Thank you, Mr. Ross. I am very pleased to be here at the Kennedy Center with my friend, Ambassador Hakimi, to welcome all the musicians and teachers of the Afghan National Institute of Music to Washington. Let me also welcome the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, joining their counterparts from Afghanistan on stage this evening, as well as Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Nang, and the many distinguished guests and friends of Afghanistan who are with us here tonight.
President Kennedy, for whom this National Cultural Center is named, was a lifelong supporter and staunch advocate of the arts, which he called "our contribution to the human spirit." The Ensembles of the Afghan National Institute of Music are a shining example of how the arts can lift and give hope to the human spirit.
Afghanistan’s rich musical traditions were once silenced by war and Taliban rule. But when democracy returned to Afghanistan, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, who had left his homeland because of the violence, saw a chance to bring that tradition back to his country, founding what is today Afghanistan’s sole music academy.
With the support of donors from around the globe, Dr. Sarmast invited children from all over Afghanistan, and from all walks of life, to study not just Afghan music, but that of world-renowned composers like Vivaldi and Ravel, and yes, even Duke Ellington. Dr. Sarmast did not just bring instruments back to life, he restored hope for a future where Afghans celebrate their rich, diverse, cultural heritage, and through that, restore their national pride and unity.
As a partner in this endeavor, tonight’s conductor, William Harvey, has spent the past three years in Kabul, training this talented group of young people. Mr. Harvey and his fellow teachers have forged connections across cultural and national barriers in over a dozen countries throughout the world, including the United States. They have been a powerful force in defining the United States to the people of Afghanistan and beyond, for which we are truly grateful.
As Secretary Kerry told these wonderful musicians earlier this week, the Department of State and the people of the United States are proud to sponsor the Afghan National Institute of Music as it continues this tour of Washington, New York and Boston. We wish you great success, and may your tour, and this experience, strengthen the bonds of friendship between the peoples of the United States and Afghanistan.