Tenth anniversary of Taliban’s destruction of ancient buddhas
Unesco hopes to remove Bamiyan site from its danger list by the end of this year
By Emily Sharpe. Conservation, Issue 222, March 2011
Published online: 01 March 2011
BAMIYAN VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN. On 26 February 2001, the leader of the Taliban ruling party, Mullah Mohammed Omar, issued an edict calling for the destruction of “all statues of non- Islamic shrines located in the different parts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Within five days the Taliban said it had destroyed two-thirds of the country’s statues, including the Bamiyan Valley’s colossal Buddhas. To mark the tenth anniversary of the razing of the ancient Buddhas, Unesco will host a forum, “Towards Reconcil iation”, on 2 March to sum up its efforts to safeguard the site over the past ten years, and “open a new chapter” in its activities in Afghanistan.
Unesco has worked in conjunction with the Afghan government, the provincial authorities of Bamiyan and international heritage organisations to preserve the site since 2003 when Bamiyan was added simultaneously to Unesco’s World Heritage List and List in Danger. Phases I and II of the conservation measures, completed in 2004 and 2008 respectively, included stabilising and consolidating the cliffs and the two Buddhas’ niches, conserving and documenting the Buddhas’ fragments, safeguarding the remains of Buddhist mural paintings along the cliff, developing a cultural master plan, guarding the site from looters and providing management and conservation training for Afghans.
Phase III, initiated in 2007 and slated for completion sometime this year, involves implementing measures that would allow the site to be removed from the “Danger” list. The principal activities include ensuring the structural stability of the two niches, an adequate state of conservation for the archaeological remains and the mural paintings and the implementation of site management and cultural master plans. A Unesco spokesman stressed that the organisation is not involved in any initiatives to reconstruct the Buddhas.
Gone but not forgotten
The Taliban’s efforts to erase the image of the Buddhas from memory has done little to stop the proliferation of depictions created over the past ten years. Many of the images are the result of proposed reconstructions. In late 2001, Swiss experts planned to reconstruct the Buddhas in their original niches (above). The stone replicas were to be created from a 3D model (middle top). At $30m per Buddha, the plan was scuppered.
In 2005, the artist Hiro Yamagata offered an alternative to a traditional reconstruction: a $50m-$60m laser show powered by solar panels and windmills (middle bottom). According to Yamagata, the project was abandoned because of funding and political issues; he was “advised that it would be dangerous to continue the project”.
Many artists incorporate images of the Buddhas in their work, including Bamiyan Valley native Khadim Ali whose project for the 5th Asia Pacific Triennial featured drawings by local children. Ali’s drawings (above, far right) are currently on view at the Kender dine Art Gallery, University of Saskatch ewan (until 18 March).
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