Afghan Biographies

Royesh, Azizullah

Name Royesh, Azizullah
Ethnic backgr. Hazara
Date of birth 1970
Function/Grade Marefat High School Kabul Founder and Director
History and Biodata

2. Previous Functions:
Marefat High School Kabul Founder and Director
Principal Marefat High School Kabul

3. Biodata:
Azizullah Royesh Aziz Royesh was born 1970 in Talhak village. He only attended school until the age of 10, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced him to flee to Pakistan. His father sent him to Quetta, Pakistan, in 1982 to escape deadly Russian airstrikes on the family’s home village, Talkhak. Royesh had no family in Quetta to rely on, he said, so he worked — in tailor shops, bakeries, small factories just to nourish himself. Unable to continue his formal education in exile, he used his spare time after work for self-study. Royesh returned to Afghanistan in 1986 and was immediately drafted by his community to share his learning.  Upon returning to Afghanistan at the age of 16 he established a school – and five more in the next three years, making dangerous journeys into Pakistan to procure teaching supplies. Fleeing the Taliban in 1994, he established the Marefat (meaning ‘insight and knowledge’) School for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which moved back to Kabul when the Taliban regime fell in 2001. Royesh returned from Ghazni to Kabul after U.S. troops drove the Taliban out in 2001. And Royesh, who has studied the Quran and comparative political theory — on his own — put together a curriculum that stressed human rights and civic duties. He wanted to build schools in Afghanistan, especially for his own Hazara minority group, members of the Shiite Muslim sect who had faced severe repression under the Sunni Taliban. He ventured into Dasht-e Barchi, a dusty slum of around two million people, with dirt streets and open markets, with the goal of getting the community involved.

In 2003, Royesh says, Marefat became the target of a smear campaign in local Shiite mosques and educational centers. The school's teachers were accused of preaching Christianity, communism, Judaism and secularism – all of which are illegal under Afghan law.

In 2009 several female students from Marefat school launched a protest against the new Shia Family Law because it violated women’s rights and legalised marital rape. This action led to a call for Azizullah’s execution and an attempt to burn down the school, requiring the Ministry of the Interior to protect it with its Special Police Unit. When the school reopened three days later, more than 95% of the students, accompanied by their parents, attended school, demonstrating the support of the community for the school.

In 2014 Marefat High School had 4000 students, 44% of which were girls. Of its 450 graduates, 148 pursued their studies in high schools and universities abroad in that year. The school is registered as a tax-exempt, nonprofit educational institution and provides financial aid to over 400 of its students each year.

In the election in 2014, he was an early supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, writing his election manifesto and campaigning on his behalf with the expectation that he would be named chief of staff if Ghani were elected. Royesh’s relationship with Ghani has worsened after the killing of the seven Hazaras. He helped organize a protest in which tens of thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators descended on the presidential palace on Nov. 11, 2015, carrying the coffins of the victims. Some were met with gunfire when they tried to enter the grounds, though no one was killed. But relations with Ghani had soured before as the election neared, and he declined to support Ghani. Now, he accuses the president of proving ineffective in crisis, and of contributing to ethnic and factional divisions in Afghanistan.(20160124)

He speaks Dari, Pashtu, Urdu and English.

Last Modified 2016-01-24
Established 2015-02-16