The international community pledges to safeguard Afghanistan's cultural heritageKabul - Several Governments and NGO's announced today in Kabul that they would finance the safeguarding of Afghanistan's cultural heritage, in large part destroyed or damaged by 23 years of war and violence.
The restoration work on the Museum of Kabul should start from the beginning of June, 2002. At the same time, numerous archaeological sites will receive emergency assistance in the coming months. In all, more than US$7m has been promised, Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, said during a press conference.
From the cliffs of Bamiyan to the Minaret of Jam, the Museum of Kabul, Herat and Balkh, numerous endangered archaeological sites and monuments will be consolidated, rehabilitated or protected. These resolutions were approved today by about 50 experts and donor representatives, as well as by the Afghan authorities. Gathered in Kabul, the International Seminar on the Rehabilitation of the Afghan Cultural Heritage, the first for two decades, was organized by UNESCO and the Ministry of Information and Culture of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the Chairman of the AIA, opened the seminar on May 27.
With the help of Greece, the Kabul Museum should soon regain a roof, its windows and the look it had before it was ravaged by war. UNESCO will provide to the donor country a mission report and blueprint plans of the museum which were made by Italian consultant Andrea Bruno in March, 2002. Situated in the war-ravaged area of Darulaman, some eight kilometres from the centre of the capital, the museum was hit by numerous rockets during the civil war.
The museum's collections were either looted during the war or smashed later by the Taliban. Only 30 percent of the original collection has survived, according to estimates. These objects are at present stored in boxes in several places in Kabul. The restoration work to rebuild a new collection has just started, with the aid of UNESCO. This work can now be accelerated. CEREDAF, a French NGO, will furnish the required materials, while the Musee Guimet (France), the British Museum and the NGO SPACH (Society for the Protection of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage) will contribute to the inventory and the training of personnel.
Despite an animated debate, the seminar participants and the Afghan authorities did not give priority to the reconstruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan, in the centre of the country, blown-up by the Taliban in March, 2001. However,the cliffs of Bamiyan, the 600 caves and remains of the mural paintings with which they are decorated, will be protected and restored. A small museum will also be created and new excavations undertaken. A US$700,000 project will be financed by Japan through their Funds-in-Trust at UNESCO
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Ikuo Hirayama (Japan), has also announced that his Foundation will help create a memorial and an information centre relating to the colossal statues. He wishes that the site stand as a witness to human barbarity and that it be one day inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, in the same manner as Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
Numerous other contributions were announced during the seminar. The Aga Khan Foundation promised US$5m essentially for the safeguarding of Afghanistan's traditional habitat. This includes a series of projects such as the rehabilitation of the historical centre of Herat, the restoration of Babur's Garden and the Timur Shah mausoleum.
Germany promised US$326,000 for the rehabilitation of the Afghan Institute of Archaeology and US$340,000 for diverse other projects, which will be implemented through ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites). Italy also announced a substantial contribution through Italian Funds-in-Trust at UNESCO and will support archaeological research within the framework of bi-lateral relations. France, in co-operation with the NGO ACTED, will finance the protection of the Abbasside mosque, known as Nou Gombad, located at Balkh, in the north of the country, to stop further deterioration. This 9th century mosque is the best preserved of its period.
Other projects were discussed, such as the consolidation of the Minaret of Jam in the west of Afghanistan, to be undertaken by UNESCO and the NGO SPACH. This 12th century minaret, the second highest in the world, is to be inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO before the end of June, 2002. This will then make it the first Afghan site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The seminar and the Afghan authorities have mandated UNESCO to put in place an international co-ordination committee for undertaking operations concerning the safeguarding of the Afghan cultural heritage. This same type of structure has already been successfully working at Angkor in Cambodia since 1995.