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Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM)’s Founding Director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, to Receive Honorary Doctorate from Juilliard on May 20

Dr. Sarmast addresses ANIM students in Portugal (photo: courtesy of ANIM)

(May 2022)— The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) is delighted to announce that its Founding Director, Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, has been chosen to receive an honorary doctorate on May 20 from New York’s Juilliard School of Music and Dance. Under Dr. Sarmast’s leadership, ANIM – a 2018 Polar Music Prize laureate – recently fled Taliban-occupied Kabul for Lisbon, where the entire school community was not only granted asylum but also invited to resettle and rebuild. Just months after the series of airlifts that brought ANIM’s students, faculty, staff and family members to safety, the school has already been warmly welcomed into its new Portuguese home. There, as superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma discovered on a recent visit, Dr. Sarmast and ANIM continue to pursue their mission of transforming the lives of disadvantaged children, educating boys and girls together, and helping them realize their artistic dreams.

The honorary doctorate will be awarded next month at Juilliard’s 117th commencement ceremony, where Dr. Sarmast will be recognized alongside his fellow 2022 honorees, dancer-choreographer Masazumi Chaya, bass-baritone Simon Estes, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer-conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Dr. Sarmast says:

“It’s a great honor to receive this distinction from such an important institution as the Juilliard School of Music and Dance. I hope it will help focus international attention on ANIM’s efforts to ensure the future of Afghanistan’s rich but beleaguered musical heritage, and on the plight of those still living there, whose musical, educational and gender rights are currently being denied.”

On March 29, Yo-Yo Ma traveled to Lisbon to visit ANIM at its new home. One of several performing artists who helped bring about the school’s escape, the superstar cellist collaborated with ANIM students on a performance of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. As the Associated Press reported, Ma told their audience, “The best defense against anything is culture.”

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Yo-Yo Ma with Dr. Sarmast (photo: courtesy of ANIM); Yo-Yo Ma with ANIM students (photo: Rachel Corner)

Indeed, since its founding by Dr. Sarmast in 2010, ANIM has been internationally recognized as “a great success story in the effort to renew cultural life and the arts in Afghanistan” (NPR). The war-torn nation’s first and only music school, ANIM gave Afghan boys and girls – many of them orphans who had worked on the streets to support themselves – the rare opportunity to learn in a coeducational setting, and to study both Western and Afghan music, while also receiving a general education. When the Taliban occupation jeopardized girls’ secondary education and the practice of music itself, the ANIM community – including the famed, all-female Zohra Orchestra – was forced to escape to Doha, Qatar, reaching its final destination of Lisbon in mid-December. (See coverage of the school’s escape by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.)

Thanks to Dr. Sarmast’s tireless efforts and the generosity and resourcefulness of Portugal’s Ministry of Education, the entire ANIM student body has now been absorbed into Lisbon’s Escola Artística de Música do Conservatório Nacional. This is the specialized conservatory for the city’s most talented young musicians, who also receive a first-class high-school education on the same campus. It is there, within walking distance of their new living accommodations, that all 120-plus ANIM students have been able to continue their studies since February, when they were warmly received by their Portuguese counterparts at a special welcoming ceremony.

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Dr. Sarmast and members of Zohra Orchestra (photo: courtesy of ANIM)

As well as receiving intensive instruction in Portuguese and getting to know their new classmates, all ANIM students have now been assigned instrumental teachers and have resumed their musical studies. Those who play Western classical instruments have joined the conservatory’s orchestras, while those learning the rubab, tamboor and other traditional Afghan instruments have already begun sharing their culture with Lisbon audiences in public ensemble performances presented throughout the city. Speaking for the ANIM community, Dr. Sarmast says:

“The entire group and I have been touched and moved by the warm reception of our community. We are amazed by the hospitality of the Portuguese people.”

He adds:

“For me, music is not just a type of entertainment or art, it is a human right. Any human being, regardless of age, has the right to access music and express themselves freely through music. But unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan are being deprived of these rights. Once again, they have been turned forcibly to silence. We continue to advocate for the musical and human rights of the Afghan people and most importantly, women’s rights in Afghanistan.”

To help raise awareness of ANIM’s work to combat this assault on human rights, Dr. Sarmast has been invited to speak at the 2022 World Justice Forum in The Hague, where his fellow speakers will include Jan Beagle, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization; Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Adrián Vázquez Lázara, Chair of the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee (May 30–June 2). In addition, earlier this month, Dr. Sarmast gave a “Talk at Google.”

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See Dr. Sarmast’s “Talk at Google.”

To download high-resolution photos, click here.

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© 21C Media Group, May 2022


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