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.