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A US Navy "mentor" assisting a local Afghan artist organize a "Woman's Bazaar" in 2010. The bazaar was held at Camp Eggers, a former US military base in Kabul (via Flickr)

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Fearful for the safety of Afghan citizens following the Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul this weekend, the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association (AAAWA) has joined calls for the United States government to keep its embassy in the capital open “at all costs” to process refugees and to expand the eligibility for artist visas.

On Sunday, August 15, Taliban fighters seized the Afghan presidential palace after President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country. This development marked the total collapse of the Afghan government, not long after President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw American forces from the country. According to the United Nations, extrajudicial killings of women and children by the Taliban have reached a record number in conjunction with the withdrawal of American and other Western troops in recent months. Over 250,000 Afghans have been forced from their homes as the Taliban quickly seized major cities like Herat and Kandahar before reaching Kabul.

Amid escalating chaos in Kabul over the weekend, the Biden administration sent thousands of troops to secure the evacuation of American embassy employees and their families, other American citizens stranded in Afghanistan, and “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.” The evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul has since been completed, the State Department said, and all staff was safely taken to an airport. However, officials have not provided answers to questions about the safety of thousands of Afghans, including embassy staff and their families, who are desperately trying to flee the country.

A statement from August 13 by the group Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, amplified on the AAAWA’s website, warned that closing the embassy will put the lives of Afghan artists, writers, and journalists at risk. The activist group identifies as a collective of  “progressive and leftist organizers” in the Afghan diaspora. 

“It is of vital importance that the United States keeps its embassy in Kabul open and running, in order to continue the processing of Afghan refugees,” the activist group said in a statement. “Closing the embassy would signal abandonment and total surrender to the Taliban. This is not acceptable.”

The activists also urged the US to broaden the eligibility for artist visas to include vulnerable groups like women, youth, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and ethnic and religious minorities.

“There’s a closing window of opportunity for these vulnerable groups and the US must facilitate their safety,” the group warned, adding, “After pursuing 20 years of failed policies that have harmed Afghans, the very least the United States can do is provide refuge for those seeking it as the Taliban aims to take the country by force.”

Since then, the group has released an online petition, signed by over 42,000 to date, urging Congress and the Biden administration to “support the most vulnerable in Afghanistan” by lifting refugee caps and expediting processing for artist visas (specifically the P-2 Visa for individual artists or groups of performers) and Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). 

Another leading voice urging the international community to protect artists in the country is Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi.

“If the Taliban take over they will ban all art,” the filmmaker warned in an open letter posted on Facebook.

“I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list,” Karimi continued. “They will strip women’s rights, we will be pushed into the shadows of our homes and our voices, our expression will be stifled into silence.”

“The world should not turn its back on us,” Karimi added, urging artists worldwide to raise a voice for vulnerable Afghan citizens and artists. “This support would be the greatest help we need right now.”

Correction 8/16/21 10:06pm: An earlier version of this article stated the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association as the original author of a statement published on its website. AAAWA has since clarified that the statement was originally penned by the group Afghans for a Better Tomorrow; this article has since been updated.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

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