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Our History

The History of the Mediothek From the collection of books to the building of a community center

In the year 1993, the time of civil war after the Soviet troops had left the country, media reported on the burning of books in Afghanistan for the first time. Pictures of intellectuals and ordinary people who became poor, selling their books on the street as fuel, were seen everywhere. The Mujaheddin had taken over control, started to fight each other and the war reached the capital Kabul. The cultural heritage of the country was not only neglected but some parts of the regime even despised it.

The impulse for the foundation

These reports gave the impulse for the foundation of the Mediothek Afghanistan. A group of German and Afghan students and experts decided to collect books and other media about Afghanistan. It was their aim to protect the intellectual heritage of the country from the destruction of the war. The call for book and other media donations was supported by many Afghanistan researchers and friends, among them the outstanding German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel.

2000 books on donkey carts

Mediothek’s director, Ahmad Sultan Karimi, traveled to Kabul in the year 1994 to save the library of his father, a lawyer and activist of the Afghan constitutional movement, from the chaos of war. Under dangerous conditions he managed to take about 2000 books, maps etc on donkey carts in big brass boxes to Pakistan. With that he put the foundation stone for the media collection which gave the Mediothek its name. From that time on Sultan Karimi traveled regularly to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to buy additional books and establish contacts and cooperation with like-minded people. He had to be very cautious not to get prosecuted by the Taliban, who were in the meantime ruling in parts of the country. A subsidiary of the Mediothek was opened in Pakistan in the end of the 1990s to store the books and other media.

Schools: ground stone for education

The Mediothek got a second pivot leg as in the middle of the 1990s: school projects. The rulers had suspended the payments of teachers’ wages. The Afghan state did not take care of its basic public tasks anymore. The educational system collapsed because many teachers did not go to school anymore. For this reason the Mediothek started to initiate school projects of its own in Afghanistan, fundraising for them in Germany and elsewhere. The first school was built in Jaji / Paktia. And the girls were supported by paying salaries for the brave female teachers who taught them in home schools. In addition, a school for Afghan refugee children was supported in Peshawar/Pakistan.

Network of the remaining researchers on Afghanistan

A third pivot leg was established at the end of the 1990s: The thek committed itself to Afghanistan research. Since the civil war research had almost been made impossible, the scientific interest in the country had gone back steadily. With annual meetings, conference volumes and the construction of a researchers’ network the Mediothek did its best to revive the Afghanistan research – alongside with like-minded scholars and groups.

Under the Taliban

At the beginning of 2001, before the fall of the Taliban regime, the Mediothek opened a forum in Kabul, to coordinate school projects from there and to be able to offer an meeting point to people interested in Afghan culture and research. The Taliban accepted the Mediothek as a help organization - though only men were allowed to work there.

After the Petersberg Peace Agreement – Focus on Peacebuilding

The Mediothek opened community forums in six provinces in May 2002 few months after the fall of the Taliban (in result of the attacks of September 11th, 2001 in the USA.) To this day, there was and there is hardly any public place where people can meet and exchange ideas in Afghanistan. This function is taken on by the community forums. These are save and open spaces open to civil society organizations and actors who use them for platform building, dialogue, educational centers or just for the exchange over a cup of green tea. All these activities aim at achieving a sustainable peace with the inclusion of many parts of the Afghan society. Sultan Karimi had already built up the necessary local contacts during the Taliban regime. The Mediothek was also active in Kunduz long before the German public became interested in the town due to the creation of the German Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) at the end of 2003. A community forum in the province Paktia had to be closed again at the end of 2003. The employees were threatened by Islamists who have been particularly strong in the close bordering area to Pakistan.

10 Years after the Petersberg Agreement

Nowadays the Mediothek has a highly decentralised structure in Afghanistan, with community centers and media houses in various provinces. Additionally, it runs projects like peace caravans, capacity building on the democratic process etc. It also facilitates cross-border projects with neighboring Pakistan. A sustainable peace for the Afghans and their neighbors still seems to be far away. However, the Mediothek is committed to educate people, open doors, work for a democratic and tolerant culture, strengthen civil society in order to facilitate peace and a better future in the region.