A group of armed Taliban guard the main entrance to the Afghanistan National Museum. The Islamists guard the door, but the whereabouts of the main treasures of the collection is only known by its director, Mohamed Fahim Rahimi. On August 15, he was with his team working like any other day until messages about the Taliban taking over the capital began to reach them. “We have emergency protocols for these situations and we acted as quickly as we could to protect the most important pieces,” says a director who, despite having the opportunity to leave the country, has chosen to stay and work on the preservation of heritage. «Our mission is to
On top of the political changes, this is a world heritage site and my responsibility is to work towards its conservation, now what remains to be known is whether they will let us work or not, ”he says from the door of a museum, which remains sealed.
His entire men’s team goes to the office every day, but the 25 women on the staff remain waiting of the final decision of the new Minister of Information and Culture. Nobody forgets the destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamyan During the previous Emirate and after the arrival of the Taliban all the alarms went off, but Rahimi prefers to be cautious and “wait and see what steps they take. Things have changed a lot since the nineties and we must also remember that it was the Taliban who undertook the reconstruction of this museum that the mujahideen looted and burned during the civil war.
Due to its location in the heart of the Silk Road, Afghanistan became home to the most important collection in Asia in the late 1920s. Antiques and jewelry from Egypt, Rome, Greece, China or India and examples of Buddhist art, Zoroastrian and Islamic could be seen in the galleries of the old museum. Then came the endless wars and, from the 100,000 objects on display in 1979barely a third were left in the mid-1990s. In the last two decades it has been possible to recover a small part of what was looted.
The museum opened its doors in 1925 and the entire team worked with enthusiasm for the centennial celebration, but now everything has been put on hold. Rahimi graduated in Archeology from Kabul University and in 2013 he traveled to the United States to complete his training. In 2016 he became a director at just 31 years old, his life’s dream come true. He does not want to talk about the security plan, but he does need to clarify that “the information about the looting of the Bactrian Treasury and its illegal sale in Iran are false, I have seen the photographs and they are not pieces of that collection.” What it does confirm is the destruction of a fortress in Helmand“But it was not a Taliban decision, it was a group of neighbors who decided to tear it down to build a madrasa (Koranic school) in its place, it was a 170-year-old fortress.”
The Bactrian treasure is made up of 22,000 pieces of gold and silver, in addition to manuscripts and other antiquities, and they are testimony to the kingdom of Bactria, in force in northern Afghanistan two millennia ago. Rahimi does not want to talk about the treasure, or the place where they are kept the masterpieces. Now everything is up in the air, including the network of museums in which I worked and which includes galleries in Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost and Nimruz… «I can assure you that there has been no looting and that so far the new authorities seem willing to take care of the heritage, but you have to wait and see what their plans are.
After his time in the United States and his total commitment to the Afghan heritage, he has earned the nickname of ‘Afghan Indiana Jones’, but he prefers to be known as ‘Rahimi’. Thousands and thousands of Afghans dream of leaving the country, but the director remains in charge of their history, at least until the Taliban allow him. “A nation survives when its culture survives”, reads a plaque at the main entrance of this museum in which the project of the new headquarters whose competition was won nine years ago by the Barcelona studio AV62 arquitectos.