Young Afghans pen 'letters of pain' as war continues



Omaid Sharifi, 32, co-founder and president of ArLords, stands next to a box containing 'Dard-e-Dil', or letters of pain, at his studio in Kabul on August 29. [Wakil KOHSAR/AFP]

KABUL -- Omaid Sharifi, who heads a Kabul-based art collective, sits in his studio and leafs through a stack of dozens of hand-written letters, reading out sentences at random.

A line in one missive, written in Dari and spelled out in huge letters, states simply "We want peace," Sharifi said.

"By peace, they just mean a ceasefire, just stop this nonsense violence," he explained.

The letters are the fruit of a recent initiative by ArtLords, a not-for-profit group that Sharifi co-founded and runs, which aims to give a voice to young Afghans who feel ignored and powerless as the war rages on.


Within the first two weeks of the Dard-e-Dil project, they had more than 300 letters written by Afghan youth about their fears and hopes for the future. One of the letters states simply: 'We want peace.' [Wakil KOHSAR/AFP]


Afghan youth paint red tulips on blast walls and concrete barriers around Kabul in a photograph posted to the ArtLords Facebook page on August 9. Each tulip represents one innocent life lost to terrorism. Some 35,000 civilians have been killed over the past 18 years of war in Afghanistan, according to ArtLords. [ArtLords/Facebook]

In a pilot project in Kabul, where scores of people were killed and hundreds injured by Taliban attacks in September alone, ArtLords is building on the Afghan tradition of penning "dard-e-dil" -- letters of pain.

The scheme allows residents of an ultra-conservative society to find freedom by sharing their passions and emotions in written form.

Sharifi and his team have placed six large wooden letter boxes -- painted white and decorated with hearts -- in high schools, universities and cafes around the capital and invited passersby to share their stories.

"Whenever you want to share your deep thoughts, you write letters," Sharifi said.

"So we asked the youngsters to write letters about their fears, about their solutions, about their hopes."

Within the first two weeks of the project, they had more than 300 letters, according to Sharifi.

He reads from another, this one addressed to the Kabul government.

"'We are in a very bad situation,'" he quotes.

"'We need your attention because every single day we are dying from the fear of explosions and the fear that I might die today -- in the car, in the office, in the university...' He says nowhere is safe."

One red tulip for each civilian killed

The letter writing project launched a couple months ago, as peace talks between the Taliban and US negotiators seemed to be entering their final stages.

The young letter writers want "an inclusive peace process that takes into consideration all realities of Afghanistan", Sharif told AFP at ArtLords' colourful base in Kabul, where artworks cover the walls and where anyone can walk in and paint a picture.

The 32-year-old artist is well known around Kabul and across Afghanistan thanks to ArtLords' prolific output, which centres mainly on the painting of huge murals on the capital's labyrinth of blast walls.

The latest mural project ArtLords has undertaken is to paint one red tulip for each and every Afghan civilian killed in the war -- some 35,000 in all since 2001.

Each "one of these tulips is a story of someone", Sharifi said. Many of the flowers will be painted at the scene of the explosion or attack that claimed an innocent life.

Sharifi hopes to expand the letter-writing campaign across Afghanistan. He said the contents of all the letters would be shared with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the United States and even the Taliban.

"I know that the president has read all of the letters ... and he is aware of what the young ones are expecting of him in that whole peace process," Sharifi said.

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