US Black Hawk military helicopters fly over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 19, 2021.

Refugees

Afghans who fled to Turkey are worried — and hopeful — about the prospect of peace at home

High-stakes peace talks are planned in Turkey — though the timing is unclear — and many Afghans in the country are filled with a mix of emotions about their homeland's future.

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US Black Hawk military helicopters fly over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 19, 2021.

Credit:

Rahmat Gul/AP

Jamil, 25, lives in the Zeytinburnu neighborhood of Istanbul. (Some Afghans like Jamil go by only one name).

Back in Afghanistan, Jamil worked as a tailor who learned the craft from his mother. He and his family lived close to an area that was controlled by the Taliban.

He said he started getting threats from the group when they found out that he makes clothes for women, too. (The Taliban didn’t like that he Jamil welcomed women into his tailor shop to measure them for clothes.)

Related: Biden’s new plan for peace in Afghanistan garners mixed reactions

“The threats started coming,” Jamil said. “They told me they will kill me if I let women into my shop.”

He decided it was time to leave Afghanistan, and arrived in the Zeytinburnu neighborhood four years ago, after a horrible journey.

Jamil, 25, worked as a tailor in Afghanistan. But the Taliban threatened him because he made clothes for women as well as men.

Jamil, 25, worked as a tailor in Afghanistan. But the Taliban threatened him because he made clothes for women as well as men.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World 

Now, as high-stakes peace talks are planned in Turkey — they had been scheduled for next week but have been postponed, according to Reuters — Jamil and many other Afghans like him are filled with a mix of emotions about their homeland's future.

The talks will determine how Afghanistan will be governed once American troops leave in September. The Taliban hasn’t agreed to participate, but it is one of the main stakeholders in the negotiations. 

“My hope is that the talks [bring] peace to my country so that I can go back and live with my family.”

Jamil, Afghan in Turkey

“My hope is that the talks [bring] peace to my country so that I can go back and live with my family,” Jamil said.

Related: Afghan interpreters languish in visa limbo as US coalitions return home

Before arriving in Turkey, Jamil spent about three weeks on the road. He walked for hours on end, he said. For some parts of the trip, he had to pay smugglers.

At one point, they loaded him into a truck packed with 28 other people, he said. Every time the truck made turns, Jamil said, his feet got crushed from the weight of others.

Some migrants fell out of the truck and were left behind.

When he made it to Turkey, he said, he was happy to be alive — many others weren’t so lucky.

Finding refuge in a ‘mini-Afghanistan’

Zeytinburnu is like a mini-Afghanistan. There are signs outside of businesses in Dari, one of the predominant languages spoken in Afghanistan, and restaurants advertise Afghan specialties. Dari can also be heard out and about, such as at a nearby playground.

Afghans have been coming to this Istanbul neighborhood for years. Some come to find work, others see Turkey as a stop on their journey to Europe.

But lately, there has been a rise in the number of Afghans who flee Afghanistan because of threats from the Taliban.

Related: Women in Afghanistan worry peace accord with Taliban extremists could cost them hard-won rights

According to a 2019 report by the International Organization for Migration, there are about 130,000 Afghans in Istanbul province, with mass arrivals beginning in 2018.

Shapoor, 22, who only has one name, came to Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu neighborhood in the hopes of moving on to Greece and then other parts of Europe. But the Turkish government didn’t allow it. He got stuck in Istanbul and is now working as a day laborer.

Shapoor lives in an apartment with five other Afghan roommates.

“In Afghanistan, you risk dying a quick death. Here, you die a prolonged death.”

Shapoor, Afghan in Turkey

“In Afghanistan, you risk dying a quick death,” he lamented. “Here, you die a prolonged death.”

Shapoor works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, he said, only taking Sundays off.

Related: Afghan returnees struggle with unemployment, violence at home

Still, he can barely make ends meet. The coronavirus pandemic has made it so much harder to find jobs, he said. Everything is so much more expensive now.

He said the price of bread has quadrupled since he first came here.

Shapoor, a 22-year-old Afghan living in Istanbul. 

Shapoor, a 22-year-old Afghan living in Istanbul. 

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari/The World 

“When I first came here, I paid 100 lira [$12.32] for rent, but now I pay 400 [$49.28].”

Shapoor’s parents and siblings still live in Afghanistan. He worries about them, especially now that the Taliban is on its way to making a comeback.

If a civil war breaks out in Afghanistan, he said, he would have to pay smugglers to bring his parents and siblings to Turkey, too.

‘Afghanistan is much more than just a war’

Nusrat Parsa, a 32-year-old Afghan journalist, lives in a different part of Istanbul.

Related: Is there a place for rapper Ali ATH in Afghanistan's future?

For him, the journey to Turkey was much smoother. On Jan. 11 this year, he got on a plane and left Afghanistan for good.

But he says that doesn’t take away from the pain and trauma of being forced out of your own country.

“I never wanted to leave,” he said. “The day I boarded the plane in Kabul to come here, I cried.”

Nusrat Parsa, Afghan journalist in Turkey

“I never wanted to leave,” he said. “The day I boarded the plane in Kabul to come here, I cried.”

Parsa began his journalism career in 2010. He reported on the war in Afghanistan, but he always wanted to report on other issues.

“Afghanistan is much more than just a war,” he said.

For example, he wanted to break the taboo surrounding the LGBTQ community.

But that turned out to be costly.

Nusrat Parsa, a 32-year-old Afghan journalist has been targeted for his work.

Nusrat Parsa, a 32-year-old Afghan journalist has been targeted for his work.

Credit:

Courtesy of Nusrat Parsa

In one of Parsa’s TV reports, he tells the story of a lesbian woman who hides her identity from her family out of fear that they will disown her.

Not long after the report aired, Parsa started getting threats — online, on WhatsApp and through social media messages sent to his family.

The threats felt even more real, he said, because his colleagues were getting killed in targeted assassinations. The Taliban didn’t directly claim these attacks but Afghan officials believe the group is behind them.

“In the peace negotiations,” Parsa said, “the US gave a lot of concessions to the Taliban. The same people who killed my colleagues.”

Parsa was 12 years old when the US invaded Afghanistan. He remembers hearing the sound of American jets and feeling elated.

“The Americans helped bring down an extremist group. My family was happy about that.”

Nusrat Parsa, Afghan journalist in Turkey

“The Americans helped bring down an extremist group,” he said. “My family was happy about that.”

But these days, that feeling is gone. And it has given way to worry for what the future holds, and sorrow, he said, for not being able to return.

A return to the Taliban of the 1990s would be a “tragedy” Parsa said. “Instead, I want to see a free Afghanistan. One where everyone can live with dignity and no one is forced to leave.”

Jamil, Parsa and Shapoor said they would much rather be living in Afghanistan.

All they want is peace and security.

The way they see it, the Americans do have a role to play in helping Afghanistan find a political settlement.

But it’s time for Afghans to unite, too.

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