Afghan music students granted asylum in Portugal

The Afghan National Institute of Music, renowned around the world for its tutelage, was left abandoned after the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August.

The group of 101 students, former students, faculty and relatives of those who went to the school were on the outbound flight – about one third of those connected to the school.

The musicians who have already been evacuated include most members of the all-female Zohra orchestra, the first in Afghanistan’s history and named after the Persian goddess of music.

Talking to AP news, the school’s founder and director Ahmad Sarmast was overjoyed that students and friends of the school had made it out of Kabul.

“We want to preserve the musical tradition of Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan”

“You cannot imagine how happy I am… yesterday I was crying for hours,” Sarmast said.

Sarmast, who is the son of conductor, composer and musician Ustad Sarmast, started fundraising for the institute in 2008 with the vision to bring music education to the most disadvantaged children.

The Afghan National Institute of Music was inaugurated in 2010, with a mission to use the “soft power of music in rebuilding a nation” after the Taliban was driven out in the early 2000s.

Sarmast wants to recreate the school in Portugal, where the students have flown to, and hopes other students, faculty members and relatives will be able to fly out of Kabul and join the others later this month.

“We want to preserve the musical tradition of Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan,” he added.

“[That way] we can be sure one day when there are better conditions… professional musicians would be ready to return and relight the music.”

The campus has been guarded by the Haqqani network since the takeover, which is designated an official terrorist group by the US.

In early September, journalist Jerome Starkey uploaded pictures to Twitter of drums and pianos that were destroyed at the school.

Taliban guards were insistent that “this is how they found them”.

Music was completely banned under the Taliban during the 1990s, and while the Taliban has tried to present itself as “less violent” than previous, it seems to be short-lived.

Mullah Nooruddin Turabi said in late September that the movement will “once again carry out executions and amputations of hands”, and women’s classes at universities and schools have still not resumed since the takeover.

The school continues to be a symbol of inclusivity for many Afghans and was seen as the face of what a new Afghanistan could be – the orchestra performed at venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall.

The students join thousands being evacuated from Afghanistan, including Chevening scholars who arrived in the UK in late August.

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