‘What’s Afghan Punk Rock Anyway?’ Discover How Afghan-German Writer Armeghan Taheri Is Encouraging A Revolutionary Stance
Interview & Words by Bethany Burgoyne
In late 2018, writer,editor and director Armeghan Taheri founded ‘What’s Afghan Punk Rock, Anyway?’; an annual magazine available in print and digital format, bringing together global stories from Afghan narrators. With the second issue recently released, an impressive 84 page spread of art and writing connecting love, intimacy and the desire for freedom and liberation, we sat down with Armeghan to discuss her ideas behind the project.
The collection of stories, poetry, artwork and essays developed from Armeghan’s wish to create a space for individual narratives from the Afghan diaspora, with a “punk rock” attitude. A school of thought which, as Armeghan explains, reflects “the people who stand at their own table and invite all marginalised identities to come join. To speak up about the society and what they want to change.” It was during her residency at Be’kech, a community-driven Anticafe in Berlin, that Armeghan developed this idea by hosting events which were about creating “a space for vulnerability. To speak without being afraid of repercussions from the society we live in - which can be anti-Refugee, anti-Muslim, Xenophobic - silencing us to speak about issues such as sexism, gender violence, queerness, sex work. All these things that we wish we could talk about, yet it's been instrumentalised through politics not to.”
It is Armeghan herself who embodies this essence of punk rock attitude; eloquently expressing her opinions, experiences and questions about society with confidence. “I was raised being critical of the system, to be critical of the global symptomatic structures which meant, as a child, I never internalised anything that was projected onto me. I didn’t perceive myself as someone who is weak or who has anything less to say. I know this isn’t the case for everyone”.
Armeghan explains how her informed opinions have grown from seeds planted through her families’ own global movement, in particular, her parents. “My father is very political; he was a political prisoner for a long time in Afghanistan. He was part of a Revolutionary Student Movement back in Kabul where he was imprisoned and tortured for a while. When they released him, he escaped to Iran, and that’s where I was born as an Afghan refugee before coming to a small town in Western Germany when I was 5 years old. Because of that, I feel my attitude was already ingrained in me”.
Having grown up amongst a woven map of cultures, political movements and social divides, Armeghan references the “influence of Anti-Imperialist Feminist Movements, as well as Social Justice Movements that centre people from the working class and from the rural areas - Afghanistan is largely rural and it’s important to take that into account when thinking about how to achieve justice and equality. I grew up with these ideas, as well as examples of global solidarity from the Black Panthers to different Maoist movements to the Palestinian struggle.”
Having studied Human Rights and Gender at SOAS in the UK, she explains that “the more I got into the academic world, the more I realised how inaccessible the dialogue about human rights is and how it’s created from a system of power, from the government. I couldn't find myself there. I was reading and speaking a language that was very academic, moving me away from people rather than closer. I felt very disconnected from the people I lived with, disconnected from the people I wanted to reach and that really made me think for a while.” Armeghan’s decision “to do something that was more accessible, more artistic” comes from this point of empathy and urgency to break down the ways of communication and invite everyone to join the conversation.
Creating and editing the second issue of ‘What’s Afghan Punk Rock, Anyway?’, exploring themes of love, Armeghan invited 40 contributors from around the world to share their lived experiences through a prism of creative expressions; a responsibility she does not take lightly. “I’m so overwhelmed by the beauty of how people open their hearts in such a vulnerable way. It feels so precious and I am very touched by it because it means people are trusting me. It’s a nice space to take your mask off and be vulnerable together yet strong and powerful at the same time”.
The cover artists chosen for this project set the tone for this securely punk rock space. The first edition is by the iconic artist ggggrimes, whose digital illustrations gained worldwide attention for centering queer people of colour with themes of romantic love and sexual identity, in their colourfully evocative style. Armeghan discusses how she “loved working with ggggrimes, they’re an incredible artist! And working with someone based in New York was important to me as this project is about global solidarity”. Similarly, the second edition is designed by UK based Indian illustrator aorists whose digital drawings touch upon the often marginalized, unseen characters of society.
It is Armeghan’s knowledge and humane political stance that encourages confidence in her being a reliable leader of such an editorial. Asking the questions: “Who are we talking to? And why are we making things so complicated? I’m not just saying that about other people, I'm saying that about myself too.” By reaching further afield, stepping out of the academic bubble, to challenge the perspectives that inform our reality, 'What's Afghan Punk Rock, Anyway?' champions a diversity of stories, outlooks and ideas that can allow readers to enter a space of empathy and understanding.
You can buy the latest issues of ‘What’s Afghan Punk Rock Anyway?’ here.
Follow What’s Afghan Punk Rock, Anyway? on Instagram @afghanpunk
Follow Armeghan Taheri on Instagram @ar.meghan