Afghan Uzbek Refugees Hopeful While Adjusting to Life in US

“We are at the Kabul airport,” said Sayed Kabir, an Afghan Uzbek refugee. “Everyone is trying to flee Afghanistan. There are some Uzbeks amongst us. I am carrying my daughter on my shoulders…”

Sayed Kabir and his wife, Suhayla Rahmani, remember this painful scene from a year ago. They were among those who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul last August. The family is from the Uzbek community, which fears the Taliban rule threatens ethnic minorities in the country.

Read the full transcript

“I was not very happy leaving Afghanistan,” said Kabir. “What child would abandon their mother? It’s my birthplace, a place where I grew up. All my friends and relatives are in Afghanistan.”

Kabir was a government employee who also worked at the U.S.-led Combined Security Transition Command. When the Taliban swept back into power, he feared for his life and the safety of his family.

Now settled in Paterson, New Jersey, the family is adjusting to its new life. There is a mosque nearby — and even an Afghan grocery store.

Estimated to be about 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population, Uzbeks are the country’s third-largest ethnic group.

Rights groups have accused the Taliban, which are predominantly ethnic Pashtun, of persecuting minorities that backed the previous government and seizing their homes and lands.

“Once the Taliban came to power, they destroyed 20 years of our work,” said Kabir. “The Uzbek language had been officially recognized and taught in schools and universities. We were very proud when the Uzbek Language Day was put on the calendar.”

But the situation changed after the Taliban takeover.

“Our children used to learn from Uzbek textbooks in school,” said Kabir. “Those textbooks were collected and burned. All this pains me a great deal.”

Kabir says he still hopes that Afghanistan will one day be liberated from the Taliban rule.

“They have a saying in Farsi, which goes: ‘It is wrong to try to re-examine a person who has already been examined,’” said Kabir. “It is wrong to build politics with the wrong people. Let us establish relations with good, open-minded, intelligent young people and politicians. I want Afghanistan to recover.”

Kabir, who is also a well-known musician in northern Afghanistan, says one of his goals now is to preserve Uzbek culture among the Uzbek community in America.

“Our children used to learn from Uzbek textbooks in school. Those textbooks were collected and burned. All this pains me a great deal.”

Sayed Kabir, an Afghan Uzbek refugee