Balkh: The Ancient Battleground

There are some places in the earth where conflict is embedded in the very brick and mortar of a place. Balkh is such a place. Located along the ancient Silk Road of commercial travel, I suppose it was almost inevitable that Balkh would see its share of war. Tells rise throughout the city–mounds of layer upon layer of buildings and whole city districts leveled time after time and built up again. As children, my siblings, friends and I would collect shards of pottery buried in ancient battles and bullet shells on the surface left by modern ones.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” wrote Solomon, and nowhere have I seen this like Balkh. The children of ancient pastoralists still take their goats to pasture. The children of farmers still harvest carrots under the shadow of the tells. Modern houses are built with sun dried bricks as they have been for centuries, and sometimes with kiln-fired bricks dug up from ancient rooms beneath the tell. And the tomb of Rabia Balkhi stands as a memorial to forbidden love, and the anguish of hearts that feel it.

Rabia Balkhi was a princess who fell in love with a pauper. Her zealous brother forbade the relationship but Rabia and her lover were not to be deterred. She was punished by death: an honor killing. As her blood flowed out, Rabia used it as ink to write poetry about her beloved.

Afghanistan still bleeds: A broken land, broken hearts, crying out words in blood for a love that cannot die.

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