Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness, and disinformation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Afghanistan's surviving treasures

Ten years after the destruction of Bamiyan's Buddha statues, the British Museum's Afghanistan exhibition recalls our rich heritage

Abbas Daiyar, Friday 4 March 2011 09.00 GMT Article history

Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban, an exhibition opened at the British Museum this week showcasing more than 200 examples of Afghanistan's cultural heritage over the last 4,000 years.

The exhibition, which has toured internationally since 2006, was inaugurated by President Karzai on Tuesday.

Among the items on show are 2,000-year-old artefacts from the ancient city of Bagram, north of today's capital, Kabul. "These are an extraordinary set of ivories stolen from the National Museum in Kabul, bought by a London dealer specifically to return them, restored by conservators at the British Museum … and after the exhibition they will go back," says Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.

According to estimates, more than 70% of the artefacts at the National Museum in Kabul were looted and destroyed during the civil war of 1990s. The Taliban ransacked and destroyed much of our cultural heritage and the surviving items are a credit to the bravery of some Afghans who risked their lives to save them.

If you are in London, do visit the exhibition to see the richness of our cultural heritage, and a different picture from Afghanistan than the headlines of war.

It was not the looting of the museum in Kabul that brought the brutalities of the Taliban to the world's attention, but the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001. Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, ordered their destruction on 26 February 2001. Kofi Annan, then UN secretary general, sent his special envoy to urge the Taliban leadership not to destroy the centuries' old treasures. Unesco asked the Organisation of Islamic Countries to pressurise the Taliban and three OIC members – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – made appeals. The director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York even invited the Taliban leadership to sell the Buddhas to western museums, but all in vain. Pictures of the destruction caused widespread horror and the world finally recognised the face of Taliban.

But few reports at the time told the story of how it happened. During frequent visits to Bamiyan, in 2008, I managed to meet a survivor who had taken part in planting explosives in the roof holes and body structure of the statues.

Abdul Rahim told me that after offering Friday prayers, the Taliban forced some arrested local people to carry explosives on to the roof of the statues and plant them in the holes.

"Some people refused to do this," Rahim said, "and they were shot dead." He continued: "Seeing their fate, we trembled and took the materials on our backs, tied with rope on our waist, [and were] lowered from the roof down to the body of the Buddhas to put the dynamite."

It took almost a week of dynamiting to complete the destruction. Rahim added: "They [the Taliban] slaughtered 50 cows in celebration."

A local resident, Khaliq, put it like this for me: "It took two centuries to build Shamama and Salsal [local names of the female and male Buddha statues] and the Taliban destroyed them in one week."

The UN marked the 10th anniversary of the Buddhas' destruction this week. Unesco is holding a conference in Paris to discuss plans for preserving the heritage of Bamiyan valley. A delegation from Afghanistan, including the female governor of Bamiyan, Habiba Sarabi (an active advocate of the reconstruction of the statues), is attending.

The recent report by German scientists saying that one of the statues could be reconstructed has stirred hope among Afghan and international activists, who have launched a petition asking the Afghan government, parliament and the UN for support. Hundreds of people in Bamiyan had already signed a petition in 2008.

The government of Afghanistan opposes rebuilding, saying the cost does not make sense when people are living below the poverty line. Other critics say a reconstructed statue will be a "fake".

I believe the majority of people in Afghanistan would support the reconstruction of the statues. Hasan Malistani, an Afghan geologist and assistant professor of Bamiyan University (currently a research associate at the University of Bonn), told me: "The destroyed Buddha statues should not only be a matter for Bamiyan, or Afghanistan. It is human heritage for the whole world. Reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas is an important part of the preservation and restoration of human history and civilisation."

He believes a reconstructed Buddha wouldn't be fake as it would be rebuilt from the remains of the statue. Archaeologists and computer scientists have already made this fabulous 3D model of the statues.

In an interview in 2008, Governor Sarabi told me: "At least one of the Buddhas should be [re]built. It would be a great support to the economy of this poor province, attracting tourists." The financial cost of the reconstruction could be partly met from a world tour of parts of the destroyed statues, such as the exhibition at the British Museum, to generate donations and income.

Abbas Daiyar is a journalist from Kabul and an op-ed contributor to Daily Outlook Afghanistan.


No comments:

Post a Comment