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Ceremonies set to honor victims of Afghanistan's communist regime in late '70s

  • October 10, 2013

By Chris De Benedetti
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

A recent investigation that released the names of 5,000 people tortured and killed by Afghan officials in the late 1970s has unleashed waves of emotions for families affected by that dark, bloody era in Afghanistan.

As the East Bay's Afghan-American community mourns the now-confirmed deaths, some leaders have scheduled memorial services this weekend to honor those lives lost at the hands of Afghanistan's then-communist regime.

The ceremonies are intended to help the grieving Afghan-American community heal wounds remaining from that war-torn nation's period, said Layma Murtaza, an organizer of the events.

"They are a way to acknowledge what happened 35 years ago," said Murtaza, 30. "They are also a way to move forward, by coming together and remembering those who were killed while honoring freedom in Afghanistan."

The first service will run from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Fremont Senior Center in Central Park, said Murtaza. A second ceremony is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Cal State East Bay's University Theatre in Hayward.

The list of people tortured and killed in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1979 was released last month by police in the Netherlands, which has conducted a war crimes investigation based on testimony from an Afghan intelligence official seeking asylum there.

Afghanistan was ruled by communist regimes from 1978 to 1989, and their violent repression -- as well as the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 -- prompted millions to flee the country. Today, nearly 300,000 Afghan-Americans reportedly live in the United States, and the largest cluster of them are Bay Area residents. Fremont has the largest Afghan-American population among U.S. cities.

Murtaza's parents migrated to the East Bay in the late 1970s. They were granted political asylum in the United States and settled in Hayward.

But some 5,000 Afghans were not so lucky. Murtaza said those Afghan innocents were everyday people -- farmers, teachers, intellectuals, technocrats and shop owners. "A whole generation of young men were taken into prisons and tortured and killed in a variety of ways," she said.

The release of the victims' names last month reopened emotional scars among Afghan-Americans, but it also presented an opportunity for some to find closure, Murtaza said. "All those families have been waiting for an answer about something they haven't had for so long," she said. "Now they have something on paper solidifying that someone's family member had been lost."

The memorial services are being presented by the Afghan Student Association at Cal State East Bay and The Afghan Beat, a community organization that seeks to help Afghans and Afghan-Americans. People of all backgrounds are welcome to attend, organizers said.

"It's time to mend these issues," Murtaza said. "We've all lost someone or something and we need to gain strength as a community -- at home in America but also in solidarity with our family and friends in Afghanistan."

WHERE: Cal State East Bay, University Theatre
ADDRESS: 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward
WHEN: 4-7 p.m.


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