Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rebuilding the Bamyan Buddhas

Bamyan Buddhas, circa 1963

Bamyan government officials and coalition and NATO International Security Assistance Force leadership discuss the history of the Buddhas of Bamyan. The Buddhas of Bamyan were two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan before they were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. Photo by Senior Airman Dilia DeGrego, USAF

An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at the ruins of the Buddhas of Bamyan. The Buddhas of Bamyan were two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan. Photo by Senior Airman Dilia DeGrego, USAF

Along the Silk Road stood the magnificent Bamyan Buddhas. Towering over the valley they rose 175' and 120' in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains for over 15 centuries. The faces were carved away in the the early centuries of the Islamic occupation. Finally, in March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamyan Buddhas. They also destroyed all statuary in the country and in the museum at the order of Mullah Omar.

Bamyan was once an area of tourism and cultural exploration. The sandstone cliffs are full of caves, originally created by Buddhist Monks. The caves are a wealth of writings and paintings.

Now, Bamyan is stuggling to come back. The people of Bamyan have turned the once war-torn area into a peaceful one, where there are no armed people walking around and agriculture, although in need of modernization, is doing well. In addition, there is no longer any poppy seed cultivation in the province.

But, what they would really like to do is reconstruct the Buddhas. Several countries have offered, but none have acted.

"We want people to come help repair these statues," an Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture representative said. "The people ask when they will be rebuilt. They are guarding and preserving the pieces of the Buddhas so in the future, if they are rebuilt, we can use some of the original pieces.

"We are doing what we can to preserve what is left of the historical paintings and writings, as well, putting up doors to the rooms that those paintings and writings are in," he said. "It is very important to preserve this historical area. Everyone wants to this area to be preserved. We want to rebuild it so the others can come and see the area and its historical value."

The US and NATO have been meeting with the Afghans regarding this area. I hope that we will help them rebuild and protect this ancient wonder.


American Interests said...

If they (U.S. and NATO) have been meeting with local authorities then perhaps momentum is building for a re-construction effort to begin. I to hope that assistance will be provided to re-build..

Buck Pennington said...

I remember seeing a segment about the Bamyan Buddhas in a documentary about the on-going effort to restore Afghan cultural treasures not too long ago, either on the History Channel, or Discovery, or somewhere.

IIRC, there's one lonely French or Brit academic/archaeologist who's leading the Bamyan effort. This same documentary focused on a few Afghan heroes (academics and curators) who hid books, paintings, and statues in a Kabul museum from the Taliban to prevent their destruction...under pain of death (or worse) if they had been discovered. I wish I could remember the name of the program. It was VERY good.

Flag Gazer said...

I do hope that some of this restoration occurs. The Silk Road history is such an important part of the history of civilization and that permeates Afghanistan.

We adopted a soldier that was stationed at PRT Bamyan early on and he said that the poverty was extreme - the tourism to see the Buddhas was their livelihood and mostly there were old women and children left alive after the rampage of the Taliban.

MaryAnn said...

Watching the video of these statues being destroyed brings back a lot of memories and is a strong reminder of what AQ and the Taliban are all about.

Rebuilding them would send a powerful message, and I hope this can happen. (Btw, where's the UN on this?? Oh, ever mind... )

Flag Gazer said...

It is a powerful video.

UN - never mind, indeed....
I'd also like to know where the countries are who got a lot of press pledging to help and have been AWOL ever since...