June 17, 2014
The Hazara community of Melbourne is about to do something they are not used to – celebrate their local Hazaragi culture.
The refugee community is preparing for the inaugural Omagh Celebration, a festival of Hazaragi music, art, theatre and poetry.
Poet Farkhonda Akbari told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Richard Stubbs that the local Hazaras “have to bring back a culture that has been persecuted for 200 years.”
“We are trying to celebrate a culture that has never been celebrated,” said Ms Akbari.
Persecution and discrimination
I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia… This is a place we can actually practice our culture.Farkhonda Akbari
Around 7 million Hazaras live in the ethnic region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan.
It is estimated more than four million more live as refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
Central Asian in appearance, Hazaras are predominantly from the Shiite Muslim minority and have been openly targeted by the Taliban.
Those living as refugees in Iran face daily discrimination, according to Farkonda Akbari.
“Most of their kids are not allowed to go to school or go to university,” said Ms Akbari.
“There are some schools run by the the Hazaras themselves but they can’t go to university when they finish school, they can’t buy a house.”
Ms Akbari lived in Iran for three years as a child.
“Just walking down the street there are things thrown at you,” she said.
“You had to strip your identity, your cultural identity off to be able to live.”
Freedom and opportunity
Around 20,000 Hazaras now live in Australia, approximately 9000 of whom reside in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.
“Australia has the biggest Hazara community of any Western country,” said Ms Akbari.
She said in contrast to Iran, her experience of settling in Australia was one of “welcome and warmth.”
“I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia,” she said.
“I call it the golden day.”
She said Hazaras in Australia now have the opportunity to revive their culture.
“You are not discriminated against, you are not bullied or anything when you walk down the street,” she said.
“This is a place we can actually practice our culture.”
Multicultural Arts Victoria ran music, poetry and theatre workshops for the Hazara community in preparation for the Omagh Celebrations.
Ms Akbari teamed up with fellow poet Alia Gabres to run the poetry workshops, which she said fell into two parts.
“One part is for reciting the folklore Hazara poetry that have been passed down for generations from people to people,” said Ms Akbari.
“At the same time there are people who are writing themselves from their own experience.”
Participants in the workshops have written about the political situation in Afghanistan as well as more personal stories.
“We have a lady who’s talking about how to be a Hazara mother.”
Ms Akbari is currently studying a Masters of International Relations with the aim of working “from Canberra to Kabul.”
In 2012 she returned to Afghanistan while working with Human Rights Commission investigating alleged violations of humanitarian law by US troops.
“I have two homelands I have Australia and I have Afghanistan.”
The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm.