More than 100 music students and teachers have fled Afghanistan in a nail-biting flight from Kabul, fearing a crackdown by the Taliban, their institute’s founder and principal said.
The Taliban, who swept back into power on Aug. 15, banned music during their rule from 1996 to 2001.
Fearing a crackdown on music, 101 members of Afghanistan’s top music institute landed in Doha, United Arab Emirates, on Monday evening, Ahmad Sarmast said.
Photo: AFP / Afghanistan National Institute of Music
The group, about half of them women, plan to fly to Lisbon with the support of the Portuguese government, said Sarmast, who founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, but now lives in Melbourne.
However, the success of the operation was in doubt until the last moment, Sarmast said.
With help from the Qatari embassy in Kabul, the musicians had been ferried in small groups to Hamid Karzai International Airport, he said.
First, Taliban personnel at the airport questioned their visas, but Qatari embassy officials managed to resolve the problem.
Then, the girls and women were told that they could not leave the country with their temporary “service passports,” which are usually issued to officials.
“My understanding is that it was not so much the type of passport, but that the girls were fleeing the country,” Sarmast said.
Once again, Qatari officials managed to negotiate their passage.
When the flight finally took off hours later with the musicians, including many from the all-female Zohra Orchestra, Sarmast said that he was overcome with emotion.
“It was a time of many tears. I was crying endlessly. My family was crying together with me. That was the happiest moment of my entire life,” he said.
“The feeling and the happiness when I heard that their plane took off the ground is very hard to describe,” he said, adding that the flight was the result of long planning since the Taliban takeover.
“From the moment the Taliban took power in Kabul the discrimination against music and musicians began. The people of Afghanistan were silenced once again,” he said.
The Taliban have promised a more moderate brand of rule this time — although they have made clear that they will run Afghanistan within the restrictive limits of their interpretation of Shariah law.
The movement’s position on music is inconsistent and no clear order has yet been issued. For example, at a Taliban rally outside Kabul last weekend, religious music was played ahead of speeches by ministers and senior Taliban figures.
The Taliban have told the institute’s members to stay home until further notice, but nearly two months later, they have not been given more information, Sarmast said.
The escape from Kabul was just the first phase, Sarmast said, vowing to work until all 184 remaining faculty and students, past and present, are evacuated and “reunited with the rest of the school.”
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