Queen Soraya of Afghanistan: A woman ahead of her time »


LONDON/KABUL: Born in exile, she died in exile. But in the course of the 10 controversial years she spent as queen of Afghanistan, Soraya Tarzi gave the ladies of her nation a tantalizing glimpse of an emancipated future which, a century on, has but to be totally realized.

Barely remembered within the West, the place she was as soon as greeted by huge crowds throughout a triumphant tour of European capitals in 1927-28 with her husband King Amanullah Khan, earlier this yr Queen Soraya was celebrated by Time journal, in a sequence honoring the forgotten feminine pioneers of world historical past.

For 72 years, Time had named a “Man of the Year.” In 1999 it modified this to “Person of the Year” however, to acknowledge the ladies it had neglected previously, in March Time created 89 new on-line covers spotlighting “influential women who were often overshadowed”. The selection for 1927 was Afghanistan’s progressive queen, who was pushed into everlasting exile in 1929.

“Soraya was the first Afghan lady and queen who began to promote women, educate them and try to give them their rights,” mentioned girls’s rights activist and MP Shinkai Karokhail, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Canada.

The queen “began a great revolution and managed to implement it through the king. She appeared in public and travelled extensively to inform women about their rights and that they needed to acquire education.”

For her time, “she was unique – a very strong and exceptional woman.”


Queen Soraya

– Nov. 24 1899: Soraya Tarzi is born in Syria, daughter of the exiled Afghan mental Mahmud Tarzi.

– Oct. 1901: The new king, Habibullah Khan, invitations the Tarzi household to return to Afghanistan.

– Aug. 30 1913: The king’s son, Prince Amanullah, and Soraya Tarzi are married.

– Feb. 20 1919: Prince Amanullah turns into king.

– May 3, 1919: King Amanullah invades British India, triggering the Third Anglo-Afghan struggle and securing Afghanistan independence.

– December 1927 – July 1928: King Amanullah and Queen Soraya journey in Europe.

– Nov. 14 1928 – Oct. 13 1929: Afghan civil struggle.

– Jan. 17, 1929: King Amanullah abdicates. He and Soraya settle in Rome.

– Apr. 25, 1960: Amanullah dies in Switzerland, aged 67.

– Apr. 20, 1968: Soraya dies in Rome, aged 68.

In 1926, on the seventh anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, Soraya delivered a characteristically provocative and galvanizing speech.

Independence, she mentioned, belonged “to all of us … Do you think that our nation from the outset needs only men to serve it? Women should also take their part as women did in the early years of our nation and Islam … we should all attempt to acquire as much knowledge as possible.”

Following their European tour, the king and queen returned to Afghanistan in 1928 decided to modernize their nation. But, says Zubair Shafiqi, a Kabul-based journalist and political analyst, they moved too quick.

“She and the king began to bring changes, reforms and freedoms after their joint trip to Europe, where both were influenced by what was going on there,” he mentioned.

“But they had not comprehended the backwardness of Afghanistan, a traditional and conservative society. They both acted hastily, which provoked people and led ultimately to revolt.”

After a year-long civil struggle, in 1929 King Amanullah abdicated and fled along with his queen to British India.

The king is remembered as a terrific reformer, however Soraya was the driving pressure behind his agenda. Born on Nov. 24, 1899, in Damascus, the place her household had settled after being exiled from Afghanistan in 1881 following the rise to energy of Abdur Rahman Khan, she inherited her progressive pondering from her father, Mahmud Tarzi.

The royal couple examine a navy guard of honor in Paris. (Getty Images)

Tarzi was an Afghan mental whose liberal and nationalist ideology sat uneasily with Khan, who had been put in as ruler by the British in 1880 following the defeat of his predecessor within the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

As an exile, Tarzi’s travels in Europe and life in Turkey had broadened his horizons and he was decided to do the identical for his nation. His likelihood got here in 1901 with the demise of Khan and the accession to the throne of his eldest son, Habibullah Khan, who invited Tarzi and different exiled intellectuals to return to Afghanistan.

As a member of the federal government, Tarzi launched into an formidable program of modernization. His daughter Soraya, in the meantime, met and fell in love with Amanullah Khan, the king’s son, and on Aug. 30 1913, the 2 have been married.

On Feb. 20 1919, Habibullah Khan was assassinated. After a short household battle Prince Amanullah claimed the throne. Soraya was now queen and her reforming father, Mahmud Tarzi, turned overseas minister.

Events moved shortly. On May 3, 1919, King Amanullah, decided to pursue the nationalist insurance policies advocated by Tarzi, took the audacious step of invading British India.

The Third Anglo-Afghan War, higher recognized in Afghanistan because the War of Independence, was throughout by August. Britain, drained of males and assets by the First World War, agreed to an armistice and at Kabul on November 22 1921, Tarzi and Henry Dobbs, chief of the British mission, signed a treaty committing the 2 nations to “respect each with regard to the other all rights of internal and external independence.”

Afghanistan had lastly thrown off the shackles of British imperialism. Tarzi arrange embassies in a sequence of European capitals and, with the enthusiastic help of the king and queen, pressed on with modernizing his nation.

As Time’s tribute in March recalled, “in the face of opposition,” the king and queen “campaigned against polygamy and the veil, and practiced what they preached.” The king rejected the traditions of taking a number of wives and sustaining a harem, whereas his queen, “a fierce believer in women’s rights and education … was known for tearing off her veil in public.”

The first main college for women, Masturat School, was opened in Kabul in 1921 below the patronage of Queen Soraya, who in 1926 was named minister of schooling. More faculties adopted, and in 1928 15 college students from Masturat Middle School, all daughters of distinguished Kabul households, have been despatched to Turkey to additional their schooling.

It was a provocative transfer.

“Sending young, unmarried girls out of the country,” wrote the tutorial Shireen Khan Burki within the 2011 guide of essays “Land of the Unconquerable: The Lives of Contemporary Afghan Women,” “was regarded with alarm in many quarters as yet another sign that the state, in its efforts to Westernize, was willing to push against social and cultural norms.”

The king’s gender insurance policies “were completely divorced from the social realities of his extremely conservative, primarily tribal, and geographically remote country.”

The closing straw for a lot of got here in December 1927, when the king and queen launched into an costly six-month tour of European capitals.

In England the couple have been met at Dover by the Prince of Wales and ferried by royal practice to London, the place they have been greeted at Victoria station by King George and Queen Mary. The royal celebration then travelled in open horse-drawn carriages to Buckingham Palace via streets thronged with cheering crowds.

Their reception in different European capitals – and in Moscow, a pointedly political cease for the King and Queen of a rustic seen by the British as a buffer towards Soviet ambitions within the area — was equally rapturous.

But upon their return to Afghanistan in July 1928 it shortly turned clear that the nice European tour had been a horrible mistake. “In a matter of months the progress that Soraya had made was relinquished,” mentioned Mariam Wardak, an analyst and advocate for gender inclusion in Afghanistan who co-founded Her Afghanistan, a company devoted to the development of younger Afghan girls.

As the king tried to appease his critics, “secular schools, including girls schools, were closed, family laws banning polygamy and granting women the right to divorce were repealed, secular courts were disbanded for sharia courts and much more.”

It was in useless. By November 1928 Afghanistan was engulfed by a civil struggle, with opposition forces led by Habibullah Kalakani, the so-called bandit king. In January 1929 Amanullah abdicated and fled the nation.

Kalakani held on to energy for simply 10 months.  On Oct. 13 1929, he was overthrown and executed by Nadir Shah who, with the assistance of the British, put in himself as king.

To at the present time many in Afghanistan imagine that the British authorities had a hand within the overthrow of Amanullah and that, to sabotage his reign, it mounted a covert marketing campaign of pretend information towards his spouse.

“While accompanying King Amanullah on his overseas trips, she represented the young modernity of Afghanistan and the new era both wanted to broaden and consolidate at home,” mentioned historian Habibullah Rafi. “But our evil enemy, the British empire at the time, having failed in Afghanistan and in order to avenge its defeat, began spreading false information about her goals as it wanted to block progress here.”

The British, he says, distributed doctored images displaying the queen overseas with naked legs – a stunning sight for a lot of again house. Britain, mentioned Rafi, “could not afford to see a free and prosperous Afghanistan, as India, which was under its firm occupation, would have been inspired by our freedom and progress and would have also revolted. That is why Britain did all it could to undermine the then government, and especially the queen.”

Whether or not the British did mount a dirty-tricks marketing campaign towards Amanullah and his spouse, once-secret cupboard papers seen by Arab News reveal that Britain enthusiastically backed Mohammed Nadir Shah, Amanullah’s successor as king.

Britain’s most important concern on the time was the safety of India, the jewel within the empire’s crown, which it felt was threatened by Amanullah’s more and more shut relationship with the Soviet Union. To the alarm of the British, in May 1921 Amanullah had signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviets.

In 1932 Amanullah’s successor requested the British for assurances of assist in the occasion of a feared Soviet invasion, and one paragraph in a telegram despatched to London by the British authorities of India on Sept. 10, 1932, confirms the empire’s meddling in Afghanistan’s inside affairs.

The Afghan authorities, wrote the nameless writer, was “aware that their internal position is very unstable owing to pro-Amanullah propaganda [and] the assistance received from us by Nadir in securing throne.”

In exile King Amanullah and Queen Soraya travelled to Italy, the place they spent the remainder of their days in Rome. Amanullah died in April 1960. His spouse lived for one more eight years. After her demise on the age of 68 in April 1968 her coffin was given a miltary escort to Rome airport and in Afghanistan she acquired a state funeral.

Today, the previous king and queen lie along with Emir Habibullah within the household’s mausoleum within the Amir Shaheed gardens in Jalalabad.

Oct. 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, held to boost consciousness of the obstacles that women everywhere in the world face. This yr, Education Cannot Wait, the group established on the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, is highlighting these obstacles by specializing in the plight of women in Afghanistan.

“More than three decades of conflict have devastated Afghanistan’s education system and completing primary school remains a distant dream for many children, especially in rural areas,” in line with ECW.

It says that in Afghanistan between 3.2 and three.7 million youngsters aged 7 to fifteen, 60 p.c of them women, stay out of college, whereas drop-out charges are excessive.

Ninety years after her try and liberate Afghan women and girls resulted in revolt and a return to a time-honored system of repression, Soraya could be saddened to see how little progress has been made in her nation since then.

“I admire Queen Soraya’s efforts,” mentioned Wardak, the advocate for gender inclusion in Afghanistan, “however I imagine she might have been more practical if she had adopted a extra delicate method on learn how to advance girls’s rights.

“Today, we struggle with many rights of women to be practised, underage marriage still exists and people still give and receive dowry.”

Nevertheless, Wardak mentioned, “I believe the vision of Queen Soraya still lives in many young leading women today and will stand strong in generations to come, if we continue to educate our society. Education is key.”


Twitter: @JonathanGornall // Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here