, director and founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music
, has been named "Person of the Year" by Radio Azadi
, RFE/RL's Afghanistan Service. The Institute, and its offshoot Afghanistan Youth Orchestra
, have given the country's children an opportunity to flourish through music.
Speaking with Radio Azadi, Sarmast explained his vision. "I believe music is not only art and a tool for entertainment, but it is also a tool for fighting against poverty and fundamental changes in a society...Music can have positive effects on the psychology of the people of a country, especially a war-torn country like Afghanistan, especially the children of Afghanistan who have witnessed destruction of their houses, death of their relatives and devastation of their country and their villages.”
Among the children accepted into the Institute
, one-half are orphans, former street children and girls who are particularly disadvantaged in Afghan society, and for whom such an opportunity was previously unthinkable. In February the orchestra traveled to the U.S. as part of a tour
that included performances at Washington's Kennedy Center and New York's Carnegie Hall and a visit with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Music fell silent in Afghanistan under the Taliban, who beat musicians, destroyed instruments and publicly burned recordings in the name of that regime's extreme version of Islam. When the Taliban fell in 2001, Sarmast was among those who took steps to revive the country's musical tradition, by becoming the first native of Afghanistan to earn a PhD in music and then opening the Institute at the very site where his own musical education began as a boy. He sees his work in promoting music education as "returning the musical right of Afghans back to them."
The "Person of the Year" award is selected and presented by Radio Azadi annually on the occasion of Norouz, the Persian New Year, and recognizes outstanding individual contributions to peace, democracy and culture in Afghanistan. Of Sarmast, Azadi Director Hashem Mohmand said, "he has contributed to an atmosphere of hope."
Previous winners include former princess Hindia d'Afghanistan
, Afghan musician and UN Goodwill Ambassador Farhad Darya
, lawmaker Ramzan Bashardost
, physician and human rights activist Anarkali Honaryar
and the governor of Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sherzai.
For more on Radio Azadi, click here