of War


As much as it is in­de­fin­able, cul­tural DNA is what shapes a na­tion’s iden­tity. Cul­tural her­itage of­ten mir­rors the his­tory and the life of the com­mu­nity man­i­fest­ing it­self in the form of tra­di­tional prac­tices, norms, and cus­toms. It is al­ways in a state of evo­lu­tion and is of­ten ex­pressed through ar­chi­tec­ture, lan­guage, arts, re­li­gious sites, and mon­u­ments.

The role of cul­tural her­itage lies in the rhythm of life it sets for the present com­mu­nity along­side the preser­va­tion of what once was. Safe­guard­ing her­itage en­sures ac­cord and pro­vides a sense of national iden­tity for the peo­ple by bridg­ing the gap be­tween what is and what was.

Bar­ring the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, Afghanistan has a rich his­tory – there are nu­mer­ous an­cient sites all over the coun­try, each telling sto­ries from the past and con­nect­ing them to the present. In fact, the list of his­toric gems that Afghanistan holds is end­less, as proven by the statis­tics of the 1980s, which showed that the coun­try had about 2,800 ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal sites.

One such site is the an­cient city of Herat. Hold­ing a dis­tinct place in his­tory of Afghanistan, it has the Citadel of Heart - built by Alexan­der the Great

- and the tomb of Kh­waja Ab­dul­lah An­sari that draws hordes of pil­grims. Also, with its in­tri­cate Kufic and

Naskhi cal­lig­ra­phy, the Minaret of Jam comes un­der the am­bit of one of the most pop­u­lar his­toric mon­u­ments. It is a re­flec­tion of the ear­lier Is­lamic in­flu­ences that has shaped the Afghanistan of to­day.

Sim­i­larly, Bala His­sar is part of the league of an­cient fortresses that saw its

Apart from the restora­tion of the stat­ues, UNESCO is also look­ing at the con­struc­tion of the Mu­seum for Peace at Bamiyan to pro­mote the her­itage of Afghanistan and re-es­tab­lish­ing an­cient Is­lamic site of Shahr-i-Ghol­ghola (the City of si­lence).

fair share of sword and blood in the 19th cen­tury. Sub­se­quent to the blood­shed, it suf­fered the wrath of the up­ris­ing or­ga­nized by the Afghanistan Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 1979 against the pro-Rus­sian regime.

Then there is the city of Balkh that played an im­por­tant role in pro­mot­ing Per­sian lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture. It is home to the mau­soleum of Kh­waja Parsa from the Ghorid pe­riod. Ex­ca­va­tion of the area post-2003 also re­vealed re­mains from Achaemenids, which once again in­flu­enced the coun­try in more ways than one.

It is sad that a coun­try that has spent most of its ex­is­tence in a state of war had no choice but to give in to the van­dal­iza­tion of its cul­tural her­itage that it was sub­jected to. The worst was when the Tal­iban stripped off the coun­try’s il­lus­tri­ous ethos by im­pos­ing a rad­i­cal be­lief sys­tem un­der the pre­tense of Is­lamic sharia, bring­ing down all pos­si­ble rem­nants of her­itage that chal­lenged their ver­sion of Is­lam. Un­der at­tack were places that bore ev­i­dence of Bud­dhism - like the Folad val­ley and Kakrak – which were bombed and hun­dreds of stat­ues lodged at the Kabul Mu­se­ums were razed to the ground, in­flict­ing a per­ma­nent cul­tural wound on the Afghani her­itage.

The Bud­dhist pil­lar of the first cen­tury AD known as the Minaret of Chakari was di­min­ished as well. Also, forced out of ex­is­tence by the mil­i­tants, was the great Bud­dhist tem­ple of

Tepe Shutur-e-Hadda, a mag­num opus of Gand­ha­ran art embellished with mold­ings that were one of their kind.

With two decades of war, the dam­age to Afghanistan’s cul­tural her­itage is ir­rev­o­ca­ble and can­not be com­pen­sated. But af­ter the fall of the Tal­iban, a new sun has arisen on the hori­zons of the coun­try that may well be­come a mod­er­ate Is­lamic state, thus al­low­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of restora­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Un­der the re­newed fer­vour to restore the her­itage of Afghanistan, UNESCO has pro­posed re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ini­tia­tives in dif­fer­ent part of the coun­try. Re­cent de­vel­op­ments in­clude UNESCO part­ner­ing with the govern­ment of Italy to re­fur­bish Bamiyan, the city cap­i­tal of the Bamiyan prov­ince. The city is the site of many Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies and forts from the Is­lamic era that are a re­flec­tion of var­i­ous cul­tural and re­li­gious in­flu­ences in the re­gion.

De­stroyed by the Tal­iban in 2001, Bamiyan owes its pop­u­lar­ity to the pres­ence of gi­ant stat­ues of Sakya­muni Bud­dha, with the small­est mea­sur­ing up to 5.5 cm and the largest stand­ing tall at 55m. Other im­por­tant sites, in­clude the

Shahr-i-Zo­hak (Red City), a re­mark­able set of ru­ins that was once a fortress pro­tect­ing the en­trance to Bamiyan in the 12th and the 13th cen­tury.

The de­struc­tion of the fort dates back to 1221 AD. It was at­tacked by Genghis Khan’s grand­son who was killed in the ex­pe­di­tion and the fort was later con­fronted by Genghis Khan him­self to avenge the death of his grand­son, re­sult­ing in the com­plete de­struc­tion of the city.

In­stances of sites be­com­ing col­lat­eral dam­age to power con­flicts have been re­ported in Afghanistan due to wars, but the de­mo­li­tion of the Bamiyan stat­ues was an in­stance termed by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as an “ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mas­sacre”. The global sen­ti­ments were the prime rea­son that led UNESCO to de­clare the val­ley a world her­itage site once the Tal­iban were over­thrown in 2003.

Apart from the restora­tion of the stat­ues, UNESCO is also look­ing at the con­struc­tion of the Mu­seum for Peace at Bamiyan to pro­mote the her­itage of Afghanistan and re-es­tab­lish­ing an­cient Is­lamic site of Shahr-i-Ghol­ghola (the City of si­lence).

Be­sides UNESCO, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of dif­fer­ent coun­tries are also fa­cil­i­tat­ing the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of her­itage sites in­de­pen­dently to en­sure that Afghanistan is able to re­cover its vi­tal signs of cul­tural dig­nity lost amidst the wars. Zu­fah An­sari is an un­der­grad­u­ate mar­ket­ing stu­dent with in­ter­est in cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

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