Born in Damascus, Syria to an exiled Afghan family, Queen Soraya Tarzi rose to become one of the most powerful figures in Afghanistan’s contemporary history. In early 1900s, King Habibullah Khan, made it possible for exiled Afghans to return from Syria. Soraya’s father, Mahmud Tarzi, a renowned progressive intellectual, was received by the King himself when he returned with his family. That’s when Soraya met young Prince Amanullah Khan and the two felt an immediate connection.
In 1919, Amanullah Khan took the throne and liberated Afghanistan from British colonialism. He married Soraya Tarzi making her the Queen of Afghanistan. From the onset, she advocated for women’s meaningful participation in society.
Independence belongs to all of us… Do you think, however, that our nation from the outset needs only men to serve it? Women should also take their part as women did in the early years of our nation and Islam. From their examples we must learn that we must all contribute toward the development of our nation and that this cannot be done without being equipped with knowledge.
During her reign, Queen Soraya was recognized as an official ruler of the country, alongside King Amanullah Khan. She was a champion for girls’ education, opening schools and even sending fifteen young women to Turkey for higher education. She also advocated against polygamy and forced hejab, and founded a women’s magazine, and a court for women facing violence to make their voices heard.
It didn’t take long for conservative forces who felt threatened by progress in Afghanistan to rise up against King Amanullah Khan and Queen Soraya and the two were forced into exile in 1929. Like many other progressive voices of Afghanistan, Queen Soraya Tarzi and her beloved husband passed away in exile. To this day, she remains a symbol of women’s liberation for many in Afghanistan and the region.