Dubai, UAE – “The Afghanistan pavilion is the name of the pavilion for the people of Afghanistan,” Mohamed Omar Rahimy, the director of the pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, told Al Jazeera.
Rahimy was still a teenager when he fled Afghanistan in 1978 to escape violence and fighting.
He says his ancestors have been in the antique business for a long time – his father, who forced Rahimy to flee Afghanistan, ran an antique shop in Kabul.
Now based in Austria for more than 40 years, Rahimy said has no political affiliation, adding that when, following the fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul in August, he had the opportunity to take over the pavilion, he took it up without thinking twice.
Afghanistan’s elected government was in charge of the pavilion. But after the Taliban takeover of the country in August, the fate of the pavilion became uncertain.
Following the fall of the government in Kabul, the pavilion remained empty when Expo 2020 opened on October 1.
When the Expo officials gave him the green light to take over the pavilion, Rahimy left for Dubai from Vienna.
“We come from the private sector. In September, when Expo [officials] contacted me knowing my experience, I was all up for it,” Rahimy said.
“I’ve lived in Austria for more than 40 years but my heart is in Afghanistan. I don’t have any political affiliation but whenever my country has needed me, I’ve tried to be there.”
The pavilion exhibits 300 pieces of antiques and artefacts, all from Rahimy’s private collection that he brought from Austria.
The list includes a collection of carpets, stones, jewellery, daggers, swords, traditional clothes and a 15th-century gold and silver necklace.
“We have a very big shop in Austria selling handicrafts, jewellery and stones. I have around 2,600 items there but managed to bring just 300 here to the Expo. We will be keeping them here until the end of the Expo 2020.”
The pavilion, he said, was designed and completed in three days with his brother and sons working “day and night to get the job done” despite the daily news coming out of his homeland.
The Taliban government has yet to be recognised by any country or the United Nations where Afghanistan’s seat is still held by the representative of the previous government, Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai.
Following the fall of Ghani’s government, nearly $10bn of Afghanistan’s assets were frozen by the United States, a move that international aid organisations and experts say can lead to a “catastrophe”.
Despite the political uncertainty, Rahimy is happy to see the pavilion functioning and help improve the image of the country in the minds of those who visit.
“People who come here to the pavilion have just negative stuff about Afghanistan in their minds. But when they enter the pavilion, their mind changes because they see the culture of Afghanistan,” said Rahimy.
“My heart pains for my country, but while I can’t do anything about the political situation, I can try and change people’s mindsets and that’s what I’m aiming for. People coming here to visit us is good news for us and good news for Afghanistan.”