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Opening Remarks Reception for Land of the High Flags Embassy of Afghanistan

Washington, DC

Ms. Klass,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Robert Frost famously described the “road less traveled” in his poetry. Rosanne Klass wanted to go to Paris. She ended up in Afghanistan. Had she fulfilled her original wishes, she would be no different from the thousands of Americans who can tell stories about their visit to Notre Dame and St. Germain. Luckily, she chose the road less traveled, and her unique experience as an American woman teaching in Afghanistan in the 1950s has inspired countless others to discover the Afghanistan that exists beyond the headlines.

Ms. Klass knew almost nothing about the country when she arrived. The New York Public Library only had a few articles and an out of date travelogue. When she returned to America, she added a valuable addition to that small and empty shelf, a fascinating book titled, “Land of the High Flags.”

In that book, Ms. Klass described an Afghanistan very different from the country that we know today. But the landscape that she describes is the landscape of my own childhood: peaceful, bucolic, simple, tolerant. This is why throughout the decades many Afghans have discovered Land of the High Flags and recommended it to their friends – to their Afghan friends as a reminder of what was lost and to their American friends to show them the beauty of Afghan culture before our contemporary troubles.

In the pages of her book, Ms. Klass describes her numerous experiences teaching English, observing cultural differences and traveling through the country. In the context of the last 30 years of war, her description of the hospitality, kindness, and curiosity of the people that she meets is truly heartbreaking. Surely many of those good souls suffered in the ensuing chaos. She also describes her encounters with Afghanistan’s Jewish community, and the culture of tolerance in which the Jewish community was able to live in peace. Tragically, Afghanistan’s Jewish population has dwindled, and now consists of a single man, the last living testament to over a thousand years of history and culture.

As the years passed by and Afghanistan became caught up in the great game of the Cold War, the small shelf on which Ms. Klass’ book was once quite lonely was joined by new volumes, histories, political treatises, policy prescriptions, and photographic accounts of the subsequent war and destruction. As the book shelf grew, Ms. Klass continued to support Afghanistan. She testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate-House Task Force on Afghanistan; she spoke about Afghanistan at academic conferences; she organized exhibitions of Afghan art in New York; and she wrote articles for the New York Times, the National Review and other magazines that exposed the atrocities of the Soviet invasion. While many others encountered Afghanistan only briefly along their way to other professional opportunities, Ms. Klass remained commited to the country and the people, serving as the Executive Vice President of the Afghanistan Relief Committee and the Director of the Afghanistan Information Center at Freedom House. In time, she added more of her own volumes to the bookshelf, included the well regarded Afghanistan - The Great Game Revisited.

Ms. Klass took the road less traveled, and we are have all profited from her decision. She has truly been a bridge between our two countries, well before Afghanistan entered the national vocabulary. We are honored to have you with us today, to celebrate your book and your many accomplishments in service of Afghanistan. Thank you.