A Tribute to Abdul "Samad" Amiri: A letter to his infant daughter
Samad, a human rights champion, was a dear friend of mine. He lost his life to the Taliban on 4 September 2019. He was traveling by car from Kabul to his home province of Ghor on the early morning of 3 September when he was kidnapped. The Taliban allowed him to call his wife before they executed him. In that phone call, he expressed his final wishes for his infant daughter, Helen. I write this letter to Helen as a tribute to her father, the kindest man I ever knew. See Washington Post article here entitled, “A young Afghan pledged to better his country. Then he was shot dead.”
Dear Baby Helen,
Eight months ago, when you were born, I remember thinking that you were one of the luckiest girls born in Afghanistan. I know that may seem shocking considering that Afghans “rated their lives worse than anyone else on the planet” and “Afghan women were the least satisfied women in the world,” but your father was working harder than anyone I knew to change that. Unlike many Afghan men who have daughters, he saw your birth as a blessing, not a curse. He was committed to your education, helping you to become a productive member of society, and giving you a life of happiness and opportunities.
Your dad was a true ally for women’s rights. Every day was International Day of the Girl for him. He dedicated his life to highlighting and addressing the needs and challenges faced by women and children, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. He was totally devoted and in love with your mom. He had nine sisters who he adored – five born before him and four more born after him. He had already spent half his life working and sacrificing to ensure a bright future for all your aunts. So I was confident that he and your mom would raise you with love, protection, and nourishment for your mind, body, and soul.
Your dad endeavored to do everything in his power to make Afghanistan a better place for you… and for all women and children. On September 3rd, he wrote, “I can’t ignore or forget the dreams for Afghanistan’s future and her place as a part of this world. Positive change will come to Afghanistan when every citizen knows we have a responsibility to work for her improvement. Despite the difficulties, I owe my life to this land and will work for its betterment so long as I live.” It was only hours after this post that he was kidnapped and later killed by the Taliban.
Dear little Helen, my heart aches every time I think about your father’s death. He was such a kind and tender-hearted man… kinder and more tender-hearted than anyone I ever knew. And trust me, Helen, these are not just words I say to comfort all the people who are suffering from his loss. I said these things about your father from the early days of my friendship with him. He was devoted to lifting others up, offering comfort, and easing their suffering. He felt the pain of others as if it was his own. He once told me, “For me, as a brother, I can bear and tolerate every abuse, but I can’t tolerate impolite and bad behavior against my sisters.” He loved your aunts, your only uncle, your mom, and you to his fullest capacity, Helen. And his capacity to love and feel empathy for others was unparalleled.
Your dad was only in 9th grade when he convinced your aunt Zakia to take the Kankor exam, Afghanistan’s national university entrance exam. She was seven years older than him. This was in 2006, a time when few girls in the region completed secondary school and none were taking the Kankor exam. But she listened to your dad’s advice, earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and now works for an international humanitarian agency as a master trainer. Since then, your dad supported and encouraged six more of your aunts to excel in high school and pursue university studies. Today, your two youngest aunts are undergraduate students, your third youngest aunt has nearly finished her master’s degree, and the older four earned their degrees and are working in professional leadership positions for humanitarian NGOs and a government ministry. Your mom earned the highest score on the Kankor exam in your whole province and won a full scholarship to study in India. She also works at a humanitarian NGO. You are surrounded by bright, hard-working, and talented women, and your dad was their biggest fan.
In 2016, a few months after your dad and I met, he was hired as a child rights officer by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). It was a dream job for him. He could use his law degree to help educate the people of Ghor Province about their human rights, investigate abuses, and conduct awareness workshops. His focus was on protecting and empowering women and children. He was honored to assume the role of acting head of the commission’s office in Ghor and dedicated himself to fulfilling the responsibilities of all his positions.
The technical aspects of your dad’s work were easy for him, but the emotional challenges were overwhelming. To me, he seemed too sensitive for the work he was doing, but his sensitivity was his greatest strength. The heinous abuses he dealt with hurt him to his core but made him more vigilant to bring justice and create change. Shortly after your dad started his work with AIHRC in Ghor, a friend of mine wrote an article that discussed the problems in Ghor Province and how conservative attitudes, customs, and insecurity contribute to the near-constant violence against Afghan girls and women. Your dad was committed to turning the tide in Afghanistan and worked tirelessly to make a difference. His vigilance on behalf of you, your mom, your aunts, and young uncle extended to all the women and children in your province and in Afghanistan.
Dear Helen, your father was a humble, honest, selfless, and unassuming young man. He thought nothing of making sacrifices to help others. His heart was more pure than anyone I ever knew. Your father embodied the love that is defined in the bible at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: He was patient and kind. He did not envy, he did not boast, he was not proud. He did not dishonor others, was not self-seeking, was not easily angered, he kept no record of wrongs. He did not delight in evil but rejoiced with the truth. He always protected, always trusted, always hoped, always persevered.
On this International Day of the Girl, I vow to help your mother to uphold your father’s final wishes. You will go to school, you will attend university, you will not be forced to marry, you will not be abused, you will have all the rights and privileges of a boy, we will help you to develop your confidence and leadership potential, you will enjoy capacity-building opportunities, and we will help to make your father’s dreams come true together by working for the betterment of Afghanistan as long as we live.
All my love and promises,