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Hope among the Ruins

Afghanistan is the USA's second longest war and is set to overtake Vietnam as the longest-running military engagement in 2019. The country has been the violent playground of rival geopolitical forces for centuries - the British and Russian empires, Persia and the Soviet Union - in addition to numerous civil wars that have ravaged the country and its people. In Afghanistan, hope is not a passive concept, it's a necessary and active survival mechanism. After more than 16 years of American military activity in the fight against one insurgency after another, growing government corruption and a recent surge in Taliban and Islamic State violence that comes with almost daily bombs and attacks, there seems to be no end in sight for the continued destruction of a nation rich in history, culture and natural beauty. From the 2001 invasion under George W. Bush following the September 11th attacks on the US to a 'surge' in troop numbers under the Obama administration and a ramping up of counter-insurgency efforts under the Trump administration, Afghanistan has barely budged from the centre of American foreign and security policy over the past decade and a half. War, tragically, has also dominated the lives of millions of Afghans for almost 40 years.

Afghans continue to make up one of the largest refugee populations in the world, yet the world knows very little about the nation beyond its tragic designation now as the home of endless war. Images of ruined cities juxtaposed with heavily armed U.S. troops and malnourished, impoverished children are the only glimpses of contemporary life that circulate the media and stay in the minds of people around the world. The colour red, which once stood for life and happiness and graced restaurants, cafes and the interiors of homes now recalls the blood stained concrete in the aftermath of yet another atrocity. Violence has become all too familiar in Afghans' daily lives.

Despite 16 years of military occupation, Afghans have tightly held onto their culture and a sense of tradition and history which is indivisible from the Afghan character. A sense of what was, and what can still be. Between the bouts of violence and the interminable war, hope and positivity lives on in peoples' lives and this is on display on the faces and through the colours and subtle moments of everyday life across the country. Just as an Afghan man sells brightly colored fruit in front of the remains of a bombed out building, life still permeates the ruins and permeates even the most hopeless places.

Hossein Fatemi took these photos between 2007 and 2012 while he was living in Afghanistan. Growing up in Iran, Fatemi remembers being told as a child not to play with Afghan children, and to avoid migrant Afghan workers who were living nearby. This photo story is a personal engagement with the country and its people, driven by a desire to deconstruct the narratives that have evolved around Afghanistan and to reflect the country through a personal response.
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