Life In War - Afghanistan

Photographs & Text by Majid Saeedi

  • Share This:
Although I have spent my entire professional life traveling from one conflict zone to another, in the past year, for this project, I have focused exclusively on the men and women whose lives have been crushed by the war in Afghanistan, a country I have been visiting for over a decade.

I haven't been allowed to work in my home country of Iran for the past four years, since the last elections there in 2009, which were turbulent. Afghanistan is an equally turbulent alternative to being back at home in Tehran. In my role working for the Getty Images news service, the people of Afghanistan have been my main subject matter in these past four years that I have spent living amongst them. They have become part of my memories, both good and bad, and their happiness and sadness have become my main concern.

For the past century, Afghanistan has been involved in various wars and conflicts, due to its internal politics, religion, or because other powers sought to conquer these lands. Remnants of Russian tanks are still ever-present in the streets, mountainsides and valleys. After the war with the USSR, Communists seized power in the country. It was during this time that conservative Muslims started to get organized, and eventually gained power themselves. Later, they in turn became another cause of strife, this time in the civil war between Al Qaeda and the country’s regular civilians. After September 11th, the world noticed what was going on in Afghanistan and the dynamics of its civil war began change once more. This time Afghan people faced a new war, as foreign countries squared off against al-Qaeda.

We have seen countless images of Afghanistan, particularly images of soldiers and aid workers throughout the country, but these images don’t portray the real Afghanistan in my experience. The real Afghanistan may be an image of a humble child looking at my camera lens without a smile. If you are a photojournalist in Afghanistan, you would get used to seeing these faces. For me, the real Afghanistan would be the smile on the faces of those same children when they take pictures with my camera, or in contrast, an image of women who have set themselves on fire to express their despair about their lives, images of men, women and children who have lost their arms and legs due to land mines…

I could never find out how much the portentous, traumatic passage of life has hurt these peoples' lives, as they have always remained impassive in front of my camera. I am very much interested to know how the viewer feels when seeing my images. The main question I have had during these years is: that what is the result of all these wars? Every time I see a young Afghan boy or girl in the streets, as unhappy as children in European countries are happy, this question rings in my head.

War is not the only thing going on in Afghanistan. There is the influence of Persian and Mughal culture in traditional Afghan architecture and decorative garments. There is a paradox between the tranquility of Eastern culture and the violence of war.

I wonder what the characters I have photographed might think about the people viewing the images, and the world that they come from. Just imagine you were born in Afghanistan. How would you look at the world, or those countries, the only expression of which you have seen being through their armed forces and weaponry?

Sometimes it strikes me that we have a mysterious and deep connection. Even though we don't see each other, we speak empathetically, talk about the cries of a generation, the tears of hopeless children, the violence and silence of a nation. Throughout all the lonely and difficult days of war, I kept telling myself that I'm a photojournalist, in the streets of Afghanistan, with the responsibility of exploring certain realities.

Twelve years ago, when President George W. Bush declared that Afghanistan would be the battlefield on which terrorism would be extinguished, no one imagined that the war would still be ongoing so many years later, and that the world would remain incapable of suppressing this extremist Islamist group and ideology.

But this war is neither the first nor the last in Afghanistan. Its history of wars with the West hark back half a millennium. The first one took place in Helmand in 1388 between British and Afghan forces. You might recognize the name Helmand from today's headlines. The conflict appears to still be ongoing, all these generations later.

I was a photographer for many years in Iran, including covering its various turbulent neighbors. In 2009, this turbulence came home to Iran in the protests that followed the presidential elections. I was arrested and sent to prison for capturing images of events on the streets. Following my release, and accepting an offer from my agency, I went to Afghanistan, remaining there for over three years, and reaping a harvest of bittersweet memories. Sharing a common tongue, I found that I could live alongside the Afghans, understanding, laughing and crying with them.

This may not be a widespread view, but from my experiences, I trust that the departure of foreign troops will make Afghanistan a much safer country. And when that happens, all these people whose lives I have been documenting over the past decade can set about reconstituting their lives.

This feature was shot between 2009-2013.

Full edit of 157 images available on request.