Omer Rahimy was hardly 20 years old when he fled Afghanistan in 1978 to escape the political turmoil gripping his country after communist rebels killed Afghanistan’s President.
His father, who was running an antique shop in Kabul, begged young Rahimy to leave and build a new life in Europe.
Though most of the family stayed back, what followed Rahimy to Austria, Vienna was a treasure trove of the family’s antique collections of carpets and jewellery. His father had shipped the priceless heirlooms like carpets and jewellery for safekeeping in Austria.
Now, thanks to his father’s ‘clever move’, as Rahimy puts it, Afghanistan has a presence at Expo 2020. On Wednesday, the 62-year-old businessman opened the pavilion at the Sustainability district with an impressive collection of carpets, traditional attires, precious stones, antique jewellery, daggers, and swords.
“I have around 2600 pieces of antiques in my collection in Vienna. I could only bring around 300 of it. I had no time. As soon as I got permission from the Expo 2020, I flew to Dubai with whatever I could,” Rahimy told Khaleej Times.
“I have been to every trade fair and mega exhibition, including World Expos. All these years, I had managed to showcase my country’s rich heritage and culture to the world. I could not miss the one in Dubai,” he said.
Afghanistan’s previous government was in charge of the pavilion but with the Taliban takeover, the fate of the pavilion was uncertain.
When Khaleej Times visited the pavilion last week, it remained empty and closed.
“I could not bear the fact that Afghanistan pavilion remained empty. India has a pavilion. Pakistan has one. Why can’t Afghanistan have one, I thought,” he said.
According to Rahimy, he begged Expo to allow him to open an exhibition and they agreed.
Rahimy wasted no time and flew to Dubai with some of his favourite pieces, including a huge 15th-century gold and silver necklace that has a Holy Quran encased as a centrepiece, a bridal crown with green and blue enamel work; a Dashtshui – an ornate brass water basin and water jug with Turquoise, corals and lapis lazuli stones.
Afghan costumes from all regions, handmade carpets, precious stones and Saffron are also displayed.
“These are not just artefacts. These are pieces of my heart. I know each and every piece. I know the carpets that my mother used to sit on. Everything that you see here has a story,” says Rahimy.
One of his favourite pieces is a wooden folk instrument called Rabab. “This is music to the heart and soul. Rabab can melt hearts,” he says.
While musicians across Afghanistan are either in hiding or terrified as fears mount that the Taliban will reintroduce their regressive ban on music and entertainment, Rahimy still hopes to give the pavilion visitors a musical treat.
“I want to have musical performance here every evening so that people can come and enjoy the lilting music. As soon as I get the go-ahead from Expo, I will arrange something,” he said.
>> Expo 2020 is an opportunity for Afghanistan: Consul-General
Nudge him to talk about the political turmoil engulfed his country after the Taliban stormed back to power recently, and Rahimy would insist that he is not interested in politics.
“The regimes will come and go. But Afghanistan remains Afghanistan. The land is the same. So, is it’s people,” said the businessman who said he is the fourth generation of antique and artefacts sellers.
He insisted that the pavilion is ‘people’s pavilion’ and does not belong to any regime.
“This is for the people of Afghanistan. I want the world to come here and feel happy. We may be going through a tough time. But for a few minutes, I want people to remember Afghanistan for what it is,” he said.
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