The image has haunted millions: a toddler in blue shorts and a red T-shirt, face down on the shore, tiny hands curled at his side. Little Aylan Kurdi has become a powerful symbol for those fleeing war, poverty, oppression. Now he is here, in Kabul, on a wall facing busy Darulaman Road.
Faiqa Sultani, a young painter, took on the task of painting Aylan’s picture because of her strong reaction to the photograph.
“I was shocked when I saw the photo of a little child who was drowned in the sea,” she told Paiwandgah. “I felt terrible.”
Her dismay and anger were compounded when she saw a sketch posted on Facebook by another street artist, Shamsia Hassani.
The picture shows a crowd of people staring across a border at the image of Aylan, ignoring the dozens of dead in their own country.
Faiqa could not get the graffiti out of her mind.
“(Shamsia) might have a good reason for this painting, but it made so upset,” she said. “Before being from a specific country, we are first and foremost human being. We must share sympathy. We are human beings. and humanity is our job.”
The urge to share the grief of those who lost loved ones in the desperate flight for freedom — whether they were Syrians, Iraqis, or Afghans — motivated her to create her artwork.
“That afternoon, at 5:00 pm, I went to Darulaman Palace with my friend Hawa Jafari. It took us two hours to create this street art. We selected Darulaman road, because of its security and traffic.”
Darulaman is home to Afghanistan’s parliament and several ministries, as well as educational institutions. It is a congested area with a heavy police presence.
Thousands of Kabulis walk by the painting every day, and many stop to ponder.
“I get so sad when I look at this picture,” said Mir Aqa, 28, who sells petrol out in Darulaman Road area. “This child had a family, but a bad situation made him leave his country. His dream never came true and he died.”
According to news reports, Aylan’s mother and brother also perished in the flight attempt.
Mir Aqa sees a little Syrian child, but thinks of thousands upon thousands of Afghans who could find themselves in a similar situation.
“This picture shows not only Syria but Afghanistan as well,” he said. “Insecurity is higher than ever; suicide attacks do not let Afghans live in peace. Those who have money leave the country, and go to Iran, Pakistan, Europe or America.”
Afghans are fast joining the streams of refugees pouring into Europe. According to officials, passport applications have skyrocketed , and long lines at the Iranian Embassy testify to the route many are taking: through Iran to Turkey, then by sea to anywhere they can get a smuggler to take them.
Mir Aqa himself has few resources.
“I am not able to sell more than 10 barrel petrol a day,” he said. “This money is not enough for my family to survive. There are many others who are in the same situation.”
Young people were leaving in droves, he added, trying to find work.
“The government must do something.”
Street art is booming in Kabul these days.
The wall of the National Directorate of Security features haunting eyes and the message: “We are watching you.”
The painting is the work of artist Kabir Mukamel, who has turned many faceless Kabul walls into messages of hope though his art. His signature silhouettes dominated by a huge red heart speak of the pain of war and love for one’s homeland.
Mukamel has corralled a group of young people, including Kabul’s ubiquitous street kids, to help him in adorning the city. He calls them the “artlords,” in contrast to the infamous “warlords” of Afghanistan’s past.
The street art can help to raise people’s awareness, but it will take concerted action to change the situation.
“The government should generate jobs.” said Akbar, a 10th grade student who viewed the painting of Aylan with some alarm. “I have three brothers at home, and all of them are unemployed. I will meet the same fate after finishing school. For those in this situation, migration is the way out.”
Suhail, 14, had not heard of Aylan. “What is this picture?” he asked, puzzled.
“It’s a kid who lost his life at sea,” his friend Ali Sina, 17, explained. “All of those who migrate illegally face the same risks.”
He sighed “I would like to live in my own country, I don’t want to be a refugee,” he said. “I was a refugee for a while in Iran and I am sick of that. I hope one day security will come back so that people can stay here in Afghanistan.”
Report by Enayatullah Azad and Raziya Masoomi