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Sept 11: A Campus Reflects

Nancy Dupree

Nancy Dupree: Still Fighting for Afghanistan
Former Duke faculty member fights to keep Afghan culture alive.

DURHAM, NC -- One thing Nancy Dupree wants people to know about Afghanistan is that it didn't have to happen this way.

The former Duke faculty member has been there for five decades, before the fighting, before the chaos, when Kabul was a sophisticated place, when universities thrived, political dissent was accepted in the streets and women were among the loudest of the activists.

"In the 1960s, the country made a strong movement toward development, meaning road building, communications and education," Dupree said. "This was very successful. People were going around the world to learn the professions. There were thousands of engineers, many intellectuals. Millions of dollars were coming in through foreign investment from the Germans, the Russians, the Indians and others. There were jazz clubs, nightclubs, great restaurants of all kinds. Women had come out of the home and could move about in the public sphere. They wore the veil, but on a voluntary basis."

That Kabul is mostly a memory now, lost to the nearly 25 years of fighting and the crackdown on civil society by governments starting with the Soviet invasion and continuing through the religious edicts of the Taliban. But Dupree, 74, the widow of the late Duke professor Louis Dupree, is making a heroic effort to help the Afghan people reclaim that cultural heritage.

She was back in Durham last month, visiting friends and getting a medical checkup. ("You think things are bad over in Afghanistan," she said with fire. "I'll tell you what really gets me mad: HMOs. I've had the worse time with them while I'm here.")

But for most of the year, she is in Peshawar, Pakistan, just across the border from Afghanistan, where she runs the ACBAR Resource Information Center with more than 25,000 volumes in a variety of languages. It's an information clearinghouse for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to learn about ongoing and past aid projects in Afghanistan; a place where NGOs can coordinate efforts, share success stories and avoid duplication.

The center was the brainchild of her husband, a scholar whose work in Afghanistan dates back to the 1950s. He and Nancy were thrown out of the country by the Soviets, but they continued their work with Afghan refugees from Pakistan and from Durham. Both were honored on several occasions for their extensive contributions to the refugees. Louis Dupree died in 1989.

"When the Soviets withdrew, that's when Louis passed away. I said to him that he should be happy because he had been predicting all along that the Soviets would leave and everyone laughed at him. But he said, 'Yes, it's a good step, but the troubles are just beginning.'

"Yet I don't think even he would have imagined that it would have been going on for so long."

After his death, Nancy Dupree, author of five guidebooks on Kabul and Afghanistan, taught her husband's former courses at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. But when the semester ended, she realized she needed something to prevent her sadness from sliding into a deep depression.

"When the semester ended, the realization of Louis' death hit me like a ton of bricks," she said. "That's when I got a phone call from Peshawar. They had accepted proposal from Louis for this information center. They told me, 'We've bought the idea, but it's not working. You have to come out here and put yourself where Louis' big mouth is.'

"I didn't know what I was doing, but over time we got a cataloging system, we got computers, and it's developed quite nicely. It's mostly used by the aid community and university students wanting to trace the history of development in the region."

When Dupree returned to the region, it soon became clear that the chaos in Afghanistan was putting Afghan's cultural history at risk.

"Private libraries in Kabul were being looted, not only private libraries, but also the university and public libraries. And in those libraries were the works of Afghan intellectuals, scientists, historians, professionals. Their works were being sold on the sidewalk, sometimes for waste paper. All that heritage was being lost."

Archeological artifacts, some dating back to Roman times, also were disappearing. Dupree helped organize the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural History, which made efforts to purchase or acquire as many of the books and artifacts as possible before they were lost for good.

The work continued as the Taliban came to power. From Peshawar, Dupree watched as Afghanistan once again became a great game to the region's powers to play in.

"What started the Taliban's rise was Pakistan's interior minister. The whole region was a stirring pot, with everyone playing their own game. The interior minister wanted so badly to send convoys for trade into central Asia. He sent convoy into Afghanistan, and it was hijacked. At that point, he called upon Mullah Omar to get his trucks back. He got them, and then they negotiated, and that was the beginning of the Taliban. It was economics, not just politics or religion. Religion was really at the tail end of what was driving this thing."

At first, many Taliban officials took an interest in Afghan cultural history, Dupree said. But as Arab influence in the government rose, the rulers targeted Afghan's cultural heritage, all in the name of turning the country into a model Islamic state, she said.

"To do this, they had to diminish any sense of any Afghanness on the part of the Afghan society. They started in little ways, subtle ways. Libraries get looted. They used to have Radio Afghanistan. Then suddenly one day the Taliban made it Radio Sharia. Of course, this all led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas."

After the fall of the Taliban, the work remains important, and risky, she said. "We are still in Peshawar. I have not moved. We are making plans to move to Kabul, but I've got 25,000 documents and very few of them have any duplicates. So it takes only one mullah or one American with a daisy-cutter bomb and I'm finished.

"The Pakistanis have treated us well until recently. Now they're tired, and they want all Afghans to go back. They are making it very difficult for them in Peshawar, and I get caught in it. They want to close me down. I've always had a visa for one year, no more, and we'll have to see how long that continues."

Furthermore, she remains concerned about the stability of the new Karzai regime. Dupree said the American military campaign did nothing to bring stability to the country. And while she supports the new government, she predicts that if Western governments do not quickly follow through on their promises of aid - which, to date, they haven't - the population will turn on the government.

"Right now, the people hear about all these millions being promised, and they're not seeing anything change."

For more information about ARIC, see http://www.pcpafg.org/Organizations/ARIC/.

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Focus Corner
___   Campus Voices

Campus Voices: Members of Duke community reflect on the meaning of the 9/11 anniversary.

___   DUMA Exhibit

A portfolio of images from the DUMA Exhibit "Missing: Documenting the Spontaneous Memorials of 9/11"

___   Catheryn Cotten

In a recent interview with Dialogue, Catheryn Cotten discusses how universities have had to change their visa administration.

Audio & Video

audio Audio from Duke's Karla Holloway on "Talk of the Nation," on National Public Radio. September 11, 2002 Listen.

audio Audio from Professor Ebrahim Moosa on "The Connection," on National Public Radio. September 10, 2002 Listen.

Information for Broadcast Media

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