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The U.N. culture agency and the Afghan government are against the reconstruction of one of two giant 1,500-year-old Buddha statues dynamited by the Taliban in central Afghanistan 10 years ago at this time, the agency’s assistant chief said.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin said the agency has asked for a feasibility study for reconstructing the smaller Buddha, which several German scientists have been promoting and will carry out.
But Bandarin told a briefing Thursday that the study “doesn’t change our position on the reconstruction, which we think is not feasible” and would unnecessarily divert resources from other priorities at the UNESCO world heritage site in the Bamiyan Valley.
The two statues, standing 54 metres (60 yards) and 38 metres (40 yards) tall, were chiseled about 400 metres (435 yards) apart into a cliff face teeming with cave shrines and paintings about 1,500 years ago when Bamiyan was a major Buddhist centre.
The Taliban dynamited the giant Buddhas in March 2001, deeming them idolatrous and anti-Muslim, prompting a worldwide outcry.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, Bandarin said the niches where the Buddhas stood have been stabilized and 20-30 per cent of the giant Buddha and 40-50 per cent of the smaller Buddha have been recovered.
“But this material doesn’t have any shape,” he said. “It’s just pieces of rock … because the statue was actually carved, and then it was plastered. The plaster is dust, but the plaster was giving the shape.”
At a meeting last week of the International Committee for Bamiyan at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, Bandarin said there was “complete agreement” among the experts that it isn’t possible to reconstruct the great Buddha but there was disagreement on the smaller Buddha.
Even though there are more pieces of the smaller Budhha, he said, “there are significant doubts that a reconstruction is possible because reconstruction will require a lot of integrations what at the end will result in a fake.”
Afghanistan’s Culture Minister Makhdoom Raheem attended the meeting, Bandarin said, and was “quite in agreement with us because they see the need to focus on things that are essential.”
Bandarin said the vast Bamiyan site, which stretches for up to 15 kilometres (9 miles), is famous for the Buddhas, but it was for centuries the most important Buddhist centre on the entire Silk Road between China and the west and therefore it became an important monestary.
“There are over 1,500 monastic caves in Bamiyan, which in effect constitute the value of the site,” he said. “Part of it is still unexplored. Part of it still needs to be preserved.”
Written by Claudia Brose
When you have a chance to watch Nadia Tarzi giving lectures, workshops or museum tours you will quickly notice the passion in her eyes and gestures for the cultural history of Afghanistan. Stories of her father’s excavations in Bamiyan and elsewhere breathe life into the images presented in slideshows or objects in exhibition tours she gives. You start feeling immersed into the cultural setting Nadia plays out for you.
How did Nadia’s life become so dominated by the cultural history of this country?
Like Afghanistan, Nadia is a melting pot of a diverse set of cultures. Her father, Professor Zemaryalai Tarzi, is a well-known Afghan archaeologist; her mother is from Sweden. Raised in France, she presently makes her home in California and invests all her time and effort into the preservation of Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage.
Devoted to his country’s history, Professor Tarzi taught his daughter what he taught his people in a country he had to flee when the Soviets marched in: An appreciation for a region’s thousands of years of history, and the multi-layered, interwoven cultural and artistic richness of an area which was once part of the storied Silk Road.
In the mid ’90’s, while spending a summer with her father in France, Nadia witnessed his profound sadness when he found out about the destruction of a niche representing an aquatic scene of Buddha and other statues surrounding it. The niche was part of the buddhist monastic ensemble of Hadda near Jellallabad. She understood her father’s feelings when looking up archival images of the intact site, which had been turned into a pile of rubble, something the photos illustrated quite brutally.
For Nadia that afternoon in France marked a point of no return. She decided to do whatever she could to advocate for the preservation of a culture and its archaeological heritage of a country that, sadly, is better known for its warlords, political instability and seemingly never-ending conflicts. Nadia wants to open her audience’s mind to the fact that more than 60.000 Afghan cultural treasures have been destroyed and about 10.000 more objects are unaccounted for. According to Nadia Tarzi, “What Afghanistan has produced is not just the heritage of this country, but it is in fact the shared cultural heritage of the world”.
In 2001 Nadia Tarzi founded the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology for the purpose of creating widespread awareness and appreciation of the country’s archaeological treasures and to help the people of Afghanistan to reconnect with their own cultural roots. Dividing her time between raising two young daughters and growing an infant non-profit, she gradually established APAA as a leading interlocutor for a country whose cultural history is too often overlooked.