Our Impact – Afghanistan

The rolling mountains above the village of Istalif AfghanistanThe rolling mountains above the village of Istalif Afghanistan
Constructing new walls in Istalif AfghanistanConstructing new walls in Istalif Afghanistan
Constructing new walls in Istalif AfghanistanConstructing new walls in Istalif Afghanistan
Abdul Istalifi discussing pottery with local merchants in Istalif, Afghanistan.Abdul Istalifi discussing pottery with local merchants in Istalif, Afghanistan.
A potter throws pots on a wheel in Istalif, Afghanistan.A potter throws pots on a wheel in Istalif, Afghanistan.
Young girls help their village by carrying pottery from the kiln to be glazed in Istalif, Afghanistan.Young girls help their village by carrying pottery from the kiln to be glazed in Istalif, Afghanistan.
Pottery on display in Istalif Afghanistan.Pottery on display in Istalif Afghanistan.
Ali Istalifi and Abdul Istalifi, Istalif AfghanistanAli Istalifi and Abdul Istalifi, Istalif Afghanistan

Reviving Istalif, Afghanistan

The Destruction of Istalif

Istalif, a beautiful village 45 minutes north of Kabul, Afghanistan was always a popular tourist and picnic destination. Famous for its mineral springs, mountain views, rivers, 99 varieties of grapes, as well as its colorful marketplace, Istalif was especially known for the renowned turquoise and green pottery that had been produced there for centuries.

Istalif was completely destroyed by the Taliban in August of 1997. Its location on the front line of their battle with the Northern Alliance made it a strategic liability, so the Taliban torched the entire village, scattering 97 percent of its population. This beautiful, fertile village, with its archaic charm and gentle pastoral lifestyle, was reduced to a rubble-strewn ghost town, and all but a few of its inhabitants became refugees in Kabul or Pakistan.

Following the U.S. invasion and defeat of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan was liberated and there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for a new beginning, with Western support for reconstruction. But Istalif was unfortunately not on the agenda, with governmental funds prioritized for more populated areas.

The Revival of Istalif

In May, 2003, Ira and Sylvia Seret invited their friend of forty years who had remained in Kabul during the entire war years, Abdul Istalifi, for a reunion in Santa Fe, N.M. Abdul’s wife Zabaida and their younger son Ali flew in from London as well. Acutely aware of Istalif’s plight — it had received no aid in the two years since its liberation from the Taliban and was still basically a ghost town this small group of friends began brainstorming a plan to revive the heart of Istalif.

By now Abdul was an elder of Istalif, and his strongest desire was to see his hometown rise from the ashes.

Ira and Abdul, longtime friends and business partners, concluded that the best way to revitalize a village would be to jump-start its economic base. The strip of shops near the main mosque, once a famed hub for tourists seeking local crafts and the center of the local economy, was now a street of rubble. The Serets and Istalifis decided to reconstruct 120 burned-out shops along this main marketplace.

Read More Below

April 10, 2020
Ali Istalifi - Hand / Eye magazine

Hand / Eye Magazine – Rebuilding Istalif

Because the ruined marketplace had been the economic heart of the town, Abdul and Ira reasoned the rebuilding 120 main street...
April 7, 2020
Students make pottery in the style of Istalif, Afghanistan

Inspired by Istalif

In 2009, inspired by Istalif’s story, the Arnold Hill Secondary school in London incorporated Istalif’s signature style of pottery-making into their curriculum...
March 23, 2020
Colorful Istalif pottery on display in a store in Afghanistan.

A Pictorial Guide to Istalif Pottery

Istalif is a picturesque village of craftsmen located about 33 miles North of Kabul, Afghanistan. Besides the production of ...
March 21, 2020

Art’s Glimmer of Hope

When Ali, now 28, returned to his family village in 2003, he found a ghost town of rubble piles inhabited by wild dogs. The village had been forgotten, and its people...
May 3, 2014
A vendor loads his donkey with wares to bring to market in Istalif, Afghanistan. Circa 1974

Remembering Istalif in the ’60s & ’70s— Pre-Wars Golden Years

May 1, 2014

Istalif Pottery at IFAM

The Traditional pottery from Istalif will be exported out of Afghanistan for the first time and can be found at the International Folk Art Market. The selection represents the work of 40 families, Ali said, and provides a glimmer of hope in a country where it can sometimes seem like there are few bright spots.
April 29, 2014
Abdul Wahkeel at his pottery stall in the Afghan village of Istalif. He was among the first potters to return after the fall of the Taliban.

Istalif gains International Press Attention

March 28, 2012
An Afghan Success Story - CNN interview with Ali Istalifi

An Afghan Success Story – CNN interview with Ali Istalifi

June 19, 2008
Malik Mohammad was a potter in Istalif before it was destroyed by the Taliban. Now he has returned to making the region's distinctive green and turquoise pottery.

The National – Crafting a Nation

If you squint your eyes, Istalif could be Tuscany, with the saturated, late afternoon sun casting a warm glow over the mud buildings perched...