Local Afghan Residents Find Closure for 4,785 Dead

Imam Qari Safiullah led the funeral prayers and gave a speech highlighting unity.

Over the span of just one year, from 1978 to 1979, an estimated 4,785 Afghans lost their lives or otherwise disappeared during the communist era.

Gone, they simply vanished.

In 1978, a military coup known as the Saur Revolution brought Nur Muhammad Taraki to power. In order to consolidate his rule, Soviet-backed Taraki attempted to build up power as quickly as he could.

The Saur Revolution witnessed the shift of Afghan politics from a Republic into a Communist dictatorship.

Taraki was paranoid that he would lose power and began to purge the country of all perceived dissidents, which included politicians, schoolteachers, farmers and others in his dictatorship justified as being Islamic fundamentalists or radical communists.

But he was not fast enough. Within a year, he was dead, and the cycle of coups and dictatorships continued.

His paranoia resulted in the deaths of thousands of Afghans.

Last month, on Sept. 18, nearly 35 years after the revolution, the Dutch government released a document with the names of those who were killed. This document details the deaths of thousands of Afghans during Taraki’s reign and the reasons for their execution.

Afghan residents and supporters gathered in both Fremont and Hayward last weekend to commemorate the release of the document as well as support one another in finding closure to the pain many have endured for nearly three decades.

Close to 300 people were present at Lake Elizabeth in Fremont Saturday.

Families read through numerous lists of names that hung from boards, which wires held up on the stage. Portraits of young men who died bordered the lists on each side.

Families who never heard what happened to their loved ones found their answers.

Saturday’s event, which the Afghan American Muslim Outreach organized, provided a space for the community to share stories of their experiences.

Fremont is home to the largest Afghan refugee population in the world, the Afghan American Community Outreach states, as well as home to the largest concentration of Afghan Americans in the U.S.

A second event was held at CSU East Bay Sunday evening. A candlelight vigil, which the Afghan Student Association hosted, honored the victims of the government purge.

This weekend’s events provided the East Bay’s Afghan community and its supporters with a chance to find closure for their loved ones who were lost, and the ability to come together and remember the horrid violence of the period.

“People were just getting killed right and left,” said Faheem Salemi, whose father was killed during the communist coup. “It just became a part of the culture of revolutionary Afghanistan.”

Since 2010, the Netherlands national police had investigated a man identified as Amanullah O, under charges of war crimes committed between 1978 and 1979, the Public Prosecution Service states.

In the course of the investigation, the Dutch authorities discovered the list, which a 93-year-old woman living in Hamburg, Germany was holding. After Amanullah’s death in 2012, the investigation came to a close and the list was released last month.

During the revolution, Salemi’s father worked as a teacher inside Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, Faheem Salemi said. Two of his uncles and many of his father’s cousins were in jail at the time.

His father quit his job with the government and began teaching as a middle school teacher shortly before he was killed.

Because of his profession, the government labeled him an “anti-revolutionary.”

Faheem Salemi brought his son, Moheb Salemi, to commemorate his father’s memory and to recognize the “luxuries” his son has living in America, which he said is in contrast to the poverty and death there is in other parts of the world.

“I want him to grow up a very responsible man,” Faheem Salemi said, nodding toward his son, Moheb Salemi. “He knows.”

Imam Qari Safiullah, a Muslim religious leader, gave a speech Saturday night that highlighted the solidarity among the different tribes and ethnicities in Afghanistan.

Safiullah gave his speech in Dari, a language that is spoken in Afghanistan. A funeral prayer followed his speech.

Once attendees finished praying, men embraced each other, and sobbed.

Nafisa Ghori, a scientist and former professor at Stanford University, held a sign that bore the face of a young man. His name was Nasirullah Obaidi, and he was her brother.

Obaidi was killed, Ghori said proudly, because he was a “mujahideen,” an Arabic word that means an “Islamic fighter.” He was 30 years old when he died.

“Seven years in the Soviet Union he came back, and he brought a lot of good things for us,” Ghori recalled, “how you have to hang on to each other, how we have to help each other, how we have to help our community, but I guess nobody led him to do that. They took his life.”

One day the police came and took Obaidi from his room, and they never saw him again, Ghori said. She fled the country a year after her brother was killed in 1978.

Ghori recalled her memories of Taraki, who she used to run into from time to time. She was surprised when he became General Secretary of the country, she says.

“He was a street guy,” Ghori said. “I don’t know how he got the chair. He was always sitting when I used to go to teaching; he was sitting on the street by somebody’s shop, joking, talking, drinking. I don’t know. It’s politics.”

Her story of exile mirrored the stories of many present at the event. Most of those killed during the revolution are remembered as young men and intellectuals who posed a threat to the status quo.

Shuaib Amiri, a student at CSUEB and the president of both the Afghan Student Association and the Muslim Student Association, held a candlelight vigil on campus Sunday evening in the University Theatre. His family name was not on the list, but he could relate, having lost his grandfather during the communist rule.

“My maternal grandfather was murdered in his house and in front of his seven children and wife by the communist regime in Afghanistan,” Amiri said. “He was placed as an intellectual by the communist state and deemed dangerous to the regime.”

Amiri recalled the tragic way in which his grandfather was killed. At first they asked for money, he said, which he gave them, but when they attempted to take his wife’s wedding ring he tried to stop them and was killed.

His sentiment mirrored that of many other members of the community present at the vigil reflected on their tragic family past.

Amidst sadness in the memory of Afghanistan’s tragic revolution, this weekend’s events aimed to bring the community together in remembrance of the millions who have died in conflict, event organizers say.

Members of the community were invited to speak with therapists after the event, to help them come to terms with their memories and find closure.

Both events hoped to inspire families that the revolution affected to stand together in the face of the wars that Afghans have been embroiled in for the past 35 years.