Context & Culture

“The Rédactrice Says Farewell”: A goodbye to the Afghanistan Info (1980-2017)


Cover of Afghan Info. Issue no 79, October 2016.

Cover of Afghan Info. Issue no 79, October 2016.

It is already December and time to look back at the year almost just passed. Before we come to the macro issues of Afghanistan’s political, security and socio-economic situation in 2017, we want to say “thank you” to Micheline Centlivres-Demont and Pierre Centlivres, and wish a “goodbye” to the Afghanistan Info, a bulletin of news and reviews about Afghanistan. Having been published for over four decades from Switzerland, it became a key source of post-Soviet invasion Afghanistan studies – and closed this year for good. In this kind of obituary, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig, looks back at the four decades to this important chronicler of Afghanistan studies.

“La rédactrice prend congé” (The editor-in-chief takes leave) – the small notice under this title on the last page of the eightieth issue of the Afghanistan Info bulletin from Neuchâtel in Switzerland ended an era. After almost 40 years of publication, Micheline Centlivres-Demont, an ethnologist and photographer from the Switzerland’s French speaking region, who had been the Afghanistan Info’s editor-in-chief, called it a day. The Swiss Committee for the Support of the Afghan People established the Info in 1980, just a few months after the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. However, Centlivres-Demont added that it will not be the end of her and her husband, Pierre Centlivres’ (also a regular contributor to the bulletin), interest in the country. She noted that there are other similarly long-standing and renowned publications that can still be followed. These include Les Nouvelles d’Afghanistan published by AFRANE (Amitié franco-afghane, ie French-Afghan Friendship); the Bulletin du CEREDAF (Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Documentaires sur l’Afghanistan, ; ie the Study, Documentation and Research Centre on Afghanistan), both from Paris and in French; and Afghanistan Nytt (News), published in Swedish and in English by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) has started a monthly chronology on its website in February 2014.

In the Internet age, the Afghanistan Info felt like a greeting from les temps perdu. This little publication – and the committee as its publisher – had no online presence, but it continued to arrive every few months – lately with growing pauses – by snail mail from Switzerland. It also continued to be modest in presentation and format: a simple 24 pages, folded and stapled together, and usually with a copied black-and-white photo on its front page; most drawn from the redactress’s own rich archives. (As a side note, this author first came across her name when he found a copy of her German-language, but richly illustrated book, “Volkskunst in Afghanistan” [Folk Art in Afghanistan], Graz/Austria: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1976) in a bazaar in Kabul.)

Collections of the Info are available in some libraries and archives, such as that of AREU in Kabul (see here).

Not withstanding its unpretentious appearance, the Afghanistan Info carried condensed, crisp analysis of developments in Afghanistan – most of it between one to three pages long –,a time line of Afghan events and book annotations in French, English and German. Ranking Afghanistan watchers published from there including the French Olivier Roy, Étienne Gille and Gilles Dorronsoro, the recently deceased American Nancy Dupree (our obituaries here, here and here), Bill Maley in Australia, the Italian, Alessandro Monsutti, the Indian, Srinjoy Bose and the Pakistani Ahmed Rashid. This author also had the honour to contribute in recent years.

Over the decades, the Afghanistan Info became a key source of post-Soviet invasion Afghanistan studies helping to connect the worldwide community of long-time Afghanistan watchers. Increasingly, it has also brought in a new generation of Afghanistan followers. It shared this task with other publications, such as the already mentioned Les Nouvelles, CEREDAF and Afghanistan Nytt, as well as the Afghanistan Journal (regrettably no longer in publication; collections of it sometimes still become available online second-hand), edited in the Austrian city of Graz by sociologist Karl Gratzl in cooperation with the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Afghanistan (AGA) and, later on, the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. (The AGA, ie the Afghanistan Study Group brings together mostly German-speaking researchers on Afghanistan and continues to operate, see here.)

This is not the first time that Centlivres-Demont planned to end the publication of the Afghanistan Info. The first time was 20 years ago. Back then, Nancy Dupree, reportedly managed to persuade Centlivres-Demont to continue. There is another parallel between the two women. Like Nancy, Centlivres-Demont met her husband Pierre on a field research trip in Afghanistan when he was an advisor to the Kabul National Museum before the Soviet invasion. He concentrated much of his time working on the old city of Tashkorghan, also known as Kholm, in Samangan province. It was famous for its ancient, roofed bazaar that was destroyed during the early days of the Soviet invasion, marking a lesser-known example of cultural vandalism linked to the Afghan wars. The bazaar has been reconstructed in part from original pieces abroad in Stuttgart’s Linden Museum, see here, in the photo gallery.)

Bill Maley, looking at the bulletin’s relevance as a chronicler of Afghanistan’s forty years since the communist coup, wrote in his own farewell article in the last issue: “there is one thing to celebrate” about the decades-long war only: “the stimulus it has provided for further study of Afghanistan.” AAN has to thank him for putting us – together with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) and Nancy Dupree’s brainchild, the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU) – amongst “a range of valuable [new] institutions contributing” to this purpose. We hope that we will live up to this. We have still 28 years to go, if we want to draw level with the Neuchâtel Afghanistan Info.

For further reading, this author recommends:

A Best-of-Afghanistan-Info collection was already published in 2015:

Micheline Centlivres-Demont (ed.), Afghanistan: Identity, Society and Politics since 1980, London and New York: IB Tauris, 2015, 316p.

There is also a diary of several of their travels to Afghanistan: Pierre Centlivres and Micheline Centlivres-Demont, Revoir Kaboul, Chemins d’été, chemins d’hiver entre l’Oxus et l’Indus, 1972-2005. Zoé (Carouge), 480 p.

If you’re lucky, still available online, too: Pierre Centlivres, Un bazar d’Asie centrale: Tashkurgan, Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1972.

Material about Afghanistan collected by the Centlivres can also be found in the Fonds Afghanistan P. et M. Centlivres under the Graduate Institute Geneva.

 

 

Thematic Category: Context & Culture