At country-wide cultural festival, young Afghans promote peace and poetry in Herat
HERAT - Ahead of International Youth Day, the UN and partners organized an Afghanistan-wide poetry competition, drawing hundreds of writers and poetry aficionados from across the country to the western province of Herat for a celebration of Afghan literature.
The event, which took place in the Herat Citadel and was set up to help young people from across the country apply their talents to the tradition of Afghan poetry, drew an audience of several hundred literature enthusiasts and featured poetry recitals and musical performances.
Submission of literary works into the competition started last year, with the final awards festival promoted through television and radio campaigns, where young poets were encouraged to use Afghanistan’s traditional literary genres to develop counter-narratives to violence, weaving their words together to build a sense of community cohesion, mutual respect and tolerance.
In one of the recent television programmes to build interest among the region’s burgeoning literati, panellists discussed how poetry nurtures positive values and debated ways poetry could be used to reduce violence and solve conflict.
During the lively discussion broadcast by Ariana TV, Rooholamin Amini, a prominent Herat poet, suggested that Afghans would benefit from embracing traditional poetry.
“We are stuck in conflict and violence, and it’s our literature, our poetry, that can teach us how to live in peace and harmony,” Amini said. “We need to do more to promote it and to practice these values in our life, reviving the commitment we have had in this region for love and kindness.”
Nilofar Niksiar, a poet and a teacher in Herat, spoke at the Thursday poetry competition, saying that peace and love are “in the veins” of Afghans.
“We, as the young generation, have the responsibility for laying the groundwork to overcome violence,” she said. “This is why we need to write anti-war poems like our famous poet Sa'di, who once wrote: ‘Human beings are members of a whole / In creation of one essence and soul / If one member is afflicted with pain / Other members uneasy will remain.’”
The deputy minister of the Information, Youth and Culture, Fazil Sancharaki, also spoke at the festival, and underlined the importance of Afghans learning from the country’s classical literature.
“Peace and harmony are what Afghans are really longing for,” said Sancharaki. “We are peace-loving people by nature and one of the ways to express it is through our poetry.”
Sancharaki went on to say that the poetry festival is “a sign of hope that young people continue to be inspired by their heritage and peace-minded poets.”
Ramin Arabnazhad, a poet from Herat and a member of the judges panel that decided the winners, spoke about how young Afghans have many opportunities to overcome challenges and support peace in the country.
“They can overcome these challenges with integrity, and create a better future by using their abilities, including their creativity in literature and poetry and by expressing their feelings about the future of Afghanistan, about what they need and what they want,” he said.
Following the panel deliberations, Adham Kawa, an engineer from Takhar, was named the winner. “I’m really surprised and excited to be recognized this way,” he said. “I knew there were scores of good poets who entered the contest, and I have never imagined to be anywhere close to the top.”
Jawid Nabizada, a poet who also won an award, pointed out that lasting peace in the country is the desire of every Afghan. “Achieving lasting peace is not possible without the involvement, the contributions and the support of youth, not only in big cities like Herat but also in remote areas,” he said. “Young Afghans need opportunities to work for and to support peace.”
Nabizada went on to point out that more than 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is young people. “They are the game changers,” he said. “Youth involvement in literature and poetry is one of the ways to help cultivate a culture of peace.”
The Literary Association of Fedayee Herawi organized the initial call for competition entries back in 2017. Encouraged by the response, they widened the scale of the initiative and coordinated with other organizations, including UNAMA, in a bid to involve more budding poets from across the country.
UNAMA’s regional office in Herat has been working for several years with young people to help create opportunities to have their voices heard. The Herat poetry festival, designed to promote thinking around peace by giving voice to the views of ordinary Afghans, is part of a countrywide outreach programme aimed at creating platforms – using radio, television and social media – where Afghans can engage in dialogue and discuss critical issues affecting their communities.
Herat, as a city with a rich culture and history, has deep roots in poetry and literature. The province has nurtured the talents of numerous poets, writers, historians, painters and calligraphers over the years.
Today, although Herat is in the western corner of Afghanistan, it maintains its importance as a cultural magnet. The province lies on the ancient trade routes of the Middle East, Central and South Asia. After Kabul, it has the most universities in the country. Poetry recitals in Herat are often informal events and a popular choice for social and family meetings.
International Youth Day, marked each year on 12 August, serves as an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change, and an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges and problems facing the world’s youth.
The theme of this year’s Youth Day focuses on the need youth have for safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves
UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps that the UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent national and international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.
UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.