topic of justice from the present effort to discover a peace deal for Afghanistan, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig seems to be at how inner politicking and lack of worldwide help had the museum ending up in a basement on this reportage.

“That is my father. I used to be about six months previous once they took him away.” Abbas Ahmadzai is a cumbersome Pashtun of forty years from Logar province with a brief stubbly beard. He factors to an previous portrait photograph that’s printed on a board in Kabul’s museum for the victims of Afghanistan’s wars over the previous forty years, which opened on 14 February this yr. 

Ahmadzai doesn’t know why the intelligence service of the communist regime (1) that had come to energy a few yr earlier, in April 1978, determined to arrest not solely his father Zarkhan but in addition his uncle Gulab. Did they converse derisively concerning the new regime, or had they been too spiritual for the fiercely atheist regime? There have been many causes at the moment for the regime to declare somebody enemy of the state, because it quickly provoked armed, although initially principally spontaneous, resistance and noticed enemies all over the place.

“My father was a nurse, my uncle a easy farmer. And of my uncle there’s even not a photograph anymore,” he says and begins crying. “For a very long time, we didn’t know what occurred to them. Solely after 35 years we discovered they have been killed.”

The reminiscence field for Zarkhan and Gulab Ahmadzai on the AHRDO warfare victims museum in Kabul. Photograph: Hadi Morawej (AHRDO).

Each names have been on an inventory the overall prosecutor of the Netherlands had acquired through the course of an investigation towards an Afghan man who had acquired asylum there; later, different Afghans recognised him as the top of the intelligence service’s interrogation division (AAN reporting right here). (The person died two weeks earlier than his deliberate arrest.) The listing had the names of four,758 individuals arrested in 1978 and 1979. Subsequent to the names have been their professions, locations of delivery and the “crimes” the federal government accused them of. All have been enemies of the state, divided into classes: “insurgent,” “Muslim Brother,” “Maoist,” “Royalist,” follower of deposed and killed President Daud or of Sufi chief Sebghatullah Mujaddedi (AAN obituary right here), who had simply declared jihad towards the federal government, or “counter revolutionary,” for members of a rival faction of the ruling celebration, the novel leftist Individuals’s Democratic Social gathering of Afghanistan (PDPA). The record confirmed the deaths of the individuals talked about on it. Now it has been became a frieze that snakes alongside the partitions of the museum, and Abbas Ahmadzai was one of many dependents of the warfare victims who had been invited to its opening. 

In entrance of the tableaus summarising the tales of victims and their surviving relations, Nik Mohammed Sharif is sitting at a tough picket desk. There are rusty chains utilized in Kabul’s infamous Pul-e Charkhi jail. Sharif who’s from Khewa in japanese Afghanistan and is known as “Physician” by everybody as a result of he had initially studied drugs earlier than turning into a human rights activists, is studying aloud the narrative of his incarceration and first interrogation from a couple of handwritten pages. “First they took my oldest brother Dawood. Then me and the opposite brothers. First they beat me with a cable.” Abruptly, Nik Mohammad Sharif bounce up, grabs a bit of cable that’s thicker than a finger,  and hits the desk with it. The smash makes individuals standing round cringe. Some audibly moan. “‘Inform us names!’ I didn’t say something. Then they fastened electrodes on me. The torture went on for hours…” They have been twelve brothers, Nik Mohammed Sharif says, sufficient for a soccer staff, which they certainly have been. A show instances exhibits a blurred colored photograph from 1977: a few of the Baradaran, “the brothers,” because the group was recognized, of their green-white striped jerseys, all with huge jet-black hair and most of them with moustaches. “Six of us didn’t survive,” says Sharif.

Behind a divider, the exhibition turns to the time of the mujahedin rule and their factional wars, between 1992 and 1996. Throughout that point, Afghanistan’s cities have been destroyed, people who had survived the Soviet occupation comparatively unhurt. This was notably the case in Kabul. Of the a part of the town during which the museum now discovered its domicile, Karta-ye Chahar, solely ruins have been left when the Taleban took over in 1996. The streets have been lined with charred and chopped off tree trunks, soiled youngsters have been enjoying on the rubble, and people households that had not fled have been dwelling in basements.

Within the third a part of the exhibition, reflecting the time of the Taleban regime (1996–2001 in Kabul, although differing in different elements of the nation) and the interval after its demise, there’s a giant glass vitrine full of vibrant however torn and charred garments and footwear. They belonged to the victims of the 23 July 2016 terrorist assault towards a primarily Hazara demonstration for higher electrical energy provide to their space of origin, the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan. It reminds one vividly of an set up in Berlin’s Jewish Museum, a memorial for the holocaust of the European Jews: a pile of footwear of Jewish youngsters despatched into the fuel chambers within the Nazi extermination camps in Japanese Europe.

The July 2016 assault occurred not removed from the place the museum now’s; 80 individuals died and greater than 200 have been within the first massive assault the Afghan department of the Islamic State (Daesh) took duty for. When everybody had taken seats within the museum’s convention room after the opening tour of the reveals, a younger man received up and advised about his fiancée, Nafisa Bahar, who was killed that day. He solely was capable of determine her by the engagement ring he had given her six months earlier. It was discovered on her hand that had been severed from her physique by the explosion.

Hadi Marifat was additionally among the many demonstrators that day however remained unhurt bodily. The sympathetic man together with his wavy lengthy black hair is likely one of the creators of the museum. Nonetheless a youngster when the Taleban have been toppled, he engaged in actions for human rights and democracy in Afghanistan. That is additionally the identify of his organisation: Afghanistan Organisation for Human Rights and Democracy (AHRDO). Marifat and his AHRDO colleagues had labored on the museum venture, formally the Afghanistan Centre for Reminiscence and Dialogue (ACMD), for eight years. Financed by the Open Society Basis and the German Bosch Basis, the workforce interviewed lots of of relations of victims of the atrocities dedicated beneath the PDPA, mujahedin and Taleban regimes and of the on-going post-2001 struggle. Then relations have been requested to donate one thing the killed had owned or would have liked. These have been saved in so-called reminiscence bins. Over 300 gadgets have been donated through the years. Abbas Ahmadsai had introduced a easy brown shalwar kamis his father as soon as had worn. 

Outwardly, this Kabul venue of reminiscence for Afghan conflict victims can’t compete with the massive, architectonically excellent museum in Berlin. As well as, it’s situated within the basement of a two-story constructing in Kabul’s west. No signboard factors it out, and earlier than getting into one is searched by an armed guard. Moreover, the museum is a provisional association in a rented home. As a matter of reality, a everlasting constructing for the museum, and an impressive one, had already been designated: the previous Behzad cinema in Chendawol within the centre of Previous Kabul. Inactive and dilapidated because of the wars, and later a sufferer of the inflow of cell phones, laptops and different film-viewing devices, it was not solely a key cultural centre of pre-war Kabul however was additionally architectonically uncommon, certainly one of as soon as 4 constructing countrywide in what Mustafa Nouri of Aga Khan Improvement Community in Kabul calls the “Italian modernist fashion.”

Kabul’s shahrwali – the mayor’s workplace – had already assigned the constructing for the challenge, Marifat advised AAN. Solely the signature of then President Hamed Karzai was lacking, and he refused it. Karzai didn’t need to enrage the warlords related together with his authorities, who have been imposed on him by the US authorities within the first years after its army anti-Taleban intervention through which these strongmen had been the native allies. They refuse to this present day to confess that additionally they dedicated human rights abuses and conflict crimes throughout their struggle towards the Soviet occupation and through the subsequent factional wars and don’t permit any grain of mud to smudge the self-styled immaculate image of their resistance wrestle. Ismail Khan, the previous regional strongman of Herat, had informed him personally that he had urged Karzai to not permit the museum to be established, Marifat says. 

That it was not past use was proven in 2012 when the cinema turned the venue for a efficiency that was a part of a worldwide main artwork exhibition, the Kassel (Germany) Documenta 13, which included artwork tasks that includes Afghanistan (see AAN visitor dispatch right here; and a photograph right here). 

Regardless of these odds, the reveals within the provisional Kabul museums and dialogue centre emanate the identical robust message because the museum in Berlin or Tuol Sleng, the memorial for the hundreds of thousands slain by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

A jihad and a warfare victims museum in Herat

AHRDO’s museum in Kabul is neither the one nor the primary of its sort, aiming at memorialising the lack of life and destruction over 4 many years of warfare. A stark distinction, each aesthetically and conceptionally, is the Manzar-e Jihad in Herat, sponsored by Ismail Khan, provincial governor of Herat (1992–95 and 2001–04). Situated in Bagh-e Mellat (Backyard of the Nation), it was erected on a website the place, based on the Afghanistan Justice Undertaking, a mass grave from the Individuals’s Democratic Social gathering of Afghanistan’s regime’s first interval (1978-79) has been discovered.

Another form of public memorialisation: picture of late Ahmad Shah Massud on a rickshaw in Herat (2019). Photos: Thomas RuttigOne other type of public memorialisation: image of late Ahmad Shah Massud on a rickshaw in Herat (2019). Photographs: Thomas Ruttig

Overlooking the town from a hill, the museum is a polygonal construction; its outer marble partitions are adorned with hundreds of names of commanders, mujahedin and civilians killed within the jihad – the battle towards the Soviets between 1979 and 1989. It resembles a spot of worship, and certainly guests should put on plastic covers over their footwear, virtually as in a mosque.

The names will not be solely from Herat or wider western Afghanistan, of which the town is the regional centre the information – a serene younger man with sharp facial options and a neatly trimmed brief beard sporting camouflage uniform – explains. Throughout the entire tour, he doesn’t smile as soon as or lay down his Kalashnikov rifle. “No, I used to be not within the jihad,” he says. “I used to be younger then.”

The memorial is embedded in a park with almond timber and rose bushes; on this gray February afternoon, it’s too early to for them to bloom. There, a colleague of the information, in the identical type of outfit and armed as nicely, is clipping the roses for his or her spring progress. Between the greenery, weapons are on show, from old style heavy machine weapons and recoilless weapons to a Soviet assault helicopter full with large-calibre rotating machine cannons underneath its wings and an entire MIG fighter aircraft. The one civilian seen is the ticket vendor, an previous man in a cranium cap who slowly shuffles to his sales space upon our arrival.

The army outlook of the place continues inside. There, a big assortment of weapons, grenades and mines used each by the attackers and the attacked (and considerably unrelated, some from earlier wars, towards the British) fill vitrine after vitrine. Then, the exhibition turns into a big gallery of honour for many who sacrificed their lives to drive out the Soviet occupiers. The most important portraits, all painted, are of well-known commanders, from Ustad Zabihullah, a former faculty instructor who was Atta Muhammad’s predecessor as head Jamiat chief in Balkh province, to Abdul Haq who, a number of months earlier than 9/11 and the US-led intervention, went into Taleban-ruled Afghanistan to incite an rebellion and was caught and hanged. Additionally, portraits of ex-President Hamed Karzai’s father Abdul Ahad, assassinated by the Taleban in Pakistan in 1999, and Ismail Khan’s son Mir Wais Sediq are on show, the latter though he was killed solely in 2004 in preventing between Ismail Khan loyalists and pro-Karzai teams after his father’s removing from Herat. These are adopted by a big assortment of pictures of various styles and sizes of foot troopers and civilians. They don’t seem to be referred to as victims however shahidan (martyrs).

Lastly, a spiral staircase results in the spotlight of the present, a diorama depicting scenes from the conflict of resistance and atrocities dedicated by the Soviets and the Khalqis. In a single scene what the museum’s organisers have referred to as “enlightened Muslims” are massacred on a website named Bagh-e Faramuz Khan. and thrown in a mass grave. Translating as Faramuz Khan’s Backyard, the unique website on the western edges of Herat metropolis had been added to a army set up by an earlier authorities and turned by the Khalqi regime right into a infamous interrogation centre. “From there, many individuals didn’t return” in accordance with Abdul Qader Rahimi, regional director for western Afghanistan of the Afghanistan Unbiased Human Rights Fee (AIHRC). Different scenes present the March 1979 Herat rebellion towards the Khalqi authorities, rural ladies serving to the fighters with hiding weapons and, lastly, a withdrawing column of the Soviet military. No phrase could be discovered concerning the factional wars that adopted the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Najibullah authorities three days later through which the mujahedin, within the eyes of many Afghans, misplaced their resistance aura.

The exhibition has a robust style of character cult. It isn’t solely sponsored by however can also be centred across the individual of Ismail Khan, who styled himself because the amir – resistance chief – of western Afghanistan throughout and after the jihad. He additionally claims to have led the 1979 Herat rebellion throughout which, being a captain within the authorities military (therefore his unique title Turan Ismail), he switched to the mujahedin. Analysis exhibits, nevertheless, that a lot of the rebellion was spontaneous and there was not a single supreme chief. A big set up of wax figures within the museum exhibits him standing up alone among the many different mujahedin leaders cowering subsequent to him and receiving his steerage. 

Ismail Khan’s jihad museum is a part of the formally permitted memorialisation of the jihad. Others memorials embrace the tombs of Ahmad Shah Massud in his native Panjshir Valley or the central chowks (junctions) in Kabul named after him, that of Abdul Haq (who additionally has a memorial in Logar the place he was captured) and of Abdul Ali Mazari. In Kabul, there’s a giant mine and weapons museum established by mine-clearing NGOs. Smaller memorials dot the countryside throughout Afghanistan, corresponding to the straightforward metallic plaques for Mawlawi Nasrullah Mansur in Paktia (allegedly killed by Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami) or the various destroyed Soviet tanks alongside rural roadsides, now became youngsters’s playgrounds or typically used extra virtually. For a few years, a whole pile of tanks and armoured personnel carriers served as a bridgehead for a destroyed river crossing in Jabl al-Seraj, north of Kabul.

Memorial for mujahedin leaders Mawlawi Nasrullah Mansur in Paktia, assassinated in Zurmat (Paktia) in inter-factional fighting in 1993. Photo: Thomas RuttigMemorial for mujahedin leaders Mawlawi Nasrullah Mansur in Paktia, assassinated in Zurmat (Paktia) in inter-factional preventing in 1993. Photograph: Thomas Ruttig

These memorials that don’t glorify only one celebration – and ignore their victims – have it far more troublesome. Therefore the lengthy wrestle to determine the Kabul ACMD which, virtually symbolically, is housed hidden in a basement. Or Herat’s second memorial, a bit museum within the foyer of the town’s Afghanistan Unbiased Human Rights Fee workplace. It additionally has a photograph gallery and reveals, like a Soviet area phone utilized by the Khalqi intelligence to torture prisoners, as AIHRC regional director Abdul Qader Rahimi explains. It additionally accommodates a big assortment of often-unique printed materials, from Soviet propaganda posters to mujahedin publications that also await systematic scrutiny. In any nation, it will appeal to researchers however, as Rahimi says, his organisation lacks funding to help this or a greater show. This could have been a part of the Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan Motion Plan, a three-year motion plan targeted on transitional justice that expired earlier than most of its actions could possibly be carried out, one other failure of the ruling elites and donor nations to honour all victims of Afghanistan’s wars of the final 5 many years.

The worldwide group’s absence

On the opening of AHRDO’s warfare victims museum in Kabul. Photograph: Hadi Morawej (AHRDO).

Aside from the UN, no diplomats attended the museum’s opening. “We invited all of the European embassies and people of Japan and South Korea,” Marifat stated with a bit smile. “Solely the Danes and the British apologised.” The museum is perhaps outdoors the restricted sphere through which diplomats are allowed to journey in Kabul. However their absence additionally displays that, regardless of some help notably instantly after the Taleban regime had been ousted, transitional justice was too typically too simply pushed into the background by political issues. Many Afghans nonetheless keep in mind UN particular envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s dictum that one might both have peace or justice, and diplomats’ warnings to “not rock the boat” through which Karzai and the warlords sat in a less-than-stable coalition. This allowed members of the Afghan parliament – from the few former leftists to the various Islamic conservatives and Islamists – to award themselves an amnesty for struggle crimes and human rights violation in 2008. The Nationwide Reconciliation, Basic Amnesty and Nationwide Stability Regulation – higher referred to as the ‘amnesty regulation’ – got here into pressure two years later(AAN evaluation right here). Consequently, after a vehement begin, with the 2005 “A Name for Justice” report of the Afghanistan Unbiased Human Rights Fee (AIHRC) during which hundreds of Afghan respondents rejected blanket impunity, the formidable Transitional Justice Motion Plan pale into oblivion and remained largely unimplemented. Even now, it’s troublesome to publicly commemorate struggle victims who weren’t killed by Afghan and Soviet communists. AIHRC head Sima Samar, who’s attending the opening and has supported the challenge, fears that, once more, human rights is perhaps relegated to backstage in the course of the on-going US-Taleban talks to finish the Afghan warfare.

When UNAMA’s human rights chief Richard Bennett, a New Zealander, remarks throughout his speech, which thus far has sounded a bit too official, that there’s an empty show field on the finish of the tour via the museum, Samar smiles. “Somebody observed,” she appears to assume. Bennett feedback that he hopes the field will stay empty. However the modifications his want might come true are small: Outdoors the memorial the warfare is ongoing. It’s now creating extra victims – civilians and army – than another struggle worldwide.

Edited by Ehsan Qaane, Kate Clark and Sari Kouvo.

This reportage appeared first in German in Tageszeitung (Berlin) on 25 February 2019 underneath the title “Kriegsmuseum in Afghanistan eröffnet: Die Vitrinen von Kabul,” hyperlink right here. This model has been barely edited and the half about Herat been added.

(1) Abbas Ahmadzai referred to as the intelligence service “KhAD” (Khedamat-e Ettela’at-e Daulati, State Info Service), a reputation that has turn into generic for the intelligence providers of subsequent Afghan governments. Even presently, the post-2001 Nationwide Directorate for Safety (NDS) is usually referred to colloquially as “KhAD.” Truly, the intelligence service on the time of his father’s and uncle’s ‘disappearing’ was referred to as AGSA (De Afghanistan de Gato Satunki Edara, the Administration for the Safety of the Pursuits of Afghanistan).