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Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Anthony Hyman

Anthony Hyman

Anthony Hyman (left) as a young man on a visit to the North West Frontier, Pakistan.

From his student days at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, the Muslim world was the driving intellectual interest of Anthony Hyman, in whose memory these lectures were initiated in 2002.

An expert on Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, and a commentator for the BBC World Service for more than twenty years, Anthony was a linguist, historian, bibliophile, art lover and traveller.

His early work was on the development of Pan-Islamism in early twentieth century India, out of which grew a lifelong interest in Pakistan and the wider Islamic world. A student of Persian, he followed Iranian and Afghan politics closely.

In 1982, soon after Afghanistan took centre stage in global politics, his standard work, Afghanistan under Soviet Domination, was first published. His understanding that the Afghan resistance struggle would throw up challenges to traditional society and produce its own process of radicalisation was well ahead of its time, as were his fears for the disintegration of Afghan unity under pressure from tribalism and sectarianism. In late years, he was particularly critical of the Taliban and of what he saw as their narrow vision of Afghanistan’s future.

Anthony’s many friendships with Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis gave his work a strong human dimension. But he never let friendships cloud his intellectual judgement; he spoke clearly and with candour, and through his writing for radio, the newspapers and journals, through lectures and exchanges with policy makers, he came to wield some influence where policy was being made.

In the early 1980s, he was also secretary of the Afghanistan Support Committee and worked with the Afghan Refugee Network and with Amnesty International. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Anthony became absorbed with Central Asia, travelling there, learning Russian, acquainting himself with the politics and cultures of the new states and introducing these countries to a wider audience through his writings. As with Afghanistan, he advocated a higher-profile European interest in these countries and their needs. He was a founding director of the charity Links, which worked to resolve conflict and promoted democracy in the region in the early years of transition.

He was at various times a research associate of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, a senior fellow of the McArthur Foundation in New York and a visiting fellow of Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford. He was also associate editor of the journal Central Asian Survey. In addition to his many articles and studies, he co-authored Pakistan: Zia and After (1989).

Anthony was a generous and hospitable man and he and his wife, Hilary, had a wide circle of friends across Asia and Europe. He was also a man of great courage, as he showed in his long and difficult battle against cancer.

After his death in December 1999, at the request of his friends, SOAS agreed to set up an annual lecture in his memory to encourage discussion and debate about Afghanistan and its neighbours, and this has since become an important event in the School’s annual calendar.