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"Afghanistan 2001": A photo exhibition in Athens

By Spiros Tzelepis

To collect money for the children of Afghanistan

From January 17 to February 3, 2002, Zappeion Hall in Athens, Greece, hosted an exhibition titled "Afghanistan 2001" which included 80 fascinating photos taken in Afghanistan during a period of one month (October 24 - November 21).

Habiba, 12, who suffers from the bone disease osteomielitis, waits for treatment on the floor of Gulbahar orthopedic hospital, 60km north of Kabul. Her father was killed when she was born during the war against the Soviets (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Moments of daily life in this war-torn and devastated country, as well as scenes from the recent bombings and the battles between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban forces, are depicted in this series of interesting and spectacular photos which shock and provoke the viewer. The entrance of the opposition forces in Kabul, and the things changing in the post-Taliban era are also covered, making this exhibition an almost complete view of what happened in this country. Each photo is accompanied with comments about the conditions of life and the overall background.

Female Afghan students sit at exams in a bare classroom in a girls highschool (the school has 450 students, seven classrooms without electricity, heating and windows) (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

All photos presented were taken by Reuters Greece Chief Photographer, Yannis Behrakis, who travelled to this country and experienced the war. The exhibition, which was inaugurated on the 16th of January by the President of the Hellenic Republic, was supported by UNICEF and Reuters and the entrance was free for the public. Its aim was to raise funds through UNICEF in order to help the children who are suffering in Afghanistan. Thus all money gathered from selling exhibition posters and UNICEF products will be used for this purpose. According to what was mentioned in the information about the exhibition, one in four children dies in Afghanistan without reaching his /her 5th birthday while some 400,000 are victims of landmines and one million are orphans.

Before going to the exhibition, I had the chance to get in touch with Mr Behrakis and ask him some questions. Incidentally, besides being Reuters' Greece Chief Photographer, he has won various international awards, covered the last 3 Olympic Games and has gone to the most dangerous and "tough" areas of this world. Also, he has done other exhibitions, and those readers who visit frequently the Junior Journal might remember that we had in the past another article on one of them.

Amazed by his bravery to visit areas another person would never go to, I asked him why he chose this kind of profession. He replied: "In the beginning, it was for the adventure and search for new cultures, civilizations, countries but then I felt the obligation to show to the world and in particular to those who live in peace the bad things a war brings. I became a peacemaker, I understood simple values of human life and myself better than before". Moreover, he thinks that the energy and time he devotes to his work is very well-spent and he says that he gets "a lot of pleasure and energy" from it.

  1. Afghan women covered with Burqua make their way back to their village during a rainy day (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
  2. Afghan woman covered with Burqua (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

When I sent him the questions, I included one about what has impressed him most from the places he has visited. To be honest, I was expecting to hear a distant and peculiar country since he has travelled a lot but instead, his response was "the beauty of Greece". Furthermore, he wrote that he likes many of the photographs he has taken but always photos depicting people; when asked however, how he judges a good photo, he said "according to my own standards".

I went on with questions concerning his visit to Afghanistan and the exhibition on it. He believes that what he misses most from this country are the voices and the smells, while the scenery and the poverty attracted his attention. In his words, the situation in Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era is better: "people smile, listen to music, shave (!), they now have the chance for a better future". I also asked him what the reactions of the natives were when they saw him taking photos and he told me that "if you know how to approach people, then even the most wild of them become friendly". He also mentioned that the reactions of those who visited the exhibition were positive, thankful and warm; people told him that "now we know the face of war".

As a final question, I asked him about the purpose of the exhibition. He replied that besides alerting people about the effects of war, it also aims to collect money for "the only real innocent beings in the war - every war - children".

I would like to thank Yannis Behrakis for replying to my questions and for offering the photos - S.Tzelepis

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