Hussain Rezai: 'My fight for Afghan women'.
The story of a Hazara exile who created a foundation in Daykundi in honor of his fiancée who was killed in an attack. "We wanted to fight against the oblivion of memory, but the Taliban destroyed everything". Now in Italy, he is looking for a means to help his sister study.
Milan (AsiaNews) - The murder of four women in Mazar-e-Sharif, found dead in their homes, has again spotlighted the condition of women in Afghanistan despite Taliban propaganda.
One of them - Frozan Safi - was an activist and taught at the University. Initial reports would inidcated that the four women were lured to their deaths: they had received phone calls telling them they could leave the country and they trusted the wrong people.
This tragedy has grabbed headlines but is all too similar to many other stories trickling out of Afghanistan. "When I left, it felt like I was leaving hell, escaping from prison," says Hussain Rezai.
He tells his story to AsiaNews holding a notebook in front of him with the words "Re-born" on the cover. He has a big, peaceful face and smiles as he sips saffron tea with his sister Fatima Jaan sitting beside him. "I am afraid that the Taliban will carry out an ethnic cleansing of us Hazaras."
Hussain is part of the most persecuted community in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, numerous reports have arrived about Hazaras being forced to abandon their villages after the Taliban confiscated their homes and land. Rumors continue of extrajudicial killings in the provinces which are impossible to verify also because everyone is now too afraid of possible retaliation. Now that he has left Afghanistan, Hussain can recount the atrocities he has experienced.
He arrived in Perugia at the end of August, but he was only able to bring his sister with him. His mother, brothers and two nephews, whom he was taking care of after the death of another sister, stayed behind. In Kabul, he worked in the Afghan government's anti-corruption commission. After the Taliban arrived in the capital, he began hiding in the homes of friends because he didn't know if and when they would come for him.
"I wore an old tunbaan peraahan, the traditional Afghan dress for men, grew a beard and stopped washing so I wouldn't be recognizable and look like a former official," he tells AsiaNews.
He was helped to escape by an Italian journalist he had worked with in 2012 and a relative, Hamed Ahmadi, who introduced them. He had permission to get his two nephews, Hadi and Mahdi, out as well, but in those hectic days after mid-August when Western forces were trying to evacuate as many Afghans as possible, they got lost in the crowd and couldn't get into the airport.
Hussain's life had already been disrupted on July 24, 2017, when a suicide bombing struck a bus on which officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum were traveling. Thirty-six people died. Among them was Najiba Bahar, his girlfriend. "She had returned to Afghanistan six months earlier, and we were buying everything we needed to celebrate the wedding in her village in Daykundi province."
Najiba was bright. She graduated in computer science in India and then left for Japan on another scholarship for a two-year master's degree. Since the body was nowhere to be found after the bombing, Hussain's friends suggested he bury an empty coffin. But he wanted something tangible. After several hours, they sent him a photo of a hand and he recognized the engagement ring he had given Najiba.
"It was the worst day of my life. For two years, I didn't shake off the trauma," he continues. "But even if I had picked up a gun and gone to kill a Taliban, what would have changed? I didn't even know who was responsible for the attack."
So it was that Hussain started the Najiba Foundation in the town of Nili, Daykundi province. At first it was just a library, "because we wanted to fight the Taliban with education." Then the foundation's activities expanded: a solar-powered computer lab was built in Najiba's honor, then a women's volleyball team was created.
"We wanted to take revenge on the Taliban in a non-violent way, to create many little Najibas and to fight against the loss of memory, to let new generations know that everything we did was done thanks to the blood of our loved ones."
Last month, the library was destroyed, the laboratory ransacked, the volleyball players no longer play and have gone into hiding. It was after the attack on the Foundation that Hussain decided to leave his country, fearing that the Taliban would come after him.
Hussain has a bachelor's degree in sociology and philosophy and studied international relations. Before leaving he tried to hide all the books that could be dangerous for his family, those of philosophy and English. When AsiaNews asks him what he wants to do, he now says his priority is to look after his sister: "to look for a scholarship from the Italian government and enroll her in university."
"As for me, I would like to continue my studies, but one thing at a time." In the meantime, he's safe in Italy. Perhaps, that "re-born" on the cover of his notebook, that umpteenth rebirth, is not so unattainable.