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'Voices from Afghanistan' - Library of Congress Exhibit Opens

A letter sent to Radio Azadi from a listener in Afghanistan
A letter sent to Radio Azadi from a listener in Afghanistan
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) The Library of Congress has launched a new exhibit in Washington, D.C. showcasing some of the thousands of handwritten scrolls and letters sent by listeners to Radio Azadi, RFE/RL's popular Afghan radio station. Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington calls Voices from Afghanistan "a window through which can be seen the society, culture, and concerns of the Afghan people." [Take an online, interactive tour of the letters]

Since it began broadcasting in 2001, Radio Azadi has received nearly 15,000 pieces of "fan mail" from merchants, clerics, farmers, university students, and schoolchildren across Afghanistan. RFE/RL is presenting these letters as a gift to the permanent collection of the Library of Congress's African and Middle Eastern Division.

In some of the letters on display, teenagers discuss conditions at their schools, villagers complain about corrupt officials, refugees describe their plight, and young lovers make song requests. Drawing on a centuries-long tradition of calligraphic art and miniature paintings, many writers painstakingly adorn their letters and scrolls with elaborate, ornate designs and colorful pictures. [See a four-minute video tracing the journey of a scroll written by two Afghan students]

"One of the most striking things about these letters is the flowers," said Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Said Jawad at a February 23 reception at the Library of Congress marking the launch of Voices from Afghanistan. "Although many people are suffering, the flowers demonstrate the hope and beauty that is part of Afghan culture."

"Many of these letters come from people seeking peace, justice, and jobs," said Jawad. "Radio Azadi and American support are helping us deliver these dreams to the Afghan people."

The multimedia exhibit also includes Radio Azadi audio clips as well as manuscripts, maps, photos, and music from the Library's permanent collection of artifacts from Afghanistan.

Voices from Afghanistan is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, on the first floor of the Library's Thomas Jefferson building at 10 First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. Admission to the exhibit is free and it will run through May 2010.

About Radio Azadi

RFE/RL's Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan. Radio Azadi produces a variety of programming, including news, investigative features, political satire, literary programs and music. It is noted particularly for its numerous programs dedicated to women's rights, youth issues, and democracy. Over the years, Radio Azadi has received thousands of letters from listeners throughout the country and across the region.

About the Library of Congress

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, and exhibitions. Many of the Library's rich resources can be accessed through its website at and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at

The Library's African and Middle Eastern Division is the center for the study of some 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia.