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June 9, 2011
Tags: Afghanistan, Ghazni province, Nadia Tarzi, APAA
By Claudia Brose
In honor of the Afghan Delegation from Afghanistan’s Ghazni province visit to San Francisco, The Asia Foundation held a Luncheon and Panel Discussion on June 8th that aimed to offer the delegation insights into the efforts of Bay Area based non-profit organizations addressing issues in Afghanistan. APAA’s Executive Director Nadia Tarzi was one of four panelists presenting their work to improve Afghanistan’s educational, cultural and social environment. The Delegation of eleven included, among others, the governor and Mayor of Ghazni Province, members of Afghanistan’s Parliament and representatives of the Ministry of Information and Culture.
In 2007 Ghazni (with a population of 1.3 million) was acknowledged as the “Capital of Islamic Culture” for 2013. It is situated in eastern Afghanistan, along the strategic route that links Kabul and Khandar – a key province in Afghanistan’s past, present and future. As Ghazni Province plays today an important role in the economic, agricultural, and political realms of contemporary Afghanistan, efforts are in place on an international level to raise awareness of and improve relationships with this region.
APAA’s presentation demonstrated a different angle on “aid” work in Afghanistan. Helping to preserve the identity of an embattled nation through cultural preservation and archeological and historical education is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when pondering how best to support a society which is attempting to rebuild itself. Yet, it is a building stone in international development efforts, as dignity, pride and an awareness of one’s own past are important aspects of a life worth living. Together with Afghan Friends Network, Afghans4Tomorrow and Roots of Peace, organizations who work to improve the lives of women and children, empower educators, develop agricultural and health programs and de-mine the country, APAA plays an important role in reviving a culture and society that finds itself in a constant state of conflict.
One couldn’t help thinking that there was a room filled with wonderful people, Afghans and non-Afghans, dedicated and passionate, skilled and driven to help people who don’t have the means to help themselves. But then, there are those, who prefer the tools of corruption, greed and power – and they make it so difficult for the rest of us.
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.
Afghanistan’s Mes Aynak region, 20 miles from Kabul, is making headlines, and not because of insurgent violence.
Mes Aynak is garnering international press attention due to the probable destruction of a 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery complex discovered in the area. The ruins, believed by archaeologists to be supremely important to the religious and cultural history of the region, are under imminent threat because they lie directly above a copper mine that a Chinese mining company, China Metallurgical Group Corp (MGC), plans to excavate.
Check out a very recent article in Smithsonian Magazine (on-line version here) which gives an excellent profile of Dr Zemaryalai Tarzi, President of the APAA.
“…Crenulated sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with man-made grottoes, loom above us. Two giant cavities about a half-mile apart in the rock face mark the sites where two huge sixth-century statues of the Buddha, destroyed a decade ago by the Taliban, stood for 1,500 years. At the base of the cliff lies the inner sanctum of a site Tarzi calls the Royal Monastery, an elaborate complex erected during the third century that contains corridors, esplanades and chambers where sacred objects were stored…”
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Searching-for-Buddha-in-Afghanistan.html#ixzz16pmgI5gp
As well as a newly updated main web site (www.APAA.info), we have established this blog to be able to share news, updates, comments, and opinions on a more regular basis.
We plan to provide our readers with detailed and insightful information on topics relating to the protection of Afghan archaeology, as well as reports on events, news from the region, and our own activities, at home and overseas.
Your feedback is always welcome.