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Khomeini Commemorations Met With Resistance By Afghan Youth

  • Frud Bezhan

A large billboard in Kabul, erected by the Islamic Shura of Kabul, to mark the anniversary of the death of former Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini

A large billboard in Kabul, erected by the Islamic Shura of Kabul, to mark the anniversary of the death of former Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini

Young people swept through the streets of Kabul this week, defacing and tearing down posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini plastered throughout the city.

Meant to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the former Iranian supreme leader, the posters and large billboards have offended many in Afghanistan, a Sunni-majority country whose relations with its western neighbor have recently soured.

Demonstrations including both Sunni and Shi'a have been staged daily in the Afghan capital ahead of the June 3 anniversary.

Scores of young people gathered on June 1 in front of a looming billboard of Khomeini, some carrying placards reading: "This is Kabul not Tehran."

"Why are we celebrating Khomeini's day here?" asked Kabul University student Ahmad Jan Kandahari. "He is an Iranian figure. Why do we need to celebrate him here in Afghanistan? Here we have our own cultural icons and jihadi figures. They should be the ones celebrated in Afghanistan."

'Direct Attack'

During a rally on May 31, a Kabul high-school student named Arash described efforts to honor Khomeini as a grave injustice to the Afghan nation.

"As you see, posters of Ayatollah Khomeini are hanging in the intersections," he said. "This is a direct attack against Afghan culture and own national heroes."

Young people demonstrate against Khomeini in Kabul on May 30.

Young people demonstrate against Khomeini in Kabul on May 30.

The social-networking site Facebook was abuzz with comments and photos after the posters were put up. And while many were critical of the move, some defended Khomeini as a great leader of the Islamic faith.

"Khomeini is one of the leaders of the Islamic faith," wrote Ashraf Frugh. "He doesn't just belong to Iran but to all countries where he has followers."

Such supporters of Khomeini are the ones the Islamic Shura of Kabul, the Shi'ite council that put up the posters, intended to bring on to the streets on June 1. The posters, which the council put up with the permission of local authorities, feature a large image of Khomenei and announce a "big gathering" in large letters. All comers are invited to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the "Great Leader...saying goodbye to this world."

The religious council expects hundreds to pour through the Mazari Mosque in a mass prayer to pay their respects.

Fierce Political Debate

Coming amid increased tensions between Tehran and Kabul, with some Afghan lawmakers accusing Iran of meddling in Afghanistan's internal affairs, the issue has become fodder for a fierce political debate.

"Iranian leaders are not the leaders of Afghanistan!" wrote Kabul University student Rohullah Elham in one Afghan forum. "The policies of Iran do not favor Afghanistan. The Islamic regime in Iran is not our government. Those of you who have sold your souls, wake up!"

Ahmad Saeedi, a Kabul-based political analyst, says the marking of Khomeini's death in Afghanistan is a worrying indication of Iran's growing influence in the country.

"The cultural, economic, and political influence of Iran starts from the presidential office and spreads throughout the country," Saeedi says. "This is ensuring that the rules and traditions of Iran are overriding those in Afghanistan."

Observers say the main source of recent Afghan-Iran tensions is Kabul's signing of a long-term strategic agreement with United States on May 1, which raised Iranian fears of an extended U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Some Afghan lawmakers and officials have accused Tehran of launching a campaign aimed at derailing the U.S.-Afghan partnership, notably through bribing influential Afghan lawmakers and by inciting anti-American and antigovernment sentiment through media outlets it funds.

Written and reported by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

* This article has been amended since it was originally posted
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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