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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quarryman recalls being forced to destroy Buddha statues

By Farhad Peikar Mar 9, 2011, 3:02 GMT


Bamiyan, Afghanistan - While the world was pleading with the Taliban not to obliterate Afghanistan's Buddha statues in March 2001, Didar Ali was working hard to bring the giants down.

The then-40-year-old was no iconoclast himself, but Taliban fighters had told him that they would spare his life only if he helped destroy the sculptures.

In February 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had ordered the statues in Bamiyan province, 230 kilometres north-west of Kabul, to be dynamited. Despite widespread international opposition, the Taliban maintained the images were idols and, therefore, not tolerable under Islam.

Starting March 2, the militants began shelling the 1,500-year-old statutes with artillery for several days, but with little result. The sixth-century Buddhists had done a great job, carving them in hard stone into the same cliff face with a distance of around 800 metres between them.

The Sunni militants, who has wrested control of the province from their Shiite rivals, forced a group of local men to drill and plant explosives inside the statues, 38 and 55 metres high, respectively.

While the international community was increasing its pressure on the Taliban to abandon their plan, the militants were arresting more male villagers from the near-deserted town to complete the job.

But it was not until much later that the militants learned that one of the men, Ali, was an expert in using explosives to quarry stones from the mountains, which local people would use for construction.

'They tied a rope around my waist and hung me from the top of the cliff to dig holes and bury explosives on the two shoulders of tallest statue,' Ali recounted. 'I refused to do it, but they threatened to push me from the top of the statue without a rope and kill all the other (arrested) men.'

'They also told me that if I tried to escape, they would kill my family and burn down my home,' said the father of five, who still lives in Sultano village, 20 kilometres west of Bamiyan city.

Suspended from the top of the cliff, Ali and two other men drilled holes into the statues and filled them with explosives and rocket shells. When they were detonated, the statues were flattened, leaving the niches where they had stood empty. Around 50,000 kilograms of explosives were used in the two-week operation, according to a Taliban-linked publication.

The world was shocked by the news, but Ali was glad to be able to return to his family. 'I know they were our cultural heritage. They also belonged to the entire world, but at that time I could only think about my life.'

The statues were not the only victims of the Taliban.

According to Omara Khan Masoudi, director of the National Museum in Kabul, the ultra-Islamist regime destroyed more than 2,000 ancient statues and other artifacts depicting human-like figures before Bamiyan's sculptures were brought down.

When they seized the Bamiyan area in 1998, two years after taking Kabul, the Taliban torched hundreds of homes and 'massacred at least 500 people, including women and children,' said Haji Qasim Kazimi, deputy provincial governor.

'I was only a schoolteacher, not a fighter, but the Taliban burned down my home after I fled my village,' said Ebrahim Akbari, who is currently the head of the information and culture department in Bamiyan.

Sitting in his mud-walled office near where the statues' feet would have been, Akbari, whose job it is to preserve the remaining debris, said the international community only began condemning the Taliban after they bombed the giant sculptures.

'There were more serious atrocities before and after that incident.'

In the 10 years that have passed, the statues have been preserved against further destruction and one or both of them might even be reconstructed, but Ali is far from forgetting his ordeal. Despite living only a 30-minute drive away, he only visits the snow-covered valley once or twice a year.

'Whenever I really have to go to the city, I don't want to look at the statues because they remind me of those days when I had to take part in their destruction,' the farmer said.

'Every minute I was living between life and death because if the rope had suddenly been cut or if we failed to bring the statues down, I would have been killed.'

Source,

http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/southasia/news/article_1624591.php/Quarryman-recalls-being-forced-to-destroy-Buddha-statues

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