Nancy Hatch Dupree, a historian from the United States who helped set up the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, has died in the country whose culture she worked for more than five decades to preserve, the university said on Sunday. She was 89.
Dupree arrived in Kabul in 1962 as a diplomat’s wife but soon divorced and married Louis Dupree, an archaeologist celebrated for his adventurous exploits and groundbreaking discoveries of Paleolithic Afghan tools and artifacts.
For the next 15 years, they traveled across Afghanistan by Land Rover as Louis Dupree excavated prehistoric sites and Nancy wrote a series of witty and insightful guidebooks to a country since torn apart by decades of warfare.
“She called herself an old monument and a lot of Afghans called her the ‘Grandmother of Afghanistan,’” said Wahid Wafa, Executive Director of the Afghanistan Centre. “She understood and knew Afghanistan much better than anybody else.”
A fixture in the social scene of Kabul during the 1970s, a now-vanished world of smart cocktail parties and mini-dresses, they were forced to leave in 1978 after the Soviet-backed government accused Louis Dupree of being a spy.
Her husband died in 1989 and much of the time before her return to Afghanistan in 2005 was spent in Pakistan, where as well as briefly meeting Osama Bin Laden and working with the growing number of war refugees, she assiduously gathered as much documentation on Afghanistan as she could.
In 2005, after the fall of the Taliban and the installation of a new Western-backed government in Kabul, she returned with some 35,000 documents wrapped up in fertilizer bags, which became the basis for the Afghanistan Centre archive.
A prolific writer, she was director of the Centre between 2006 and 2011 and continued to go into her office after she stepped down, remaining an institution in the cultural life of Kabul and receiving a stream of visitors.
“It was Nancy’s aim to preserve Afghanistan’s heritage,” said Wafa. “She was a very funny, interesting person who loved to talk to anyone coming to visit. She was kind, she was very giving with the information she had and she was always lobbying for the Afghanistan she first knew.”
While she could be waspishly critical of both blundering Westerners and Afghans she felt were promoting a bigoted version of their culture, she retained her faith in her adopted country to the end, Wafa said.
“Despite the 40 years of war in Afghanistan she was always hopeful of the future and hopeful for the future of the new generation in Afghanistan.”