Wednesday, October 20

The international community stands ready for a possible evacuation of Afghanistan’s museum heritage

The situation of the Afghan cultural heritage and the professionals who are dedicated to guarding it is “uncertain”, as the president of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), Alberto Garlandini, explains to “Right now, in such a politically unstable climate, there is a very real risk to the personal safety of Afghan heritage experts. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to preserving their nation’s treasures. Furthermore, in the absence of a force. Of functional security, robberies and looting are a very real danger. This lack of security also places archaeological sites (already vulnerable due to limited surveillance) at an even greater risk, “says the head of the agency that advises UNESCO. in matters of heritage.

The priority right now, he adds, is to ensure the safety of museum staff in Afghanistan, along with museum collections. “Collections must be stored safely and inventoried. If an object is stolen and later recovered, correct documentation can increase the probability of being returned to its rightful owners,” says Garlandini. Does this mean that you would be in favor of an evacuation of the museum’s assets as happened in the Spanish civil war? The ICOM President acknowledges that, although Afghanistan’s heritage belongs to Afghanistan and should be kept in the custody of all its people, “if the situation changes, ICOM will be ready to support and protect the heritage of this great country.”

This Sunday, the National Museum He called on the international community for help and protection against the looting of the institution, located on the outskirts of the city. From ICOM they influence the rigor that the international community must maintain to stop the illicit traffic of art. They call for the ratification and implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Measures to be Taken to Prohibit and Prevent the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Illicit Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen Cultural Property or Illegally Exported. “In this way, it would help to regulate the world cultural heritage movement,” says the president of the international organization.

The sad reality

Garlandini is not opposed to the global heritage movement, nor to the art market, because it is “exchange of knowledge and information.” But it calls for a “regulated, legal, fair and transparent” exchange. “For self-proclaimed culture buffs, experts or protectors, this shouldn’t be too much to ask,” he says. “It is a sad reality: all heritage is in danger. There is no specific asset that is in danger. Vandals and thieves take advantage of the instability of Afghanistan to steal or destroy cultural heritage,” ditch. ICOM experts already developed in the early years of the 21st century a Afghanistan Red List of Antiquities in Danger. British customs identified 1,500 objects (3.4 tonnes in weight) included in the list, which were returned to the National Museum in Kabul between 2007 and 2009.

In recent months and before discovering if the new Taliban Emirate is like the one in 2001, the staff of the Kabul National Museum – with more than 80,000 artifacts – have removed objects from the exhibition to disperse and store them in various safe places, following the evacuation plan and safeguard of the institution. This newspaper has not been able to confirm with ICOM if a part of these objects would have reached France, to be shown in an exhibition scheduled in a museum in Paris.

Last February the Taliban issued a statement in which they promised to respect the heritage that had survived the Taliban. The new fundamentalist leaders issued an order quite different from the one that ended two decades ago with the two colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan and called on their followers to “vigorously protect, monitor and preserve” the relics, to stop illegal excavations and to safeguard “all the relics. historical sites”. They also added that they would prohibit the sale of the artifacts in the art market, without clarifying whether this was a new form of international propaganda.

Twenty years of Bamiyan

For the organization Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, based in Washington, the communiqué was a positive step compared to the one that Mullah Omar issued on February 26, 2001: systematic destruction of all statues in the country so that no one could “worship or respect them in the future.” Including the famous buddhas. “Almighty Allah is the only real sanctuary and all false sanctuaries must be destroyed. Therefore, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has ordered all representatives of the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice and the Ministry of Information and Culture that all the statues are destroyed, “said the statement signed by the Taliban leader. They did not want to leave a trace of any ethnic group or cultural mark other than their own.

Twenty years ago the Taliban tried artillery fire to bring down the two colossi of Bamiyan. The tanks could not do anything against the giants of 55 and 38 meters high each. So they went to dynamite. Almost a month after the first explosion –the one they recorded and broadcast to make themselves known to the world–, at the rate of three daily explosions, the fundamentalist army finished its work. They left no trace of the two sculptures carved into the cliffs of Bamiyan. UNESCO declared that the deliberate destruction “shocked the whole world.” It was an act that fulfilled the propaganda wishes of the terrorists. Once they achieved their goal, they slaughtered nine cows that they brought to celebrate the destruction of the two 1,500-year-old sculptures. UNESCO included the cultural landscape and archaeological remains on its desired World Heritage List in July 2003, two years after they were blown up. At the same time it became part of the List of World Heritage in Danger.