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What does it mean to be "Afghan"?

What does it mean to be "Afghan"? - I am deeply excited to be able to share the thesis paper I completed for my B.A. with the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. I would like to take a moment to thank my advisor, Dr. Harris Mylonas, for his invaluable support and mentorship in the process of writing this thesis. I would also like to thank Maida Withers and Dr. Ashley Thorndike-Youssef, my advisors and mentors, for all of their continued support and guidance during the four years of my undergraduate experience and during the research process for this thesis. Additionally, I owe special thanks to all of the people I interviewed for this thesis who were kind enough to take the time to share their time and thoughts with me. Thank you also to Dr. Paul Bucherer-Dietschi and the Afghanistan Institut, Dr. Erica Cusi Wortham, Dr. Margaret Soltan, Dr. Muriel Atkin, Michele Clark, Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray, Dr. Justin Olav Wyss-Gallifent, and everyone else who has helped to make this thesis possible.

I've included a couple of quotations below from the interviews I conducted with Afghan community members about their experiences with dance that have stuck with me. To see what other community members have said and to learn more about the question of what it means to be "Afghan" through the lens of dance after 40+ years of conflict, I invite you to read my thesis here (will redirect to a PDF document). If you would like to share any thoughts or ask any questions about what you read, please feel free to leave me a note via the comments section or contact me directly by email at

“The Attan shows unity. My aunts thus showed interest, I mean because of the unity. A lot of Attan songs are patriotic. They help us to get in touch with our roots when we’re away from our country. My mother said, “When I was in Afghanistan, I didn’t even like Attan.” But now she does. The Attan is our national dance. I think our history is pretty transient, but our culture is perpetual. That’s another part of Afghan identity, the whole border or no border thing.”

– Afghan-American in Fairfax, Virginia, USA (Interview 4U)

“We can have a... world without having borders without having political systems. The only thing that’s impossible in this world is connecting people through politics. And I think that music can help us to have a world without any borders. But at the same time, socially, many Afghans who are coming from Iran, spending many years in Iran, they love Iran, they love everything about Iran. Their culture, their religion, their knowledge, their social and cultural approaches, the way that they are speaking. And the best style, always Iranian. Always listening to Iranian music, always practicing Iranian dance styles... On the other side, Attan is basically a dance style that was being practiced by, not all of the Pashtuns but a part of Pashtuns in Paktika and Pakhtia provinces. It’s being considered as a... as a national dance style, [...], but non-Pashtun people are not practicing it. They believe that this is not a national dance style. It was forced by Pashtun majority to publicize this dance style.”

– Afghan in Kabul, Kabul, Afghanistan (Interview 1A)

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