Akbar Ayazi, who emigrated to the U.S. from his native Afghanistan in 1980, served as a distinguished broadcaster and executive for the Voice of America for 27 years and for a decade at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He passed away August 25 after a long battle with lung cancer. Mr. Ayazi is survived by his wife, Aziza, three daughters, Awista, Sara and Muska Ayazi, and a son, Aimel Ayazi.
Friends and colleagues expressed a deep sense of sorrow at Mr. Ayazi’s loss. He was the director of VOA’s South and Central Asia Division, which broadcasts in the two principal languages to Afghanistan, Pashto, and Dari, as well as Azerbaijani, Bangla, Kurdish, Turkish, Urdu and Uzbek. Also in the division, a new five-day-a-week VOA program was established in the Rohingya language just last month, to reach a refugee camp in eastern Bangladesh and designed to teach English to 700,000 Rohingyas who fled government terrorist attacks in neighboring Burma. Among those paying tribute to Mr. Ayazi was VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who described his death as “a dreadful loss not only for his family but his VOA family. Akbar embodied all the best of VOA — his creativity, his commitment, his passion for the mission. We will all miss him very much.”
Akbar Ayazi first acquired his love of broadcasting as a student at Kabul University and came to the United States in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He joined VOA two years later, and it quickly became clear he had found his niche. He soon became head of the Pashto Service and remained in that post until 2005. That year, he and his family moved to Prague to accept a position as RFE/RL’s regional director of broadcasts to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. When the relatively new VOA South and Central Asia Division was created ten years later, Mr. Ayazi was a natural choice to return to the Voice. He said then that one of his goals was to make sure that “the news and information we provide has an impact and makes a difference in our listeners lives”.
It’s all about impact and Ayazi’s distinct role
In Afghanistan, Akbar Ayazi became a household name. Many expressions of sorrow about his loss have poured into the Voice since his passing, especially from Afghanistan. Among them: Afghanistan’s current President Ashraf Ghani and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. In 2009, Mr.Ayazi had moderated a presidential debate between these two heads of state. President Ghani credited Mr. Ayazi with playing “an important role in enlightening Afghan society through social media.” Under his leadership, VOA’s Pashto Service to Afghanistan interviewed Abdullah Abdullah, who’s running for president in an upcoming campaign, and General John W. Nicholson Jr., the longest-serving NATO general in Afghanistan.
A tweet from Lotfullah Najafizada, head of Afghanistan’s TOLOnews said: “Saddened by the news of Akbar Ayazi’s passing. He dedicated his life to journalism and a free press.” In another tweet, Sharif Hassanyar, director of Afghanistan’s Ariana News, wrote: “Sad to hear about the demise of prominent journalist Akbar Ayazi. His achievements for media and freedom of speech were remarkable.”
Closer to home, I, too, have marveled at Mr. Ayazi’s cordiality and enthusiasm over the years — always willing to share the latest news about his area of expertise and VOA generally. During his tenure as Division director, microphones were set up in a parking lot just outside the Voice’s headquarters building, just to record Americans’ and other visitors’ off the cuff impressions of the power of information — and public diplomacy — in a tumultuous
But the last word should go to Shaista Sadat Lami, managing editor of the VOA Pashto Service, who worked with Mr. Ayazi for more than 15 years:
“Once we asked him, why isn’t he writing a book about his experiences in journalism, from
Afghanistan, the region, and the world? He answered: ‘Yes, but instead, I spend time with
people, listening to their stories, and with the journalists guiding them. I spend my time
working with all of you! Looking at you all, growing as strong journalists and advancing in your
careers. THAT makes me proud! That gives me the happiness I have — living, walking and
working with the ‘living’ books all around me!’.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More