Unbridled Freedom - Kabul 2003
Kabul in the summer of 2003 was a city buzzing with joy, hope, dreams of a new beginning and a grand future. Afghanistan was just emerging from the darkness of the Taliban tyranny into the sunshine, taking cautious but certain steps towards a better life. It was a special year, a fleeting moment of happiness.
I arrived in Afghanistan in February 2003 to start a job with the United Nations. That summer I spent almost every Friday meandering through various neighborhoods of Kabul, my camera in hand, looking to experience and better understand the Afghans and their way of life.
This photo ensemble speaks for itself, particularly when one understands that practically everything joyful in life, that we take for granted, the Afghans were forbidden to do by the Taliban, punishable by severe public beatings or death. These images symbolize the incredible energy and happiness I encountered wherever I went that summer.
Yet, it was short lived. By the following year the Taliban would begin their insurgency in earnest, fighting the international coalition in a quest to take back the country. I worked in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Already, by 2005, the general security situation had worsened.
Ten years later, in 2015, I returned to Kabul for a one-year stint with the UN. The country had transformed incredibly. There was astonishing progress on every level: health, education, women’s rights, law and order. Yet there was also progress for the Taliban, who were already in control of several provinces and were waging a relentless offensive against the coalition forces and their own people. Weekly suicide attacks were common and the civilian casualties, sometimes caused by coalition forces but more often by the Taliban, were in the thousands per year.
Five years on, the US and NATO forces abandoned the Afghans in the early morning hours, effectively handing the country over to the Taliban on a silver platter. On August 15, 2021, the Taliban once again entered and took Kabul. All that was accomplished over the past 20 years was extinguished within a few weeks.
Never again was there a time as pure and as carefree as the summer of 2003, an ephemeral moment when the burning desire of the Afghan people for peace, freedom and happiness was on full display.
This photo composition, consisting of 102 images taken in the year 2003 is designed to be minted as an NFT, non fungible token. The aim of this NFT is to help Afghan families evade Taliban persecution, regain freedom and start a new life in another country.
In the second week of August 2021, when it became frighteningly clear that the Taliban were just days from taking Kabul and Afghanistan, I contacted two of my former Afghan colleagues, Fardin and Najib (not actual names), to see how they were doing and what they were going to do. A few days later Kabul fell and the rest is well documented history.
I had worked with Najib back in 2003-2005 and with Fardin in 2015-2016. Both were drivers for the United Nations, where I worked as well, and we spent a lot of time together in UN vehicles driving through Kabul, engaged in many conversations. I got to know them and their families well. They are wonderful people whose limitless generosity, humility and friendship touched me deeply. Najib and his wife have four boys and three girls. Fardin and his wife have three girls and one boy.
The Taliban is actively going after Afghans who worked for foreign forces, the United Nations and NGOs, as well as journalists, police officers, women’s rights activists and other progressively minded individuals. Both Fardin and Najib were United Nations employees. However, what makes things worse and much more dangerous for them is that Fardin and family belong to the religious and ethnic Hazara minority, who are brutally persecuted by the Taliban. Fardin is also a journalist and has written many articles and essays on none other than Islamic Fundamentalism in Afghanistan and the region.
Najib and family hail from the Panjshir valley, home of the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud who successfully resisted the Taliban in the nineties and whose son is trying to do the same now. Additionally, one of Najib’s sons was a national police officer and the other worked for a women’s rights organization.
I wanted to help them. So I wrote recommendation letters, filled out visa applications for a few countries and put both families on humanitarian evacuation lists. I realized quickly that it is not in my power to get them out of Afghanistan. However, when they hopefully manage to exit Afghanistan they will need help to survive and sustain themselves wherever they end up. That’s when this NFT funding project came to light!
Why these two specific families? Because I know them personally, trust them with my life and want to help save their’s.
This photo composition was created to raise the means to help these two Afghan families. The owner of this NFT will be the benefactor who will help Fardin and Najib's families to a better life.
80% of the proceeds from the sale of this NFT will be dedicated to support both Fardin and Najib’s families.
The funds will be split in two, one half for each family and will be administered by me personally. I am not affiliated with an NGO, am not running a charitable organization and do not have not-for-profit status. I am just a person who wants to help two friends and their families and can only offer my word that every single penny of the proceeds will be used for them and nothing else.