Unesco's Role In Afghan Heritage Preservation

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UNESCO's role in Afghan Heritage preservation

UNESCO's role in Afghan Heritage preservation

Many outsiders probably see only rubble and desolation in Afghanistan, the last known lair of fugitive Osama bin Laden. But archeologists and other experts say the war-devastated country has much to offer in terms of because of its unique past and role in world history.

Indeed, that is why the reconstruction and preservation of Afghan heritage is the focus of "International Year of Cultural Heritage - 2002", launched by Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) last month here in Islamabad. Afghanistan, after all, was once fought over by the some of the greatest names in the history of mankind, among them Alexander the Great. The northwestern city of Herat was made the capitalof the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane in the late 14th century, and subsequently became a center of Persian art and learning.

UNESCO's Pakistan representative, Ingeborg Breines, said that although it is hard to include culture in the Afghan reconstruction efforts at this stage, the UN agency is still working to integrate the restoration and preservation of the cultural heritage into the country's policies and plans. "The immediate priority is the formation of a cultural policy by the Afghan government, revival of Kabul museum and the reconstruction of Islamic cultural heritage in Herat city," she said. "As in [other] post-conflict countries, it is extremely important that the people in the new rebuilding operation be rallied at something that could give them national identity - and that they care not only for the Islamic but also pre-Islamic culture."

To be sure, Afghanistan right now is a "cultural disaster", among other things. But observers argue that this makes it all the more important and urgent to raise international awareness about the issue to prevent further destruction and restore sites of historic importance.

Because of its location, Afghanistan became a logical part of the adventures and travels of people in the past, making it a treasure trove of relics of many religions and cultures, among them Greek and Persian, as well as Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic. In the Bamiyan valley, for instance, breathtaking giant centuries-old Buddhas were carved right into the face of a mountain. But they are now all gone after the then ruling Taliban blew them up last March. Months after, smaller Buddha statues in Falodi and Kakrak were also destroyed. Although some speculate that the Buddhas were blown up or smashed to bits because of the Taliban's extremist beliefs, others note that the Taliban's own culture ministry had participated in an August 2000 exhibition highlighting the world cultural artifacts in Afghanistan. It was only after the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on the Taliban, they say, that the ruling militia decided to destroy the Buddhas.

Experts point out that it was in Gandhara - as the ancient lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan used to be known - that the human image of Buddha first ...
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