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Photo Contest: "Why Afghanistan Matters"

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Contest Winners!

Allied Joint Forces Command Brunssum proudly announces the winners of the “Why Afghanistan Matters” Photo Contest.

The Grand Prize winning “Judge’s Choice” photo, by Nasim Fekrat of Afghanistan, is pictured below.  Mr. Fekrat will receive a Nikon D90 12.3MP digital SLR camera, plus a Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VRII Telephoto Zoom Lens.

B0024 The Shrine of Hazrat Ali is home to thousands of white pigeons considered to be sacred.  The spot is said to be so holy if a gray pigeon should join the flock it will become white in 40 days.  Feeding these birds brings good fortune.

The four “People’s Choice” category winners are shown below.  They have each won a Canon Powershot S90 compact camera.

Winner, “People of Afghanistan” – “History and Smiling Future”, Andreas Zapounidis of Greece

A0048Kabul 2009 – bazaar, smiling carpet trader proud of Great Alexander (Iskender) and the history of Afghanistan.

Winner, “Beautiful Afghanistan” – “Cosmic Landscape”, Gancho Kamenarski of Bulgaria


Taken from C130 hercules on 14.09.2006 on the South of Herat.

Winner, “ANSF in Action” – “Muddy Patrol”, Kenny Holston of the United States of America


The reflection of an Afghan Soldier with the 3-1/205 Afghan National Army appears in a puddle on a village road after a heavy rainfall, Feb.5, 2010, Southern Afghanistan. Canadian Forces of 1/205 Corps and the U.S. Army Charlie Company 2508 Task Force Fury worked together mentoring the 3-1/205 Afghan National Army for a successful execution of Operation Mesmar. The mission objective was to clear several villages and fruit orchards in the southern most half of Terot Kulacha in search of improvised explosive devices, weapons caches and illegal drugs.

Winner, ”ISAF in Action” – “Medevac”, John Scott Rafoss of the United States of America


A helicopter gets ready to land for a medical evacuation (medevac) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, December of 2008.

About the Contest

In December 2009, Allied Joint Forces Command Brunssum launched a photo contest inviting members of the public to submit photos that captured “Why Afghanistan Matters” in one of the four given categories.  Over the next four months, 57 contestants from 15 countries sent in 451 photos.  The category winners were selected by the public, using a “star” rating system.  While it was only possible to vote once per IP address, contestants were encouraged to publicize their entries by any means possible (barring the use of incentives), resulting in 100,000 views from 130 countries and 30,985 votes.

The top three “people’s choice” entries in each category were then submitted to a panel of military and civilian personnel in our headquarters to select (from these 12) an overall winner.  The panelists were not informed of the photographer’s nationality, the caption, or any other identifying information.  Selection for the winning photo was nearly unanimous.

About the Winners

Grand Prize winner Nasim Fekrat is a prolific Afghan blogger who has been bloging since 2002 in his native language as well as in English.  He has been hailed as “Afghanistan’s Biggest Blogger” by Foreign Policy.  Having taught many of his fellow young Afghans to blog, he currently attends University in the United States, but dreams of returning to his native country and expand his independent blogging service for young Afghans.  He sold his camera to help kick off funding for that initiative.

Andreas Zapounidis is a Greek noncommissioned officer who has served in ISAF.  He is a prize winner in our previous initiative, a video contest, having submitted the entry, “ISAF:  Proud 2 Serve” and has managed to mobilize a passionate and enthusiastic national fan base to express public support for his contributions.  Mr. Zapoudinis’ enthusiasm for the contest was evident in the fact that he downloaded his favorite photos and produced a video to promote this contest.  Sergeant Zapoudinis is currently attending advanced NCO education in the United States.

John Scott Rafoss is a former US Marine Corps corporal who identifies himself as a former Marine combat correspondent.  Also a blogger, he served in Afghanistan’s South, and the many photos he contributed to this contest represent only a small portion of his work available online, both on his Flickr photostream and elsewhere.

Kenny Holston is a US Air Force Senior Airman serving in Kandahar as a photojournalist.  He also boasts an impressive online portfolio at Flickr and enjoys learning from others to improve his photography skills.  Senior Airman Holston’s work continues to be featured in numerous ISAF media and publications.

Retired Bulgarian Colonel Gancho Kamenarski has become something of a national hero in this contest.  His entries outpaced nearly all other photos in their respective categories.  In contrast to the other winning contestants who often used blogs and social media to publicize their entries, Mr. Kamenarski relied primarily on email and word of mouth – but in so doing, managed to garner 1,400 ratings on his winning entry, far more than any other.  In fact, Bulgaria ranked 2nd (behind only the United States) in terms of visits to the afghanistanmatters.com website, despite having only one Bulgarian entrant.

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Reaction by one of our Contest Winners

Andreas Zapounidis, who won the “People of Afghanistan” category with his photo “History and Smiling Future” had the following to say in response to winning:

  • On why he entered the contest:

I like very much the art of photography , the magic moment , the second of eternity.  I entered the contest also coz its my duty, as án amateur photographer , but first as a member of ISAF and always as a [distant relative] of Afghans; before 2300, Greeks and Afghans were family.

  • On having won:

…thanks very much all the people who voted my photo (Greeks and not Greeks), thanks to the people who didn’t vote for my photo, but participated the contest.
Thanks the administrator of this contest with his efforts to help this contest succed.  My photo with the Greek king Great Alexander symbol of Thessaloniki city (my birthplace)
and with the smiling carpet trader, is the target of the 42 Nations members of ISAF and of NATO countries. Hearts and minds. If we want a peaceful world , under the rules of democracy justice and progression, without terrorists and enemies of freedom, we should read more the Greek history and the art of Great Alexander’s leadership. Hearts and minds was the task before 2300 years for Hellenic army. He succeeded in that 2300 years ago, without internet, tv, radio and satelites, we can do it and today it is easy. Just we should follow his steps and then all the world will see the greatness of blessed future. Afghans love Great Alexander, the carpet trader in Kabul bazaar was proud of his History. The Hellenic army helps the peace and Alliance with many costs, but with pride.

  • On how will you use your prize?

I will sell my old camera and I will send the money to USAID, they NGO’S (non-governmental organization’s) need support too. They are also my allies ! I am military but first I am citizen of the world, and our world needs solidarity between troops and civilians.

  • Other thoughts or impressions?

I want to send two messages. One to the people of Afghanistan – I want to say that, as Hellenicos (Greek) from Pontos and from Macedonia, as faraway [relatives], always I will do my best for a better future in Afghanistan for all Middle East and Persia. Half of my heart is in the West and the other half is in Asia. Keep staying proud for your future brothers.
God bless Hellas. God bless our Alliance. God bless Afghanistan

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Reaction by One of Our Contest Winners

I am very grateful for winning the “ISAF in Action” category. I am glad I won, it is an honor. I am glad I won a camera too. Now I can take more pictures while I go to school at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The picture I took is of a MEDEVAC for an Afghan child who was caught in between the crossfire of ISAF soldiers and the Taliban in Helmand Province in 2008.
But my philosophy is that a cameraman/journalist shouldn’t be honored. I just took pictures and documented what was going on. I just want the ISAF infantrymen and the Afghan National Army to get more attention and have their service and sacrifice documented into the sands of time. Especially the Afghan people for having to live in a war zone. It is unimaginable. Sometimes I look in my backyard or down my street and imagine if there were foreign troops walking by. It is hard to comprehend, and life is tough for Afghans. Just living is tough for them. The average [life span] of an Afghan is around 42, and they die from little things like not having clean water or heat to keep warm in the winter. Plus their country side is riddled with land mines and bombs, with battles going on in their villages. I just hope one day they will live in peace. And hopefully, our pictures will show our children and grandchildren, the struggles that went on in Afghanistan. War is filled with horror, but one thing that got me through Afghanistan was seeing the smiles on all of the Afghan children. That is one reason I took so many pictures of the children. Because we are fighting for their future, and I hope the future of Afghanistan is filled with smiles, music and dancing. Not war or radical laws enforced by the Taliban.
One of the main reasons I entered the contest was to have more people see some of my pictures and get a better understanding of Afghanistan. I want more people from all over the world to know the stories of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who serve in Afghanistan – especially the service members from the approximately 40 countries operating in Afghanistan. For example, I think the average American has no idea of this diverse group of soldiers in ISAF who are from all over the world. It is not an American War, but an international effort. I also want more people to know about the brave British Royal Marines in 42 Commando who fought and died in Helmand in 2008. But most importantly, I want more people to understand and know more about the Afghan people. I have traveled all around the world, and the Afghan people are wonderful and some of the nicest people I have met. They have many struggles and are in a very bad situation and need all the help they can get from the International Security Assistance Force.
I hope my pictures and the rest of the contestants pictures were able to help educate the world and show them a place that may seem alien to many westerners. Thank you for holding this contest, I think many eyes were opened after seeing the diverse portfolio of photographs that were used in this contest.
I just wish I was back in Afghanistan taking pictures for ISAF again.

Editor’s note:  John Scott Rafoss won the category “ISAF in Action” with his photo entry “Medevac”

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Finalists Announced!

After a stunning 30,985 votes, the finalists for the “Why Afghanistan Matters” photo contest, determined by the public, are listed below.  To review the rules, to be a finalist, a photo must be in the top three.  The Grand Prize Winner will be chosen by a panel, from these twelve. 

Why have we not identified category winners?  The reason for this is that no single contestant is eligible to win two prizes.  Selection of the Grand Prize Winner will therefore affect category winners, and in addition winning a camera in one category affects eligibility to win a camera for another.  So while the field is still open, if you see your photo in this list, you have a 5 in 12 chance of winning a brand new camera!

Final average ratings were computed by combining ”star” ratings for the photo as it appeared in the blog format (the vast majority) and as a photo (which you see when you click on it).

We very much appreciate all of the excellent photos contributed by our competitors and regret it was not possible to award more prizes.  We intend to leave all the photos on this web site for your continued enjoyment. 

These are currently not listed in any particular order.  Watch this space for the final announcement!

“People of Afghanistan”

“Beautiful Afghanistan”

“ANSF in Action”

“ISAF in Action”

Congratulations to all our finalists!

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Bagram Valley

The Bagram Valley looking North for Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Photo by David Elmore of the United States of America.

Contest entry B0090.

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All Entries Now Online

Whew!  They’re all finally posted!!  The turnout for our photo contest has been phenomenal, far exceeding our expectations.   With over 100 photos in the final four days before the entry deadline, a total of 451 photos have been entered by 57 people from 15 different countries – to include several from Afghanistan.  Entrants have included military personnel, civilians working for ISAF, journalists, Afghan citizens and others.  The totals for each category:

  • People of Afghanistan: 182 entries
  • Beautiful Afghanistan: 90 entries
  • ANSF in Action: 75 entries
  • ISAF in Action: 104 entries

Now it’s up to YOU, the public, to determine our winners!  The top publicly rated photo will win a compact camera, and a panel from our HQs will determine the overall grand prize winner from a finalist pool consisting of the top 3 in each category.  Our photos have already been viewed in 119 of the world’s countries, and we hope to make it more!

To vote, you can select any of the options along the right:  vote by category, or rate random photos, or you can enter search terms to find photos by contestants you may know.  Thanks for all your help and support to our contestants – and great job by all of them!

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Um…Maybe the Donkey Should Go First


Crossing the Pamir Mountains

Photo by Alida Bata of the United Kingdom.

Contest entry B0091.

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All in a Day’s Work


In the sweltering midday heat of summer, traders at the Ishkashim border market relax and count their profit.

Photo by Alida Bata of the United Kingdom.

Contest entry A0182.

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Beauty Upon Beauty


A natural salesman, the boy displays a collection of his finest Afghan carpets against the stunning backdrop of the Pamir Mountains.

Photo by Alida Bata of the United Kingdom.

Contest entry A0181.

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Because We’re Not So Different After All


Picture the scene: Isolated by the overwhelming Pamir Mountains, thousands meet at the Ishkashim border market held every Saturday. Surrounded by hundreds of market stalls, the smell of fresh non and chatter of families and traders, you’ve got to be fast to dodge the shoppers and their overfilled carrier bags!

Photo by Alida Bata of the United Kingdom.

Contest entry A0180.

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