Nooristan (also called Nuristan or Nurestan) is a remote mountainous province in northeastern Afghanistan on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush and bordering on Pakistan. Until 1895-96, when Amir Abdul Rahman Khan forcibly converted the population to Islam, the area was called Kafiristan (land of the non-believers). He renamed the region Nooristan or “land of the enlightened.” Ethnically homogenous, the Nooristanis today number about 300,000 people. About 90 percent speak the Nooristani language, a member of the Indo-European language family, but distinct from Pushtu or Dari, the major languages of Afghanistan. It is thought that Alexander the Great passed through Nooristan on his way to India in 331 BC and that some of his soldiers intermarried with the local population. This could explain similarities with ancient Greece in Nooristani customs, dress and physical appearance. The population lives in isolated villages in deep, narrow mountain valleys. The main occupations are agriculture and animal husbandry. Nooristani artisans are also renowned for the exquisite wood carving that adorns furniture and home décor. Nooristan saw some of the most severe fighting between the mujahideen and the Red Army during the 1980s. In recent years, the province has been the scene of heavy combat between US forces and the Taliban who enjoy a safe haven across the border in Pakistan.
BACKGROUND ON NOORISTAN FOUNDATION
The Nooristan Foundation was established in 1999 by Dr. Nadir Atash, a member of a well-known Nooristani family who resettled with his family in the United States after the Soviet invasion. Dr. Atash’s father was General Issa Khan Nooristani whom the communists imprisoned and executed after they seized power in 1978. Dr. Atash started the Foundation in the belief that his former homeland needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. The focus was on building rural roads, installing hydro-electric generating capacity, helping schools and providing water for remote Nooristani villages.
In 2008, Dr. Atash retired from active participation and Mrs. Marie Kux became the Foundation’s president. The scope broadened to include assistance to other areas. To raise funds for projects, the Greek Embassy, in 2009, held a benefit, “In the Steps of Alexander,” in 2010, the French Embassy sponsored “An Evening of Hope for Afghanistan,” in 2011, the Embassy of India hosted it and in 2012, the French Embassy is once again hosting an "Evening of Hope".