- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

Nearly a thousand Afghan Americans yesterday celebrated Afghanistan Day on the National Mall in front of the Capitol.
"When the Taliban were removed from Afghanistan, our country was freed for the first time in more than 20 years," said event coordinator Suleiman Wali.
Most were refugees from the Russian-Afghanistan war, which began in 1973. Most have never returned home. They were either unable or unwilling to risk the trip until now.
"We wanted to have the local Afghan community be able to come and show their solidarity toward America," Mr. Wali said.
There are nearly 30,000 Afghan refugees living in the region, he said. The U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council (US-ARC) sponsored the event. The council is trying to raise money for schools and aid to the war-torn country.
Afghan Ambassador-designee Ishaq Sharyar told his countrymen, many of whom now have American-born children, that "the time has come for us to return and help rebuild our country."
Mr. Sharyar has lived in the United States for 35 years, working as an engineer. He shared his experience of going back last month to visit the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, "after the fighting was over."
"You have never seen such suffering and destruction," Mr. Sharyar shouted from the podium with his back to the Capitol steps.
Dr. Abdullah Sherzai, the executive director of US-ARC, said his organization hopes to reach its goal to raise $100,000 for schools, health programs, and supplies to send back to Afghanistan.
Participants like Mohammed Arisiaf, 40, praised his country's newfound freedom.
"This is a celebration of peace, a party for freedom," Mr. Arisiaf said.
He left Afghanistan at the age of 21 in 1982 after six members of his family were killed in an attack just outside of his village near Kabul.
"My sister has just returned to stay. She was living in Iran while the Taliban took over," Mr. Arisiaf said. "When we last spoke in December she was doing well, and the town was being rebuilt."
Artist Tariq Rafiq, 33, got out of the hot sun so he could paint watercolor pictures of yesterday's rally.
"I left Afghanistan in 1979 with my entire family, and I haven't been back since," said Mr. Rafiq. "We haven't been allowed to go back," his wife, Mora, said.
Mr. Rafiq said, "We want to return to see what we lost and to help rebuild the country."
There are nearly 5 million Afghan refugees in the world, said Mr. Sherzai. "That is the largest [refugee] population on Earth. Today we are celebrating because we can finally go home."
Mr. Arisiaf said he has no intention of going back.
He has attained U.S. citizenship and hopes to bring his sister to America for the first time.


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