In an urgent effort to flee persecution, a group of anonymous Afghan artists penned an open letter to President Joe Biden and other European political leaders seeking evacuation from the country following the Taliban regime’s takeover.
Artists at Risk, a global nonprofit organization founded as an affiliate of the Finnish arts platform Perpetuum Mobile to aid artists in conflict zones, delivered the letter on Monday to Biden. The letter’s other recipients included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
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Fearing for their rights, the signatories wrote, “Artists of our generation have become bloodied symbols of artistic integrity, abjuring extremism, upholding freedom, democracy and human rights. We have continued to fight against their [Taliban’s] dark mentality.”
In lieu of signatures, the anonymous writers—which included journalists, poets, and painters—provided photographs of themselves holding up signs that named their occupations in order to shield their identities.
“Many artists, cultural workers and journalists are in the gravest danger at Taliban hands and are stranded in Afghanistan,” they wrote. “There is no future for them in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Instant death will be the inevitable result of defiance and to remain is to be forced to forswear our working vocations.”
Since August, amid the withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Artists at Risk has been advocating for the evacuation of Afghan cultural workers, calling on international governments to assist in relocating them to safety. Ivor Stodolsky, AR’s cofounder, told the Art Newspaper that governments have slowed evacuation efforts despite many lives still being at risk. Stodolsky said that this task has “almost exclusively” fallen to the relatives of those seeking refuge, activists, and nonprofits.
In August, the U.K. government announced a scheme termed the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which promised aid to refugees, but that program has yet to launch. The relocation of Afghan citizens via a U.S.-backed effort has similarly been delayed, with Afghan refugees subject to a minimum 14-month waiting period in an interim country before being eligible to relocate to the U.S. Early efforts by Germany and France to undertake similar measures that gained momentum in the weeks following the Taliban takeover, have since slowed.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have targeted journalists and cultural figures who have been been vocal in their criticism of the militant group. In August, members of the extremist group shot poet and historian Abdullah Atefi in the country’s southern Uruzgan province. Other high-profile cultural leaders from Afghanistan have managed to flee to safety in Europe. CCAA Centre for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan curator Abdul Wasi Rahraw Omarzad who founded Gahnama-e-Hunar, the country’s only arts publication, fled to Turin with the aid of the Italian government.
The signatories urged foreign countries to send help quickly because of the possibility of future tragedy. Acknowledging the dire perils the country now faces, including famine and pending economic collapse, the authors continued, “A dark future awaits.”