10 Things You Might Not Know about Afghanistan

In this article, we look at 10 interesting facts about Afghanistan, its culture, and its people—from the country’s love of poetry to the national sport of buzkashi.

1. Afghanistan’s capital city is Kabul.

Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city, is located in the country’s eastern section. The only city in Afghanistan with a population of more than 1 million, Kabul is home to around 4.114 million people.

Nestled in a valley of the expansive Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul’s elevation of approximately 1,790 meters makes the city one of the world’s highest capitals. First mentioned around the era of the Achaemenid Empire, the city of Kabul is said to date back more than 3,500 years.

2. The national sport of Afghanistan is buzkashi.

Afghans have petitioned for buzkashi, known as the world’s wildest sport, to be recognized as an Olympic sport.

buzkashi

Buzkashi, or goat-grabbing, involves horseback riders grabbing at a goat carcass, galloping clear of their rivals, and dropping it within a chalked circle. The game has been played on the northern steppe for centuries, and was once the sport of rich rival warlords. Today, it is largely funded by mobile telecoms companies and private airlines.

3. Alexander the Great’s wife, Roxana, was born in Afghanistan.

She was described as one of the most beautiful women in the whole of Asia. Roxana’s Afghan name, Roshanak, means “little star” in Persian.

Although Alexander the Great’s marriage to Roxana was politically motivated, it is widely noted that she was his greatest weakness. Married in 327 BC, Alexander was so charmed by Roxana’s beauty and wisdom that the couple were inseparable, much to the annoyance of some of his soldiers.

Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, Roxana gave birth to Alexander IV. She was murdered in Macedonia in 320 BC by Alexander’s former ally.

4. Approximately 90 percent of the Afghan population has mobile coverage.

After the Karzai administration gained office in 2001, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology rapidly expanded the country’s wireless, internet, radio, and television industries.

tower

In 2006, the Afghan government signed an agreement with ZTE of China, striking a deal worth a reported $64.5 million. Under the agreement, ZTE would lay the country’s optical fiber cable, improving telephone, internet, radio, and television services throughout Afghanistan.

By 2014, approximately 90 percent of Afghans had access to communication services.  Today, Afghan Wireless keeps Afghanistan connected, providing unparalleled speed, freedom, and reliability.

5. Poetry is an integral part of Afghan culture.

Afghans have been telling tales in verse for more than a millennium. In the western city of Herat, locals celebrate “poetry night” every Thursday, with men, women, and children gathering together to share both modern and ancient verse, enjoying traditional Herati music, and indulging in pastries and sweet tea well into the evening.

6. Afghanistan is a landlocked South Asian nation.

The country is bordered by Iran to the west; India and China to the east; Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and Pakistan to the south. The terrain is dominated by rugged mountains, with flat plains in the north and southwest.

7. The country is twice the size of the UK, but has half its population.

Afghanistan’s current population is estimated at almost 39 million. The majority of Afghans live in rural locations within tribal and kinship groups. Approximately 10 percent of Afghans live in Kabul. The nation’s second largest city is Kandahar, with just under 400,000 residents.

8. Afghanistan is semi-arid, with hot summers and cold winters.

shepherd

Afghanistan has a dry continental climate, comprising all four seasons. In Afghanistan’s lowlands, temperatures can peak at 50⁰C in the height of summer, dropping to around 20⁰C in the wintertime. In mountain regions, winter temperatures often fall as low as -25⁰C, with some isolated areas dropping considerably lower than this.

9. Afghans celebrate the new year on March 21.

The Afghan new year is marked by celebrations lasting around 2 weeks, culminating in Nauruz, or Farmer’s Day, which is celebrated on March 21.

In the city of Mazar-i-Shar, the Red Flower Festival forms an integral part of the new year festivities, celebrating the blaze of red tulips growing on plains surrounding the city.

In Mazar, up to 200,000 Afghans gather for Jahenda Bala on the first day of the new year. High ranking officials gather for a religious ceremony at the Blue Mosque, the site of the tomb of the 4th Calif of Islam, Ali ibn Abi Talib.

10. Agriculture is big business in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is self-sufficient in terms of around 95 percent of its rye and wheat supply. The country’s agricultural sector more than meets the country’s needs for potatoes and rice. Agriculture accounts for around 23 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and 44 percent of the country’s labor force.

Afghanistan produces around 1.5 million tons of fresh fruit every year, and experts predict this sector could expand significantly in years to come. The country is gaining a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest grapes, cherries, apricots, melons, peaches, and figs.

A Look at the National Museum of Afghanistan and Its Many Treasures

Located in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the National Museum of Afghanistan was established in 1919. Originally housed in Bagh-i-Bala Palace, the museum housed weapons, miniatures, manuscripts, and works of art belonging to the Afghan royal families.

In this article, we look at the history of the museum, its collections, and the important artefacts housed there.

The original Afghan National Museum opened during the reign of King Amanullah Khan.

Originally known as a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” the collection was moved to its present location in 1931. In 1964, historian Nancy Dupree cowrote A Guide to the Kabul Museum.

During the 1990s, the site served as a military base. Curators sealed items in metal boxes and removed them for safekeeping, storing many artefacts in vaults throughout Kabul, while others were looted and found as far afield as Europe.

Between 2003 and 2006, the museum carried out extensive structural refurbishments, at a cost of around $350,000. Museum officials recovered precious objects, adding them to inventories and placing them back on display.

Since 2007, Interpol and UNESCO have helped recover more than 8,000 artefacts belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan. In July 2012, the British Museum returned 843 artefacts, including the priceless first-century Begram Ivories.

The Begram Ivories consist of more than a thousand figures and plaques.

Dating back to the first and second centuries CE, these ivory and bone carvings are widely regarded as some of the finest examples of Kushan art. Rediscovered in the 1930s in Bagram, Afghanistan, these carved panels were likely originally attached to wooden furniture.

The carvings attest to the cosmopolitan tastes of the local elite, the skills and sophistication of local craftsmen, and the prolific ancient trade in luxury goods.

The ancient city of Kapisi, located near modern Bagram, formed the capital of the Kushan Empire, an ancient civilization that spanned northwest India to northern Afghanistan. Dominating two passes of the Hindu Kush mountains, Kapisi was a strategically important city. Early Kushans are well known for their arts, producing sculptures, paintings, and friezes between the first and fourth centuries CE.

The Begram Ivories include intricate, decorative plaques that depict male and female courtiers, musicians, and dancers. They also feature mythological creatures, such as griffins, as well as elephants, lions, birds, flowers, and architectural backdrops. Color pigments recovered during analysis reveal they were originally painted red, black, blue, and indigo.

The Bactria Exhibition

The historic region of Bactria in Central Asia encompassed what is now Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It was home to a number of civilizations over the millennia, including the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the Greek Seleucid Empire, and the Greco-Bactrian Empire. Bactria was famous for its wealth, thousand cities, and the outstanding fertility of its lands.

Balkh, Bactria’s capital, formed the cultural and political center of the Aspa, Cyanides, and Pishdadian dynasties. Balkh was an important trade center, effectively serving as a crossroads between Western and Eastern cultures throughout the Achaemenid period and later.

Both Buddhism and Zoroastrianism were practiced in Bactria until the sacred religion of Islam began to flourish throughout the region and the majority of the population became Muslim.

Over the course of the last century, archaeological sites across the region have yielded precious artefacts, many of which are exhibited by the museum today, including examples from the Stone Age and Bronze Age as well as the Aryan, Achaemenid, Greco-Bactrian Scythian, and Kushan periods.

The museum features displays of Paleolithic and Mesolithic tools, as well as intricate examples of Bronze Age jewelry inlaid with lapis lazuli. There are also pieces dating back to Alexander the Great’s expedition across the region, with ivory pieces serving as important examples of Hellenistic (Greek) art.

The Ghazni Exhibition

The word Ghazni comes from the Persian word for jewel.

In 2013, Ghazni was named the Islamic Capital of Culture by the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Situated 150 kilometers southwest of Kabul, Ghazni formed the center of the province of Arakuzia in ancient times. Once the Islamic empire’s largest city, the city lies on the road between Kabul and Kandahar.

The National Museum of Afghanistan houses an extensive collection of marble stones recovered from Ghazni over the last decade, dating back to the 11th century CE.

UNESCO has supported the museum in its refurbishment program.

Working together with UNESCO, as well as a host of other cultural development organizations, the museum has rehabilitated its buildings and grounds, invested in its staff, and revamped displays of its priceless collections.

The museum has also implemented advocacy, project design, and funding and awareness strategies, making a great deal of progress over the last few years. As a result, the National Museum of Afghanistan has established a global reputation as one of the finest collections of Afghan and Central Asian art and archaeology

Everything You Need to Know about the Bayat Foundation

The Bayat Foundation supports people in need throughout Afghanistan, providing clothing, food, medical care, and much more. The Bayat Foundation was established in 2006. Its ultimate mission is to foster a healthy, hopeful population, providing Afghans with the inspiration and opportunities they need to succeed and prosper.

It was founded with the objective of rebuilding Afghan communities and supporting the neediest and most at-risk. The Bayat Foundation supports Afghans in a variety of ways, providing food and clothing; maternity care; postnatal support for women and babies; educational support; orphan care; and youth sports programs.

In this article, we look at the history of the Bayat Foundation and the vital work the organization carries out across Afghanistan.

The Bayat Foundation supports families in need.

Since 2008, the Bayat Foundation runs two programs dedicated to supporting Afghan families in need: Winter Aid and Family Sponsorship.

During the coldest months of the year, warm clothing, food, and thousands of blankets are distributed to families in remote provinces of Afghanistan through the Bayat Foundation’s Winter Aid program.

Through the Family Sponsorship initiative, donors pledge $50 per month to provide the necessities to a family in need. Rather than spending their days on the streets in search of food, Afghan children are able to attend school because of the Family Sponsorship program.

afghanistan children

The Bayat Foundation provides postnatal care for mothers and babies.

Over the past few years, the Bayat Foundation has overseen construction of healthcare facilities in eight separate Afghan provinces. Previously, no formal care options existed in those areas for pregnant women and new mothers.

The new facilities incorporate maternity clinics comprising up to 150 beds. These clinics are capable of serving hundreds of thousands of Afghan women each year, free of charge. As a result of the Bayat Foundation’s efforts, the mortality rate for Afghan women and newborns has decreased.

The Bayat Foundation provides educational support and orphan care.

The Bayat Foundation has overseen remodeling and refurbishment of classrooms and dormitories across the country as well as providing much-needed school supplies. The organization has also constructed several new schools, libraries, and orphanages. It also built a sports stadium. These efforts provide a safe environment for Afghan children to learn in, helping increase literacy throughout the country by educating one child at a time.

During August 2019, the Bayat Foundation’s School and Student Assistance Program built new school facilities in Kabul. It also provided school equipment, incorporating 5,000 types of school supplies, including pencils, notebooks, shoes, backpacks, and prepackaged nutritious meals.

The Bayat Foundation also educates civilians across Afghanistan through public service announcements on a variety of different topics. These include food hygiene, personal hygiene, human rights issues, and respect for elders and youths.

The Bayat Foundation launched the American University of Afghanistan Scholars Program.

The Bayat Foundation is Afghanistan’s biggest private non-profit education, health, and social development organization. The Foundation demonstrated its enduring commitment to increasing opportunities for the youth of Afghanistan by launching its Scholars Program at the American University of Afghanistan in April 2019. Its mission is to promote a new generation of exceptional, highly-skilled IT professionals to lead technical innovation and entrepreneurship throughout Afghanistan in years to come.

afghan children

Every year, 15 scholarships will be awarded under the Bayat Scholars Program to qualified candidates who successfully complete the application process. The program will enable prospective undergraduates to study at the American University of Afghanistan and obtain a bachelor’s degree in either computer science or information communication technology.

To qualify for the program, candidates must be Afghan citizens with a high school diploma. They should be proficient speakers of English and possess a strong academic record. Qualifying students must commit to utilizing their education for the betterment of Afghanistan.

The Bayat Foundation provides disaster response, emergency relief, fresh water, and nutritious food.

The Bayat Foundation has provided emergency aid to flooding and avalanche victims, delivering medical aid, food, clothing, and other vital support in the aftermath of regional disasters. Additionally, thanks to the organization’s deep well-digging initiatives, more people throughout Afghanistan enjoy access to clean, safe drinking water today.

Each year, The Bayat Foundation Food Assistance Program initiative provides hundreds of thousands of nutritious meals to families throughout Afghanistan. Every Bayat Foundation meal kit provides pre-packaged, easy-to-prepare meals that are shelf stable and fortified with vitamins, proteins, and other key nutrients.

The Bayat Foundation partners with local schools to ensure its programs reach as many families as possible. To date, more than 172,800 pre-packaged meals have been distributed to families and children throughout Kabul and the surrounding regions.

The Bayat Foundation sponsors sporting events.

The Foundation sponsors a variety of different sporting events, including bicycle races, distance running, and walk-a-thons. Its aim is to inspire young people throughout Afghanistan to take part in competitive sports and team-building exercises.