Last talk at the Chapel: Understanding Afghanistan, the 'Roundabout of Empires', with Bijan Omrani

Last talk at our original home, The Ebenezer Chapel, Burrowbridge

"Afghan history is a morass of empires and dynasties, conquest and collapse, creativity and decay." with Bijan Omrani, writer of the superlative, Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide


The Ebenezers are delighted to welcome Bijan Omrani, author of Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, who reveals the past of this turbulent land at the heart of Asia, and traces its story from ancient times to the modern era. He describes its distinctive cultural and ethnic traditions, its wealth of poets, artists, musicians, travellers and holy men, as well as its warriors and conquerors.

It was Lord Curzon who said in 1908, ‘If the Central Asian Society exists and is meeting fifty or a hundred years hence, Afghanistan will be as vital and important a question as it is now.' But even he might have been amazed by the parallels between Afghanistan then and now. When we now survey Afghanistan, we see a country that has been ravaged by conflict, and torn by ethnic strife; its infrastructure, which had slowly and tentatively been built up, left in ruins and devastation; and a newly-established central government struggling to project its authority beyond its central heartlands of Kabul.

Yet the same assessment would have been just as valid in 1993, as indeed, it would have been in 1929, 1880, 1856, or 1842. It seems that ever since its inception in 1747, the state of Afghanistan has been unable to escape from a vicious cycle, where unity is unobtainable, or else little more than a passing illusion, and when progress is made towards development, it seems ultimately to drive the country apart, and leave it in a worse state than before.

For the last 30 years, Afghanistan has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons: foreign invasions, bloodshed, terrorism, sectarian violence, corruption and poverty.

The recent decades of war have obscured in the western consciousness a history which stretches back over 3,000 years, embracing the Silk Road, Buddhism, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, and some of the high points of Islamic civilisation. Bijan Omrani looks at some of the great cultural achievements of the land of Afghanistan, and discusses how to make sense of the complex history of this immense treasury of cultural, historical and natural wealth at the very heart of Asia.


Bijan Omrani

Bijan is the author of Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide and Asia Overland : Tales of Travel on the Trans-Siberian and Silk Road].

Bijan is an historian and classicist specialising in the history of Afghanistan and Central Asia. He was educated at Wellington, and read Classics and English at Lincoln College Oxford. He contributed to the Spectator whilst still an undergraduate.

He has lectured on Afghan and Central Asian history at the British Museum, the Royal Geographical Society (Hong Kong Chapter), the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, SOAS, Pushkin House & Eton College. Bijan is regularly invited to comment for Sky News, BBC World Service and Radio 4 - TV interview : France 24. He teaches Classics at Westminster School and also publishes articles on classical history. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society.

His website and he blogs. He writes poetry too, both in Latin & English...

Alcaics on Boris Johnson’s London Bicycles, described by Boris as 'Brilliant!' and rightly so because it reads very well in both languages.


Reviews for Afghanistan : A Companion and Guide:

William Dalrymple: “I used the Afghan guide across the country and thought it was fabulous.”

The Literary Review: “a gem of a book”

Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner: “...Thorough and beautifully illustrated, this book is a comprehensive - and fun - window into Afghan history, culture and traditions. A must-have for travel readers and a gripping read for anyone with even a passing interest in Afghanistan....” -

2014Martin Keeley