|Kabul: 15:57 PM      |
Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
Rebuilding the Kabul museum & hunting for Bactrian gold (Sunday Times)
Sunday Times (London) October 26, 2003, Sunday Lost door key adds twist to Afghan treasure hunt Christina Lamb UNLOCKING the riddle of the missing Bactrian gold seemed a rare stroke of good fortune in a country that has known nothing but war and destruction for the past 24 years. Often compared with the treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb, Afghanistan's legendary 2,000-year-old gold collection had long been feared lost amid Russian invaders, looting warlords and Taliban clerics out to destroy the nation's culture. Then, six weeks ago, the art world started buzzing with rumours that the gold had been located in a vault deep under the presidential palace. However, the treasure hunt has now turned into a mystery as clouded as the origins of the Bactrian kingdom. "It was like something out of a movie," President Hamid Karzai said last week in an interview with The Sunday Times. "We had to go down three elevators under the palace and along a tunnel set with booby traps, then through a door with seven or eight codes all held by different people." Installed by a German company during the reign of King Nadir Shah in the 1930s, the vault's steel door had not been opened in 14 years. As the codes were entered and the door swung open, Karzai and the ministers accompanying him held their breath. For one thing, they hoped to discover the central bank's gold reserves, which the Taliban had tried to steal before fleeing on the eve of the fall of Kabul two years ago. The Taliban had been unable to crack the code after almost beating to death a bank employee who refused to reveal it. Karzai's party also wanted to see the collection of 20,000 gold artefacts from the ancient Bactrian kingdom which were excavated by Russian archeologists in burial mounds in northern Afghanistan in 1978. Dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries BC, the treasures of Tillya Tepe, or the Golden Mound, include exquisite brooches, medallions, plates, scabbards and even a crown, studded with turquoise and rubies and worked in the shapes of cupids, dragons and warriors. However, although they said they entered the vault and discovered $ 90m in bullion bars belonging to the central bank, nobody could find the key to a room believed to hold the Bactrian gold. "It may be there or it may not be there," said Dr Sayed Raheen, minister of culture and information. "All we saw was the locked door. I don't want to blast open the lock in case we cannot lock it again." The ministry official who was last known to have the key could not be found. "Like many Afghans he may have been killed or left the country," said Raheen. His ministry tried to contact the German locksmiths who had installed the lock, but the company no longer exists. When I suggested that it seemed a shame that having survived Russian occupation, civil war and the Taliban, the Bactrian gold should remain hidden because of a missing key, he replied: "You ladies are obsessed by gold. We have a lot of other things to worry about." Then he added: "I'm afraid of opening it because there is no security in the country." Could it be that the president and his minister are pretending not to have found the gold because they do not trust their own cabinet colleagues? Some of those colleagues were members of the mujaheddin government of the 1990s, a period known as the rape of Kabul. "Looting is my biggest problem," said Raheen. "Just 10 miles from where we are sitting now there are maybe 10 to 15 historic sites being looted as we speak." Raheen has been protected by Kalashnikov-toting bodyguards since receiving death threats from fundamentalists angry at his sacking of a television boss who had banned women from appearing on screen. "It is warlords and local commanders who are doing it, some of whom work for the government," he said. "I'm afraid that if the looting is not stopped, then in two years Afghanistan will not have a single piece left on any historical site. "The Taliban were trying to wipe out our history and they would have won." The minister has begged Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, for a "heritage army" to guard the sites. "Even 500 guards would make a difference," he said. "I don't have any money to send security to all the different sites, but if we don't we will lose everything. "Afghanistan is a unique country, having been at the crossroads of central Asia with so many conquerors and civilisations: Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Greeks, Moguls. But once pieces end up on the mantelpiece of a millionaire in London or in an Arab sheikh's palace, who will ever know where these came from?" Millions of pounds' worth of illegally excavated Afghan artefacts were recently recovered in London by Scotland Yard but have not yet been returned to the country. A quick trawl on the internet shows many more on sale. Raheen says he is disappointed with the response of the international community. It is hard not to draw comparisons with Iraq, where the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad prompted international outrage and the arrival of experts from the British Museum and American specialists in tracking art. Once the most important museum in central Asia, spanning 50,000 years, Kabul museum has lost more than 70% of its collection in two decades. Nothing is left of its famous Begram ivory galleries; the Hadda room of stucco Buddhist panels is a pile of rubble; the bronze age galleries lie flattened; and not one coin remains from its 40,000- piece collection, some of which dated from the 8th century BC and included the largest Greek and Roman coins ever found. Almost two years after the fall of the Taliban, the building is still derelict, with children playing hide-and-seek on the second floor and holes in the roof from mujaheddin rockets. A headless lion stands outside the front entrance, over which hangs a forlorn banner hand-painted with the words, "A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive". Inside, the few statues and bowls that escaped the axes of the Taliban are covered with plastic bags to protect against dust blown in on the chill wind. There is not a single cabinet or display case left. Behind a makeshift wooden door is a store room where last week two Afghans were painstakingly reconstructing a massive wooden figure on a horse from Nuristan, so famous that it was once used as a design motif for Afghanistan. Spread out around them on sacking on the ground were thousands of pieces of statues smashed by the Taliban, with black-and-white photographs from catalogues showing the gods and goddesses, kings and princesses they once were. Putting them back together seems an impossible task. "These are the things we think we can rebuild," said one of the men, Abdullah Hakim Zardar, who has worked in the museum for 26 years. He was present when the Taliban culture minister and some of his henchmen came on their smashing spree. "Can you imagine seeing these people coming and breaking down everything you love and work with? I wanted to cry." He managed to hide some pieces, he said. Yet although the Taliban were notorious for their wanton destruction of art, such as blowing up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, it was under the mujaheddin government of 1992-96 that most of the damage and looting occurred. Commanders used explosives to force their way in after museum staff bricked up the entrances. They carried lists of items ordered by collectors. Some of the same people are now back in power. Sitting in his newly pink-painted office, Omar Khan Masoudi, the museum director, looks worried as he coughs heavily between drags on cigarettes from a packet with the brand-name Pleasure. Flicking through a museum guide showing Buddhist statues, ivory panels and Roman glassware, he says, "That's gone, that's gone," as we look at page after page. An appeal for people to bring back looted items has resulted in 900 pieces being returned. "We had more than 100,000 pieces, so this is just a drop in the ocean," Masoudi said. "Besides, you can see everything we have left in this museum is sick and needs looking after. Nothing here has been protected from dust or humidity for years. If we don't get the museum rebuilt it will all be eroded even more." Building work is slowly getting under way at the back of the museum, funded by the Greek government. The French and Italians have given some help with restoration, while the British Museum has promised to build a laboratory. But apart from one young Italian archeologist at work on a fresco, there are no foreigners to be seen. "It's not just rebuilding and restoration," said Masoudi. "We can't open the museum again until we are sure the pieces are safe." Each night the museum staff take it in turns to keep watch, he said. It was all so bleak that it seemed the right time to mention the Bactrian gold. "Ah yes, the gold. You must ask the minister about that," replied Masoudi, adding enigmatically: "Is something found if it was never lost?" Paul Hackett Apichart Weerawong
Posted By: mariam   November 3rd 2003, 2003 11:02 AM
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.