Tennessee’s Afghan residents rally for support

By: - September 27, 2021 10:00 am
Afghan-Americans rallied in Nashville to urge the American government to push for human rights protections in Afghanistan. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Afghan-Americans rallied in Nashville to urge the American government to push for human rights protections in Afghanistan. (Photo: John Partipilo)

On Sunday, about a hundred protesters crowded in front of the Estes Kefauver Federal Building and Courthouse in Nashville to advocate for their friends and family currently living under Taliban rule. 

Zahra Rasuli, 23, stood among several women wearing hijabs, pondering on the nature of Afghanistan’s conflict ridden history. She is a product of immigrant parents who escaped Afghanistan in the 1980’s during the Soviet-Afghan War. 

While Afghanistan has experienced more than 40 years of conflict, the last few years brought hope for Afghans living abroad that their native country was finally headed in a different direction. Kabul had become a thriving city with its own airport, and women have been able to  attend college. Those hopes were dashed in August, and Afghans watched in horror as Taliban seized control of key cities and provinces without a fight. 

“To see this happen twice in (Afghan residents’)  lifetime is heartbreaking,” she said.

Similar sentiments were shared among the protesters. Nashville’s Afghan-Americans, many from refugee beginnings, blared their country’s patriotic music as they urged the U.S. government to refrain from recognizing the Taliban’s authority and to continue providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

“That’s what Taliban wants, the moment that happens, you essentially give them the green light to do what they want to do.” said Mostafa Shamsuddin, who organized the event. 

Nashville is set to receive nearly 300 Afghan refugees within the next few months. Some may arrive as soon as next week, said Shamsuddin. In order to fast-track evacuations from Afghanistan, many are arriving under a parole status and will be ineligible for government resources. Many have family already in the U.S., but the Afghan community is prepared to meet their needs, said Shamsuddin. 

Not everyone was able to escape in time. Ismaeel Moskinzada, 13, said his family is currently in the process of getting their relatives out of Afghanistan.

“The Taliban are always going to be oppressive and were never going to let anything happen,” he said, referring to the Taliban’s promises to allow some freedoms for Afghan women.

Rasuli had been in Afghanistan weeks prior to the collapse of Afghan’s government and left just in time, but her husband was not so fortunate. He remains in Kabul, Afghanistan, unsure of his fate. 

“That was my first time going, and that was the last time I feel like I’ll be able to go in a while,” she said.

With Afghanistan’s economy in shambles, Nashville’s Afghan community worries for their loved ones abroad, knowing there’s only so much they can do. Families can still send money, but Afghan residents are only able to withdraw about $200 a week from the banks. In Kabul, the price of food and other essentials are skyrocketing.

For centuries, we have been killed, we have been evacuated and (forced to) immigrate to other places just because they don't like us.

– Ali Tabish, a former translator for the U.S. Army

Kabul remains relatively safe and many Afghans have crowded into the city, but contact with other provinces is almost nonexistent, said Shamsuddin. Afghans in these regions must bypass Taliban checkpoints in order to leave the area. Those who have filed applications as refugees may have had to  burn their passports to protect themselves, making it difficult to escape the country. 

Reports of the Taliban conducting targeted killings of minority sects have already surfaced. Although Afghanistan is a country full of different cultures and religions, the Taliban has long focused on pushing their fundamentalist beliefs on the entire country, which could have devastating effects on minority communities.   

“For centuries, we have been killed, we have been evacuated and [forced to] immigrate to other places just because they don’t like us,” said Ali Tabish, who worked as a translator for the U.S. army and immigrated in 2015.  

Afghan refugees have largely received bipartisan support and are being accepted in the U.S., said Shamsuddin, but he urged the nation to continue to push for human rights in Afghanistan. 

“[Parts of Afghanistan] are seeing a genocide right now,” he said.

By the afternoon, protesters stood silently as their country’s patriotic music floated down Broadway, as though cognizant that music was now banned under Taliban rule.

(All photos by John Partipilo)


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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.