UNESCO rallies Japanese public to preserve Afghanistan's cultural heritageTokyo / Paris - As Afghans start rebuilding their country with the help of the international community, it is more urgent than ever to make the public in donor countries aware of what is needed.
Reconstructing Afghanistan's seriously threatened heritage is not a luxury. It can help restore the identity of a people torn apart by 23 years of war.
To this end, UNESCO and several Japanese partners are organizing an International Symposium, "Culture of Afghanistan - International Cultural Exchange and Buddhist Culture", in Tokyo on July 29. It will bring together UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and world-renowned experts on Afghan cultural heritage with the aim of encouraging Japanese people to support efforts to preserve it.
Afghan cultural heritage is little known to the outside world, despite its exceptional wealth, testimony to Persian, Greek, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic influences. Reflecting the first major encounter between the East (India) and the West (the Greek world), it produced a Buddhist iconography inspired by Greek art in the Bamiyan Valley and elsewhere. This artistic style later spread to China, Korea and Japan.
Much of this heritage was destroyed in the war, but the international community is rallying, under the aegis of UNESCO, to save what can be saved. At the end of June, the site of the Jam Minaret and nearby archaeological remains was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List and to its List of World Heritage in Danger. The 12th century site, in the west of central Afghanistan, is home to the world's second-tallest minaret (65 metres). It continues to be looted. Inscribing a site on both lists simultaneously is highly exceptional, but this is being done because of the outstanding value Jam and the serious threat to its integrity. During the Tokyo Symposium, Mr Matsuura will present the Minister of Culture of Afghanistan, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, with the site's official certificate of inscription.
A month earlier, on May 29, several governments (including Japan, Greece, Italy and Germany) and NGOs, such as the Aga Khan and Hirayama foundations, pledged at an international seminar about $7 million to preserve and rebuild museums (including the one in Kabul) and sites in Afghanistan such as the Bamiyan Cliffs, Jam, Herat, Ghazni and Balkh. The meeting, organized by UNESCO and the Afghan authorities, agreed that rebuilding the destroyed giant buddhas at Bamiyan was not a priority.
The Tokyo symposium on July 29 is jointly organized by UNESCO, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO, the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. It will coincide with an exhibition, "Afghanistan: A Timeless History", organized at the initiative of Tokyo National University President and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Ikuo Hirayama in Tokyo in July and August within the framework of the ongoing International Year for Cultural Heritage.
Contact: Lucia Iglesias Kuntz
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section, Tel. +33 (0)1 45 68 17 02