Musicians flee Afghanistan for fear of Taliban rule

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More than 100 young artists, teachers and their relatives affiliated with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music fled the country on Sunday, a Taliban target for their efforts to promote girls’ education. said.

According to the school’s head Ahmed Nasser Sarmast, the musicians, many of whom have been trying to leave for more than a month, boarded a flight from Kabul’s main airport and arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha. Who is currently in Australia. In the coming days, they plan to resettle in Portugal, where the government has agreed to grant them visas.

Sarmast, who opened the school in 2010, said in a statement, “This is already a huge step forward and a huge achievement on the way to saving Afghan musicians from the brutality of the Taliban.” “You can’t even imagine how happy I am.”

The musicians join a growing number of Afghans who have fled the country since August, when the Taliban tightened their control over the country amid the withdrawal of US forces. Among those who have survived in the arts and sports world are members of a women’s football team that resettled in Portugal and Italy.

Nevertheless, hundreds of the school’s students, staff and alumni remain in Afghanistan and face an uncertain future, amid signs that the Taliban will move to ban non-religious music, which they previously held from 1996 to 2001. Was banned outright while leading Afghanistan.

A global network of school supporters, artists, philanthropists, politicians and teachers plans to continue working to get the remaining musicians out of Afghanistan. “The mission is not accomplished,” said Mr. Sarmast, an Afghan music scholar. “It just started.”

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma helped raise awareness of the plight of musicians among politicians and other artists. He said he was “trembling with excitement” at the news of some of them having fled.

“It would be a terrible tragedy to lose this essential group of people who are so deeply inspired to make a living tradition part of the world tradition,” Mr Ma said in a telephone interview.

Of the musicians stranded in the country, he said, “I’m thinking of them every hour of the day.”

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music was a rarity: a coeducational institution dedicated to teaching music from both Afghanistan and the West, mainly for students from poor backgrounds. The school is known for supporting the education of girls, who make up about a third of the student body. The school’s all-female orchestra, Zohra, toured the world and earned widespread acclaim, and became a symbol of Afghanistan’s changing identity.

The school has faced threats from the Taliban over the years, and in 2014 Mr. Sarmast was wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber.

Since the return of the Taliban to power, the school has come under renewed scrutiny. Mr. Saramast and the school’s supporters have worked for weeks to help drive students, alumni, staff and their relatives out of the country fearing for their safety. The government of Qatar helped arrange a safe passage for the musicians to Doha, and was instrumental in negotiating with the Taliban.

Several students and young artists affiliated with the music institute said in interviews with The Times in recent weeks that they were staying inside their homes for fear of being attacked or punished by the Taliban. Many stopped playing music, hid their instruments and tried to hide their affiliation with the school. He requested anonymity to comment for fear of reprisal.

In the final days of the American War in Afghanistan, supporters of the school, along with their relatives, led a frantic and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to evacuate the approximately 300 students, faculty and staff affiliated with the school. The operation was supported by prominent United States politicians and security officials. At one point, the musicians sat in seven buses near an airport gate for 17 hours, hoping to board a waiting plane. But the plan failed at the last minute when the musicians were not able to enter the airport and fears of a possible terrorist attack increased.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have sought to promote an image of tolerance and restraint, vowing not to retaliate against their former enemies and saying that women should be allowed to work and work “within the limits of Islamic law”. will be allowed to study.

But they have sent signals that they will implement some tough policies, including culture. A Taliban spokesman recently said that music would not be allowed in public.

“Music is forbidden in Islam,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an interview with the Times in August. “But we’re hoping that instead of pressuring people, we can convince them not to do it.”

John Bailey, an ethnologist at the University of London who has studied cultural life in Afghanistan, said it would be difficult for the Taliban to completely eradicate music in the country, after years in which the arts were allowed to flourish.

“You have literally thousands of young people who grew up with music,” he said, “and they’re not going to stop like that.”

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