photo by: Contributed
This summer has been hell for Ahmad Baset Azizi, a University of Kansas student who worked desperately to get his family out of Afghanistan as the Taliban invaded the country.
But in the last week of August, his fear and anxiety gave way to relief and joy when he learned that his parents and three sisters had boarded a plane safely from Kabul. in the United Arab Emirates – just a day before a suicide bomber struck Kabul. the airport, killing 182 people.
Nine “terrifying” days passed from when the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital until her family escaped, “but I hope they will be in the United States in a week or two, ”he told Journal-World on Thursday.
Azizi, who came to the United States at the age of 16 to study music, has not seen his family for six years. He spent dark hours not knowing if he would ever see them again, but now he anticipates an impending reunion in Lawrence, where they hope to live for the foreseeable future. Azizi was instrumental in collecting the necessary documents and making arrangements.
When the five of them arrive, it will be with just a few clothes – they had to give up all their other belongings, as well as their house and savings in Kabul – but here, Azizi says, they will have what matters most: one the other and a future.
He says he is particularly happy for his sisters, who will have opportunities that would not be possible under the Taliban, known for prohibiting education and public life for women.
“They would be so limited,” he says.
Before the Taliban regained power, his older sister was able to earn a law degree from Kabul University – which he happily notes is “another KU.” Another sister has just graduated from high school and the youngest is 14 years old.
“Both are nice”
Now 22, Azizi, known as Baset by his friends and family, speaks fluent English and fits in easily with other KU students, although he says he is often mistaken for an Italian or a other nationality.
He attributes the error to people with ideas about what Afghan men look like – big beards, turbans, cheeky faces – and laughs politely.
One of his personal missions while in America was to educate people about the “real” Afghanistan, which he says is not, fundamentally, the Taliban, terrorism and the burqa.
“There is a rich culture, history and beauty in Afghanistan,” he said.
Azizi has of course heard stories of how Afghan evacuees are sometimes treated badly – how people like Kansas Senate Speaker Ty Masterson said, “It could be dangerous to have them in our state. But he still has faith that his family will be warmly welcomed.
“Lawrence is a good place,” he says, and with important exceptions he thinks everyday Americans have this in common with everyday Afghans: “Both are nice. “
“I’m going to be a musician”
Azizi was born in 1999, during what he calls “the first reign of the Taliban,” a period that spanned from 1996 to 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11. After the invasion, he attended a school near the Interior Ministry in Kabul, which became a prime target of Taliban hostility. He says his school windows were smashed by explosions and he sometimes saw body parts in the streets.
photo by: Courtesy of Ahmad Baset Azizi
His family ultimately deemed the school unsafe and his father, a military officer aligned with US and NATO forces, asked him if he would like to attend another school, specializing in music. Young Azizi quickly agreed, believing – wrongly, it turns out – that he wouldn’t have to study “real subjects” like mathematics.
“I was so happy,” he says. “I thought, well, I’m not going to study anymore. I am going to be a musician.
A school teacher asked him what instrument he would like to play. He said the piano. The teacher thought for a moment, then said, “No, you’ll play the trumpet.” “
“I said OK, whatever, I don’t know what a trumpet is,” recalls Azizi.
The teacher showed him.
“What is a piece of iron?” he was thinking. “I didn’t like it, but I thought saying no might be disrespectful.”
After learning to play a few notes, he changed his mind: “It was the coolest thing,” he says.
He discovered the brilliant sounds the horn could make, and decided to master them, “to become the best trumpeter I can be.” By the time he was a teenager he played with the National Orchestra in Afghanistan and with American military bands – an opportunity that would have been unthinkable if the Taliban were ruling the country at the time, as they had banned all music, especially music. western music.
When Azizi was 15, an American friend encouraged him to apply for the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, and he was accepted. From there, he was encouraged to study trumpet at KU by Professor Steve Leisring and then-provost Neeli Bendapudi, who saw a CBS News article on Azizi. He has been at Lawrence since 2017.
“He’s a pretty young man,” Leisring told Journal-World, recounting how Azizi would come to class after sleepless nights communicating with his family. The time difference between Kabul and Lawrence is approximately nine hours.
Although Azizi still enjoys music, his studies have spread to global and international studies, largely in response to his family’s plight, and he hopes to graduate in 2022 with three majors.
He recently completed an internship in Congress with US Representative Jake LaTurner, and his time in Washington, DC has served him well in helping his family around the house.
“The (American) withdrawal from Afghanistan has been heartbreaking for so many, and the Azizi family is no exception,” LaTurner told Journal-World. “Baset was a pleasure to have an intern in our DC office this summer, and I wish him all the best. We were proud to be of service.
photo by: Steve leisring
Azizi brought his trumpet to his internship in DC and had the opportunity to play with the US Army Band, also known as Pershing’s Own, and had what he calls “the great honor” of playing Taps at the National World War I Memorial; the event was intended to honor American veterans of the war in Afghanistan and the victims of September 11.
“I have respect for all the men and women in uniform because my father was also a military officer,” he says. His father recently retired as a colonel, and because he had worked with the US military, he is now a target of the Taliban.
Leisring, the KU professor, flew to DC to see Azizi play. He says it was “moving” to see his student lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
photo by: Courtesy of Ahmad Baset Azizi
While in Washington, Azizi took many photos, one of which he said was instrumental in his family’s escape from Kabul. It’s a photo of him in a suit and tie, standing in front of the United States Capitol. His sister, the one with a law degree, took out the picture and convinced a gullible guard at the Kabul airport that his brother was a member of the US Congress; the family was allowed to continue.
Azizi now thinks of happy times with her family. When asked what he most expected to have here in Lawrence, he said he sat down with them, “talk about life” and eat his favorite food – Kabuli palaw, the national dish of the country. ‘Afghanistan – cooked for him, for the first time. times in six years, by his mother.
Azizi created a GoFundMe account to raise funds for her family’s relocation. He hopes to get $ 70,000 to pay for their transportation and their first living expenses since leaving Afghanistan with only a few clothes.