Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Young girls in rural Afghanistan 'sold as child brides'

Afghan female artist beats the odds to create

Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city
KABUL/KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Charred bodies lie scattered against blood-stained walls and debris covers the ground. For Afghanistan, the only unusual thing in this gruesome scene is that the blood is red paint - and part of an art installation.
It's a work by 23-year-old Afghan artist Malina Suliman, who risks her life, sometimes working by flashlight after dark, to create art in southern Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban and still one of the country's most dangerous areas.
Her pieces, which range from conceptual art to paintings and sculpture, are bold representations of the problems facing her generation and have drawn praise from top officials in Kandahar, making her exceptional in a place where women face even greater restrictions than in other parts of the country.
"Many people had never seen an art installation... Some were offended and others were hurt because they'd experienced it before," Suliman said of "War and Chaos," which was in an exhibit last year and depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing, an all too common event in Kandahar.
Her haunting, powerful pieces earned her an invitation last year to President Hamid Karzai's palace in Kabul, where she showed her art to the Afghan leader, who is also from Kandahar.
Suliman's artwork is now making waves in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where she lived after fleeing the violence of her native province as a child. In December, she had two exhibits there, a highlight of which was a sculpture of a woman in baggy clothing with a noose tied around her neck.
An exhibit in Kandahar, where the Taliban and tribal elders dominate public opinion, was the first there in three decades. She drew a mostly male crowd of around 100, including Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and some of Karzai's relatives.
"I was taken aback by her work. I had only seen great art abroad, but never here," Wesa later told Reuters, recalling the exhibit, which featured a painting of a foetus in the womb suspended from a tree and being pulled in different ways. "I hope it persuades more women to do the same."
Suliman said this piece, called "Today's Life", reflected the frustrations of her generation.
"Before a child is born, the parents are already thinking that a son can support them and a daughter can be married off to a wealthy suitor. They don't stop to think what the child may want," she said.

Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city

Thirty years of war and conflict, starting with the Soviet invasion of 1979, effectively shelved Afghanistan's art scene. The austere 1996-2001 rule of the Taliban then banned most art outright, declaring it un-Islamic.
Since the Islamist group was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces almost twelve years ago, large Afghan cities have resurrected something of an art movement, but progress is slow.
Herat city, in the country's west, now has art studios for rent, while Mazar-e-Sharif in the north has an artist collective and a lively graffiti scene.
Suliman, who is self-confident and energetic with almond-shaped eyes, joined the Kandahar Fine Art Association, a relatively new, all-male group whose goal is to support and exhibit local art, one year ago.
The small collective of 10 artists caught the eye of the Ministry of Information and Culture, which funded and last year opened Kandahar's first art gallery, where Suliman has exhibited. Since she joined the collective, several more Kandahar-based female artists have come on board.
But the stakes remain high.
"One of our biggest fears is that people will mistake us for creating art for foreigners or working with NGOs. People who work with NGOs get shot without question in Kandahar," she said.
Despite her success, Suliman has received threatening phonecalls warning her against attending her own exhibits, and the Taliban have spoken out against her.
Even creating her art must take place away from public view. She often waits until after dusk, working with a dim flashlight.
Suliman recalls her first exhibit in Kandahar last year, and how she trembled as she made her way towards the gallery, in fear of it being bombed.
"I was so scared... Whenever there is a gathering of government officials it becomes a target," she said.
But one of Suliman's greatest challenges lies at home.
"The night of my first exhibit my family told me 'if you go, don't come back'," she said with a wry laugh.
While her sisters and mother now support her ambition and passion, her brothers and property developer father remain fiercely opposed -- attitudes typical for Afghanistan.
She is now looking to expand Kandahar's budding art scene to nearby Helmand, hoping to secure locally-sourced funds for workshops and training.
When asked if she is scared, she mentions her sculpture of the hanged woman and smiles.
"That's what happens to women when they ask for their rights in this country," she says, impudently.

Afghan artist Malina Suliman is pictured inside The Venue art gallery in Kabul

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kabul - aerial views of the city

I believe all of these photos were taken in the past decade or less.

kabul afghanistan Kabuls Not So Glamorous Hills
Houses on the hills

Babur's gardens

Vehicles drive on a highway in KabuL, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)

Houses are seen from a mountain in KabuL, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)

Houses are seen from a mountain in KabuL, Afghanistan, May 31, 2012. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)

Titanic Market, Kabul  (I wonder what is inside of those walls?  It looks empty.)

Taken from a helicopter

Near the palace - I believe these formal gardens are in the process of being restored.


Kabul at night from Television Mountain

Interesting photo blog:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tourists held by Greek police as illegal migrants

Hyun Young Jung
Greek police have stepped up efforts to catch illegal immigrants in recent months, launching a new operation to check the papers of people who look foreign. But tourists have also been picked up in the sweeps - and at least two have been badly beaten.
When Korean backpacker Hyun Young Jung was stopped by a tall scruffy looking man speaking Greek on the street in central Athens he thought it might be some kind of scam, so he dismissed the man politely and continued on his way.
A few moments later he was stopped again, this time by a man in uniform who asked for his documents. But as a hardened traveller he was cautious.
Greece was the 16th stop in his two-year-long round-the-world trip and he'd often been warned about people dressing in fake uniforms to extract money from backpackers, so while he handed over his passport he also asked the man to show him his police ID.
Instead, Jung says, he received a punch in the face.
Within seconds, the uniformed man and his plainclothes partner - the man who had first approached Jung - had him down on the ground and were kicking him, according to the Korean.
In shock, Jung was by now convinced he was being mugged by criminals and began shouting for help from passers-by.
"I was very scared," he says.
It was only when he was handcuffed and dragged 500m (500 yards) up the road to the nearest police station that he realised he was actually under arrest.
Jung says that outside the station the uniformed officer, without any kind of warning, turned on him again, hitting him in the face.
"There were members of the public who saw what happened, like the man who works in the shop opposite the police station, but they were too afraid to help me," he says.
Inside the police station, Jung says he was attacked a third time in the stairwell where there were no people or cameras.
"I can understand them asking me for ID and I even understand that there may have been a case to justify them hitting me in the first instance. But why did they continue beating me after I was handcuffed?" he asks.
Jung was held with a number of migrants from Africa and Asia who had also been rounded up as part of the police's anti-immigration operation Xenios Zeus - named, strangely, after the ancient Greek god of hospitality.
The operation aims to tackle the wave of illegal immigration which over the last decade has changed the face of Athens's city centre.
It is thought that up to 95% of undocumented migrants entering the European Union arrive via Greece, and because border controls make it hard to continue into the rest of Europe many end up stuck in the country.
According to some estimates, immigrants could now make up as much as 10% of the population.
Road in Greece near Turkish border The Turkish-Greek border is one of the main gateways for immigrants to Europe
This has been an enormous shock for the country which, until recently, was more familiar with outward rather than inward migration. Now, in the grip of a crippling economic crisis and with a welfare system in meltdown, the government lacks the resources to support this new growing population.
Few people are in any doubt that Greece needs an effective programme to manage its undocumented migrants.
Lt Col Christos Manouras of the Hellenic police force says operation Xenios Zeus, launched last August, has slowed down the flow of illegal immigrants. Anyone who looks foreign, or who has aroused suspicion, may be stopped, he says.
"If someone is stopped by the police and they do not have a valid means of identification we will accompany them to the station until their nationality can be determined," he explains.
On patrol in Athens with Xenios Zeus police
"I think that is normal and I would expect Greeks to be subjected to the same treatment abroad."
But while more than 60,000 people have been detained on the streets of Athens since it was launched in August 2012, there have been fewer than 4,200 arrests.
And some visitors to Greece have been detained despite having shown police their passports.
Last summer, a Nigerian-born American, Christian Ukwuorji, visited Greece on a family holiday with his wife and three children.
When police stopped him in central Athens he showed them his US passport, but they handcuffed him anyway and took him to the central police station.
They gave no reason for holding him, but after a few hours in custody Ukwuorji says he was so badly beaten that he passed out. He woke up in hospital.
"I went there to spend my money but they stopped me just because of my colour," he says. "They are racist."
It is impossible to determine how many people have had a similar experience - but enough Americans for the US State Department to issue a warning to its citizens travelling to the country.
It updated its website on 15 November to warn of "confirmed reports of US African-American citizens detained by police conducting sweeps for illegal immigrants in Athens", as well as a wider problem in Greek cities of "unprovoked harassment and violent attacks against persons who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be foreign migrants".
Tourism is a major source of revenue in Greece, especially important at a time when many other businesses are going bust. Anything that deterred visitors in large numbers would be a disaster for the economy.
The Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras responded to the State Department warning by issuing a statement that "isolated incidents of racist violence which have occurred are foreign to Greeks, our civilization and the long tradition of Greek hospitality."
It is not only tourists who have been affected.
Dr Shailendra Kumar Rai 
Greek media condemned police for humiliating Rai
In May last year a visiting academic from India, Dr Shailendra Kumar Rai was arrested outside the Athens University of Economics and Business, where he was working as a visiting lecturer.
He had popped out for lunch, and forgotten to take his passport with him.
"The police thought I was Pakistani and since they didn't speak English they couldn't understand me when I tried to explain that I am from India," he says.
When passing students saw their lecturer being held by police and lined up against a wall with a group of immigrants they were horrified and rushed inside to tell his colleagues.
Despite protests from university staff who insisted they could vouch for him, the police handcuffed him and marched him down to the police station.
"Some of my Greek colleagues were almost crying with embarrassment," Rai recalls.
"I understand why the police need to ask for identity documents, they are just doing their job. But I think they are too aggressive - in my country only criminals are handcuffed."
He was eventually released but there was an outcry in the Greek media which asked why an esteemed academic invited to the country to share his knowledge should be humiliated in such a way.

There is a distinct category of 15 incidents where police and racist violence are interlinked. These incidents concern duty officers who resort to illegal acts and violent practices while carrying out routine checks.
There are also instances where people were brought to police stations, were detained and maltreated for a few hours, as well as cases where legal documents were destroyed during these operations...
In 22 cases the victims of racist attacks said that they tried to report the incidents to the police but were faced with unwillingness or deterrence and, in some cases, the actual refusal of the police authorities to respond.Rai says he experienced no racial prejudice during his time in Greece, and does not accuse the police who arrested him of racism.
But in a report for 2012, the Racist Violence Recording Network, a group consisting of 23 NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called on the Greek government to "explicitly prevent police officers from racially motivated violent practices" referring to 15 incidents where "illegal acts" had taken place.
There have been a number of reports alleging strong support among the police for Golden Dawn, the ultra-right party that soared in popularity last year, winning 18 seats in June parliamentary elections.
But police spokesman Lt Col Manouras insists that voting preferences are a personal issue.
"Whatever a police officer may feel in their private life, when they come to work and put on the uniform they assume the values of the force," he says.
Greek police have absolute respect for human rights and treat people of all colour and ethnicity as fellow human beings, he says.
"Of course I cannot rule out the possibility that a police officer may have acted improperly," he adds, "but this would be an isolated incident."
People being detained in Athens, summer 2012 Efforts to identify illegal migrants were stepped up last summer
He said he could not comment on the cases of Hyun Young Jung and Christian Ukwuorji, as they are under investigation. The Greek Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests to discuss the cases.
When Jung was released from police custody without charge just a few hours after being detained, he says one officer shouted after him, "Hey Korean, go home!"
Instead Jung went straight to the Korean Embassy in Athens and returned with the consul to confront the men who he said hit him.
It took five further visits to the police station, an official complaint from the embassy to the chief of police and 10 days of waiting before the officers involved in Jung's case were named.
Meanwhile the backpacker had published his story on a travellers' blog read by more than 60,000 people.
The case turned into a full-scale diplomatic incident with the Korean ambassador to Greece requesting a meeting with the minister of Public Order, and the Greek Chief of Police, to insist on a fair investigation and just punishment for the officers involved.
Jung, who is now on the last leg of his travels in the US, is still waiting for the police verdict but says that whatever the outcome he will never go back to Greece.
"I travelled through Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Armenia but I never felt in as much danger as in Athens," he says.
"Whenever people ask me if they should visit Greece I tell them to go to Turkey instead."
Christian Ukwuorji, who also lodged an official complaint against the police with the help of the American Embassy, has now been waiting for more than six months for an outcome.
He would like to see the men who hit him prosecuted, but says he holds out little hope of any justice.
"The police there are very corrupt and nothing will be done about it," he says. "I have learned that this is how Greece is."

Friday, January 04, 2013

Taliban shooting victim Malala Yousufzai leaves UK hospital

LONDON - Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education, has been discharged from a hospital in the U.K. after doctors said she was well enough to spend some time recovering with her family.
The 15-year-old was shot at point-blank range in October after becoming a symbol of resistance to the insurgents' efforts to deny women education and other rights. The attack on Malala, which also wounded two of her classmates, prompted revulsion and condemnation, and helped galvanize supporters of women's education worldwide.
In a statement, the hospital treating her said she had been discharged on Thursday because she was healthy enough to be treated as an outpatient.
"Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery," Dave Rosser, medical director of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where Malala was treated, said in a statement. "Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers."
Malala will be readmitted in late January or early February to undergo cranial reconstructive surgery as part of her long-term recovery, the hospital said. In the meantime, she will visit the hospital regularly to attend clinical appointments, the statement added.
Doctors said that although the bullet hit her left brow, it did not penetrate her skull but instead traveled underneath the skin along the side of her head and into her neck. The decision to send Malala to Britain was taken in consultation with her family; Pakistan is paying for her treatment.
Citing patient confidentiality, hospital authorities declined to say what her plans were to continue her education, though they acknowledge she is able to read in both English and Urdu.
Malala was flown to the U.K. on Oct. 15, six days after the school bus shooting. She was treated by doctors specializing in neurosurgery, trauma and other disciplines in a department of the hospital which has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The wave of condemnation that followed the attack prompted the Taliban to release statements justifying their action. Malala quickly became an international cause celebre and became a contender to become Time's Person of the Year 2012.
More than 250,000 people have also signed online petitions calling for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.
Yousufzai's father said in October he was sure she would "rise again" to pursue her dreams after medical treatment.
This month Pakistan appointed Malala's father, Ziauddin, as its education attache in Birmingham. The position, with an initial three-year commitment, virtually guarantees that Malala will remain in Britain for now.