This Startup is Protecting Afghanistan's Prized Rare Emeralds
This Startup is Protecting Afghanistan’s Prized Rare Emeralds

Tragically, Afghanistan has been ravaged by decades of non-stop war. But hidden deep within the country’s mountains, there’s a green oasis where something precious and rare is hidden away. The Panjshir Valley, which lies north of the capital of Kabul, is home to over 172 emerald mines.

These valuable gems also called Panjshir emeralds, have a stunning bluish-green tint that earns them the title as one of Afghanistan’s most precious treasures. Habib Mohebi, a local entrepreneur from the Kabul area, remembers hearing about these minds while growing up. Several years later, his knowledge of the valuable materials would bring him close to his homeland in a unique way.

The Panjshir Valley, which lies north of the capital of Kabul,
The Panjshir Valley, which lies north of the capital of Kabul

Mohebi helped found Aria Gems, a startup that exports and mines these emeralds. The headquarters of the company is based in New York even though all of the mining takes place in Afghanistan. The gem cutting and processing center is in Fargo, North Dakota. It is here where the rough emeralds transform into finished stones.

Aria Gems originally launched in 2013 and has since developed into one of the most successful suppliers of Panjshir emeralds in the world. To date, the company has exported over 30,000 Carats of the precious stone. Aria Gems also has four acres of land with surface area deposits and three underground mines to its name.

An Entrepreneur’s Dream

Although obviously connected with his home country, these precious gems weren’t Mohebi’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. He initially left Afghanistan when it was invaded by Russia. He started his own tailoring business in Atlanta, Georgia and found made a good life for himself.

It was in the southern United States where he met Forrest Snowden, who would help co-found the emerald-mining startup. Initially, Snowden was working for IBM as a technologist. He was a frequent patron of Mohebi’s shop, and they struck up a friendship over time. According to Snowden, he was living in an area of Atlanta with many Afghan-American residents. He would sit with Mohebi every week for tea to talk about the Afghanistan culture.

Back to Business

Throughout these talks, Mohebi brought up the idea of starting a business with his friend Snowden that would help to rebuild his home country. Once Snowden quit his job, the duo accepted Mohebi’s challenge. Along with Mohebi’s brother, Aria Global Logistics was born in 2009. The small startup helped to facilitate federal contracts for transportation, construction, and the development of logistics in Afghanistan. Aria Global also entered into some joint ventures associated with local construction companies.

Even though business was booming, the trio decided to turn their attention to the mining of gems in the Panjshir Valley. Although Afghanistan has a rich supply of natural gems, they’re being outproduced by many other countries with similar emeralds. In 2013, Mohebi and Snowden launched Aria Gems, their second business venture, in an effort to trade these precious emeralds globally.

Although there were many mining efforts already present in the area, many of them were being performed illegally and unprofessionally. Typically, a community elder would be in charge of the land and underpay their staff who were unlicensed to perform the dangerous work required to mine. Mohebi wants to ensure that the miners develop safer and more modern strategies for removing the stone. He has also mentioned that his company trains women and men how to polish and cut the stone.

What the Future Holds

The team hopes that by making the gem trade legal, they’ll be able to promote more income and an increase in jobs in the area. Aria Gems only operates in areas that are free from any conflict.

Snowden has high hopes for the Panjshir emeralds and thinks that Afghanistan can one day become one of the leading countries in terms of emerald mining.


Hamed Wardak currently lives between his home in New York City and On the island of Puerto Rico. Wardak is the son of a former defense minister for Afghanistan. Hamed Wardak is an entrepreneur and recently joined the techno music world, creating, producing, and performing his new artistry in underground techno clubs all over the world. Hamed Wardak is known as Valen of Wicked.