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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Soviets Withdrawal: Void After Victory

CIRCA 1989 CE
THEMES:

Geography & Destiny

Tradition & Modernization

Reveal Source

Dupree, Nancy. 80-655-4. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

H-00214-30. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Kingruedi. "Evstafiev-afghan-apc-passes-russian." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed September 5, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-afghan-apc-passes-russian.jpg.
Creative Commons license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en
 
Q-00481-27. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Q2-01283-33. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Q2-01290-06. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Sl-06216. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Stone Upon My Soul (Russian Propaganda Film Showing Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan). Salvaged and cleaned up by Gregory Whitmore. Williams Afghan Media Project, previously unpublished. 

Producer: Alexis Menten

 

Reveal Transcript

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Ten years later, in 1989, they withdrew defeated. How did it come to this?

After the Soviet invasion, there was prolonged fighting throughout the 1980s. The Soviet-Afghan War was really a kind of stalemate—neither side could defeat the other.

Eventually, a variety of factors ended the stalemate. One important one was the decision of the American government to provide stinger shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that neutralized the one big advantage that the Soviets had, which was their helicopters. And when they were neutralized, the Mujahiedeen began to take control of the countryside and really to push the Soviets into their bases and into the cities.

Ultimately another advantage that the Mujahideen had was that they were going to stay longer than the Soviets were. And this coincided with a period where the Soviet Union was suffering severe economic consequences of their own internal problems, the war was unpopular and ultimately within a year after their departure from Afghanistan the Soviet Union began to break apart.

The end result though was not the peace and prosperity that all had longed for. The freedom may have been won but it was won at a cost and what was left behind when the Soviets withdrew were a group of political parties, all of whom wanted power for themselves.

Translated lyrics of Russian song: 

In Afghanistan
in the black Tulip
with vodka in our glasses
we float silently over the earth
mournful bird, flies over the border
toward the Russian dawn

Carrying her boys home
soldiers return, to their beloved motherland
to lie in the earth
on a leave without end
torn to pieces
never to embrace
over the oasis of Jalabad.

Our tulip tilted on one wing
we cursed our job
again the boy has led his men to death
in Shindad, Kandahar, and Begram.

 

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Ten years later, they withdrew defeated. But what resulted was not the peace that everyone had hoped for.

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