Friday, October 31, 2014

German-Afghan Photography Exhibition

Welcome Remarks of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
To the United Nations
German-Afghan Photography Exhibition
“Afghanistan: The Land and its People” by Helmut R. Schulze

Ladies, Gentlemen, distinguished friends and colleagues, thank you for joining us. I am honoured and proud to welcome you to the opening of this stunning exhibition.

It is not often, in my official capacity, that I am able to speak of the joys of my country. And so, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to my good friend Ambassador Mattusek for the inspiration and effort of co-hosting this exhibition, and to Mr. Helmut Schulze for giving me the opportunity to share and celebrate my country with all of you.

Germany and Afghanistan have always had strong relations based on mutual respect and understanding. This new exhibition, exquisitely portraying Afghanistan through Mr. Schulze’s photographs, is yet another example of this invaluable partnership. Germany has been actively involved in efforts to regain security and stability in Afghanistan, and has also given a home to thousands of our citizens. As reflected in this exhibition, these efforts, along with those of the international community, are allowing Afghans to continue to live their lives with some normalcy amidst great upheaval. And for that, I thank the German government and people sincerely.

Photographs transcend time, exposing our past and present, and carrying with them a message about what our future may hold. And Mr. Schulze’s photos do not suggest a desolate future; rather, they evoke the Afghanistan that I am proud of, a nation of hope, magnificence, and survivors. These photographs have created an opportunity for the voiceless and heretofore unseen of Afghanistan to share a bit of their story.

Not only do these photos show the enormous physical beauty of Afghanistan, but they also show the long history of Afghanistan and the depths of its people. Afghanistan’s stunning landscapes have attracted millions of admirers, and for good reason; the surreal eloquence of the diverse and ancient landscapes captured in this exhibition speak volumes. But Afghanistan’s beauty goes deeper than Mr. Schulze’s superb photographs; it is a land also rich with minerals such as copper, iron, and other natural resources, and famous for the fruits of its fields. The wealth of potential hidden within these beautiful landscapes can, and should, offer an opportunity to pull Afghans out of poverty.

These photographs also show a country with a long and complex history. As the journalist Jason Goodwin once wrote, “This is a region that has swallowed civilizations, and sent the sands to seal them up.” Afghanistan was first inhabited 50,000 years ago, and developed its first agrarian society 20,000 years ago. From the ancient Greeks, to Persians, to Moghuls, Bhuddists and Muslims, many civilizations have been born, met, interacted, and merged there. Afghanistan’s past constitutes a global heritage, one that is reflected in the people and the landscape.

In Afghanistan, tradition and modernity regularly meet and live side-by-side, sometimes complementing and sometimes resisting one another. Just a short way from here, the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays in another medium the legacies of these cultural presences and exchanges. And while this rich history cannot rescue us today, it can provide us with an important foundation for looking towards the future.

Unfortunately, the uglier side of Afghanistan’s history and present circumstances cannot and should not be ignored. The last thirty years of Afghan’s past have been largely characterized by “fire and blood”, as we say in Dari, stained with the presence of consecutive foreign occupations, internal conflicts, and eight regimes, all of which were overthrown by violence. My country is often solely represented through depictions of a hostile wilderness pillaged by endless war; girls losing their faces to acid spray; explosions of people and cars; widows, orphans, disabilities. But the things that we read, see, and learn about Afghanistan, the legacies of decades of conflict, are not the only things to know.

Afghanistan’s long history would be nothing without the Afghans themselves. History has shaped and been shaped by its people, and is reflected in the faces, lives, hardworking attitudes and shared destiny of its diverse inhabitants. Despite enduring wounds of war, poverty, and hardship, Afghans continue to work patiently and to the full extent of their abilities towards a better life.

These photographs transport me and many of my compatriots back to the Afghanistan we have known and are proud of: far from the bitterness of bad news, an Afghanistan with high mountains, a rich culture, and an enduring people.