At world fair, Afghan emigre wants people to rediscover troubled homeland

A visitor looks at a private collection of Afghan artefacts at the Afghanistan Pavilion during the Dubai Expo 2020, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

DUBAI (Reuters) - An Afghan who fled his country over 40 years ago has stepped in to rescue Afghanistan's exhibition at the Dubai world fair after the Taliban takeover in his homeland in August scuttled official Afghan participation in the mega cultural extravaganza.

The 62-year-old, Vienna-based antiques dealer gathered up his family collection of Afghan artefacts, including carpets, daggers and jewellery, to fill the Afghan pavilion that had remained shut when Expo 2020 opened on Oct. 1.

"As an Afghan this was a duty for me," said Mohammed Omer Rahimy, who for years has taken the family collection to exhibitions around the world to promote Afghan culture.

"We feel very happy that Afghanistan's exhibition is open."

The tri-colour flag of Afghanistan flutters at the Dubai fairgrounds, while the white flag used by its new Taliban rulers is absent, symbolic of the challenges facing the hardline Islamist movement in gaining international recognition.

Rahimy has lived in Austria since fleeing Afghanistan in 1978 when the then-president was killed in a communist coup that spiralled into decades of nationwide violence and bloodshed.

He and relatives joining him in Dubai paid the cost of transporting the artefacts that now comprise the Afghan exhibition, among 191 other countries at the six-month world fair.

Images of the Hazrat Ali Mazar mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif and the Band-e Amir National Park in Bamyan Province adorn the walls of the Afghan pavilion, also decked in hand-woven carpets and traditional clothing.

Rahimy said the exhibition represents all Afghans and hopes the intricate jewellery, daggers, pottery and lamps will teach visitors about the culture of his homeland.

"It is in my blood. All those items you see are very precious to me," he said, adding that he hopes he can bring musicians from Afghanistan to perform during the world fair.

However commercial flights to Afghanistan have been suspended for months due to security concerns. Some visitors were not expecting to find Afghanistan at the Expo.

"I am surprised because of the political situation in Afghanistan," said 59-year-old Alka Goyal from Bhopal in India.

Though organisers say the Expo is apolitical, the fair is used by governments to promote their nations as tourist destinations, to attract investment and project soft power.

Rahimy's eyes well up with tears when asked about the uncertainty and turmoil facing Afghanistan, where a mounting economic crisis is adding to disquiet about the radical Taliban's return to power after 20 years.

"I love my people and my country, I hope peace and stability are restored in Afghanistan as soon as possible," he said.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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