The Kokcha River in Afghanistan at sunset.
The Kokcha River in Afghanistan at sunset.

Millennials are roughly defined as those born between the years 1980 and 2001. In Afghanistan, this definition carries an added layer of significance, as these years are the bookends of two particularly catastrophic periods of conflict: 1980, the first year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and 2001, marking the beginning of the U.S. invasion and the War on Terror. Millennials in Afghanistan have only known a time in which their country has been in a constant state of war.

In spite of their chaotic upbringing, or perhaps because of it, many millennials in Afghanistan are extraordinarily resilient, even hopeful, about their country’s future. They are better educated than any past generation: according to the Afghan Central Statistics Organization, public university enrollment jumped from 7,800 to 174,425 between 2001 and 2015 – 21 percent of that enrollment being women. Although many still long to leave Afghanistan in search of opportunities elsewhere, others resolutely remain, choosing to engage with their communities and the outside world through art, music, and activism – from within the country they know and love.

“The future of Afghanistan is going to be very bright,” says Zhala Sarmast, seventeen, a member of a groundbreaking Afghan women’s cycling group that biked across the country to promote female independence and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year. “I know the youngsters of my country are strong enough to rebuild Afghanistan, and to show the world that Afghanistan is much more than what they think.”

Students of the Nur Muhammad Shah all-girls school attend their classes on a Monday morning in 2015. This school, which is located in Karte, a neighborhood in Kabul, boasts an enrollment of 13,000 girls from grades one through twelve. Under the Taliban regime, girls were not allowed to attend school; now, thousands are being educated in this neighborhood alone.
Students of the Nur Muhammad Shah all-girls school attend their classes on a Monday morning in 2015. This school, which is located in Karte, a neighborhood in Kabul, boasts an enrollment of 13,000 girls from grades one through twelve. Under the Taliban regime, girls were not allowed to attend school; now, thousands are being educated in this neighborhood alone.
A group of students socialize between exams on the campus of Kabul University.
A group of students socialize between exams on the
campus of Kabul University.
An Afghani policeman uses a computer to check Facebook at an internet cafe in Goolaei, Northern Kabul.
An Afghani policeman uses a computer to check Facebook at an internet cafe
in Goolaei, Northern Kabul.
Hamed Hassanzada, a visual artist from Kabul. Photographed here in 2015, Hassan says he often feels isolated and lacks a support system to produce and showcase his artwork. Most of his work is dark and sexually charged, portraying isolation and depression. Despite being accepted for artist residencies in both New York and Germany, he was unable to procure visas to either country. He now lives in Istanbul, and has no plans to return to Afghanistan. “I’m not hopeful about Afghanistan because the majority of them are thinking that knowledge is a sin, and old, miserable traditions are precious,” he says. “How can we be hopeful for people who think that by killing each other they will go to paradise?”
Hamed Hassanzada, a visual artist from Kabul. Photographed here in 2015, Hassan says he often feels isolated and lacks a support system to produce and showcase his artwork. Most of his work is dark and sexually charged, portraying isolation and depression. Despite being accepted for artist residencies in both New York and Germany, he was unable to procure visas to either country. He now lives in Istanbul, and has no plans to return to Afghanistan. “I’m not hopeful about Afghanistan because the majority of them are thinking that knowledge is a sin, and old, miserable traditions are precious,” he says. “How can we be hopeful for people who think that by killing each other they will go to paradise?”
“Paradise,” a young Afghan rapper and part of a duo with her partner, Diverse, prepares to shoot a music video. Most of their songs concern social justice and women's rights abuses in Afghanistan.
“Paradise,” a young Afghan rapper and part of a duo with her partner, Diverse, prepares to shoot a music video. Most of their songs concern social justice and women’s rights abuses in Afghanistan.
Paradise records in the studio. She and Diverse fled Afghanistan once because of repeated death threats, but they have since returned to Kabul, where they continue to produce work.
Paradise records in the studio. She and Diverse fled Afghanistan once because of repeated death threats, but they have since returned to Kabul, where they continue to produce work.
 Photographed in 2015, Maryam Sama, a news host for Tolo TV, sips her tea after her morning show. Tolo TV, which is one of the only TV stations in Afghanistan to have female anchors, was targeted by a Taliban suicide attack in January 2016. Seven members of the TV staff were killed. Sama still lives in Kabul, and is also a part-time student at the American University of Afghanistan, where at least thirteen people were killed in an attack in August 2016. Sama lost several friends.
Photographed in 2015, Maryam Sama, a news host for Tolo TV, sips her tea after her morning show. Tolo TV, which is one of the only TV stations in Afghanistan to have female anchors, was targeted by a Taliban suicide attack in January 2016. Seven members of the TV staff were killed. Sama still lives in Kabul, and is also a part-time student at the American University of Afghanistan, where at least thirteen people were killed in an attack in August 2016. Sama lost several friends.
Qasem Foushanji plays the bass onstage at an underground bar in Kabul in 2015. Foushanji now lives in the United States on a student visa, studying interior design at The Art Institute of Washington.
Qasem Foushanji plays the bass onstage at an underground bar in Kabul in 2015. Foushanji now lives in the United States on a student visa, studying interior design at The Art Institute of Washington.
 A teenage boy undergoes cosmetic surgery for hair implantation at one of the few cosmetic clinics in Kabul. There are several skilled plastic surgeons in Afghanistan due to the demand over the last several decades for the treatment of war injuries. However, due to the rise of Afghanistan’s middle class and the growing influence of international pop culture, cosmetic surgery has slowly become more culturally accepted, particularly among millennials, and the demand for such procedures has gone up.
A teenage boy undergoes cosmetic surgery for hair implantation at one of the few cosmetic clinics in Kabul. There are several skilled plastic surgeons in Afghanistan due to the demand over the last several decades for the treatment of war injuries. However, due to the rise of Afghanistan’s middle class and the growing influence of international pop culture, cosmetic surgery has slowly become more culturally accepted, particularly among millennials, and the demand for such procedures has gone up.
In the Karte neighborhood of Kabul, a group of young fashion photographers have come together to organize the first male modeling agency in Afghanistan. Here, young men wait their turn for a trial shoot with the agency.
In the Karte neighborhood of Kabul, a group of young fashion photographers have come together to organize the first male modeling agency in Afghanistan. Here, young men wait their turn for a trial shoot with the agency.
Inside a beauty salon in western Kabul, a young girl shows off her new haircut to her mom.
Inside a beauty salon in western Kabul, a young girl shows off her new haircut to her mom.
Nursing students treat the wounds of an injured girl at an emergency hospital in Kabul.
Nursing students treat the wounds of an injured girl at an emergency hospital in Kabul.
The crew behind the scenes of “Shereen’s Law,” a controversial TV show that premiered on Tolo TV in 2016. The show tells the story of a 36-year-old woman who raises three children while pursuing a career as a court clerk in Kabul and trying to divorce her husband, whom she was forced to marry.
The crew behind the scenes of “Shereen’s Law,” a controversial TV show that premiered on Tolo TV in 2016. The show tells the story of a 36-year-old woman who raises three children while pursuing a career as a court clerk in Kabul and trying to divorce her husband, whom she was forced to marry.
Zhala Sarmast, photographed here in 2015, plays a cover of an Avril Lavigne song in her room while her younger brother and older sister sing along. Sarmast, now seventeen, is still in high school and a part of the Nobel-nominated all-female cycling team that biked across Afghanistan. “I’ve got the opportunity to travel and represent my country in a good way, to remove the old idea of Afghanistan being the worst country to live,” says Sarmast. In addition to cycling, she is perfecting her German skills and studying at the Afghanistan National institute of Music.
Zhala Sarmast, photographed here in 2015, plays a cover of an Avril Lavigne song in her room while her younger brother and older sister sing along. Sarmast, now seventeen, is still in high school and a part of the Nobel-nominated all-female cycling team that biked across Afghanistan. “I’ve got the opportunity to travel and represent my country in a good way, to remove the old idea of Afghanistan being the worst country to live,” says Sarmast. In addition to cycling, she is perfecting her German skills and studying at the Afghanistan National institute of Music.
M., center, a 23-year-old Afghan rapper and member of a duo from Herat, hangs out at Aria Café. Born and raised in Iran, M. is critical of the Afghan government, which he incorporates into his music and lifestyle, and thus did not want to share his full name.
M., center, a 23-year-old Afghan rapper and member of a duo from Herat, hangs out at Aria Café. Born and raised in Iran, M. is critical of the Afghan government, which he incorporates into his music and lifestyle, and thus did not want to share his full name.
 A group of young Afghan men socialize at the only bowling alley in Kabul.
A group of young Afghan men socialize at the only bowling alley in Kabul.
A theater student rehearses a play in class at Kabul University.
A theater student rehearses a play in class at Kabul University.

Sophie Brill

Sophie Brill is a New York City-based photo editor and curator, and a student at the School of Visual Arts. She is also Narratively’s Assistant Photo Editor.

Kiana Hayeri

Kiana Hayeri grew up in Tehran, Iran and migrated to Toronto as a teenager. Today, she is loosely based in between Afghanistan and Iran, covering the region.