The colors of Afghanistan’s flag — red, black and green — blanketed the area outside the Colorado Capitol on Thursday night as more than 100 people gathered on Afghanistan Independence Day.
The irony was not lost on the attendees who assembled for the second protest in five days that instead of celebrating, they were calling attention to a humanitarian crisis after the Taliban takeover.
Chants of “free, free Afghanistan” and “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” echoed as Coloradans with ties to Afghanistan called for the United States and international community to act. After an hour of speeches, those who had gathered started a march before returning to the Capitol for a vigil.
The 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan ended with cities falling to the Taliban, including the capitol of Kabul on Aug. 15, when the Afghan government collapsed. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that U.S. troops would remain in the country until every American gets evacuated, even if it goes beyond his initial deadline of Aug. 31.
But there are still thousands of Afghans who helped the United States during the war who are stuck in the country, and people who live here are worried about their families and loved ones back home. Some people at the rally said there were dozens of Coloradans who were visiting Afghanistan or there for a short period of time when the Taliban took over, and now can’t make it out of the country.
Laila Zahedi, who has lived in Denver for 17 years, said she is scared for her twin sister who still lives there, and wants to raise awareness about the crisis and advocate for the country’s freedoms.
“She’s crying,” she said of her sister. “She’s worried that she will get slaughtered or killed.”
Thornton resident Abraham Atta said his family members in Afghanistan no longer want to be there. He came to the Capitol to show support for “my country, my people, my flag.”
“I want people to know that Afghan people are just like any other civilian people in America and Europe and Canada, anywhere,” Atta said. “We just want peace. We want freedom. We don’t want the war.”
Although a majority of the rally’s organizers stressed that they didn’t want political messages and asked those holding up signs calling for sanctions on Pakistan because of its support of the Taliban to put them away, not everyone agreed.
As some began to yell “sanction Pakistan,” former Afghan interpreter Aurangzaib Sharifi encouraged them and spoke over one of the other organizers. He was ushered away and stormed off the steps.
“If the United States and the international community impose sanctions on Pakistan, then they will stop supporting Taliban,” he told The Post later in an interview, adding that many Afghan American youth don’t know the historical or political context to the issues.
But others stressed that the tone of the rally needed to remain hopeful and focused solely on the victims of the Taliban regime and more than 20 years of war, particularly women and children.
They wanted to raise awareness about resources and ways to help refugees. And they had a call to action: Contact Colorado’s congressional representatives to help Afghans achieve safety within the U.S., particularly those seeking asylum.
“We’re thinking of all of these innocent lives that are there that do not have a voice at the moment, and instead of let’s blame this person or that person, we thought we would have something that’s specifically focused on those voices that have been silenced for so long,” said Samiya Azizi, who lived in Afghanistan until she was about 8 years old.
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