Treasures of Afghanistan

Anyone interested in ancient arts and history should not miss the exhibition on the Afghanistan Hidden Treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These treasures, some of them dug-up from tombs, have been on tour in the United States since last year, beginning at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, then the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. I went to see the exhibition on July 8. As I stepped into the hall, I saw a stunning photographs of a beautiful panoramic view of the mountain terrain of Afghanistan, then I watched a documentary film of the Greek architecture from the second century B.C. city of Ai Khanum. The history of the people who live in the country in ancient times and their arts were on displayed in the connecting rooms. I like the normadic gold jewelries of the first century that were excavated from the old city of Tillya Tepe. The background Afghan music played throughout the exhibit hall, had created an atmosphere of actually being in Afghanistan for that moment in time. The display of ancient art treasures, statues, carnelian and turquoise jewelries, gold coins, carved ivory were set up in separate compartments keep secured in a glass-top tables and walls under controlled temperature. The museum organized this exhibition in cooperation with the National Geographic Society, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities grant. I went to Afghanistan for the first time in 1969. I considered myself to be very lucky in having seen the full exhibition of all the historical treasures of Afghanistan that were kept at the National Museum of Kabul before they were destroyed during the civil war. At that time the museum rooms were over flowing with arts and artifacts from Greece, Mongolia, China and India. The National Museum artfully displayed those hand-blown glasses and vases of different shapes in pale blue/green colors that were brought over by Alexander‘s army; silver and gold coins brought over by Bactrian and Mongol merchants when they traveled through the ancient “silk route” crossing the Hindu Kush mountain. I was told then that there were much more priceless materials collected at the Museum than from what I had seen, because there were no space to display them all. The museum, therefore, had to store them in the basement. When the Taliban took control of the government in the late eighties, I was concerned that those precious treasures would be lost forever. Many of them were destroyed when the museum were bombed during the war. But in 2003, the Afghan new government announced to the public that they had found some of the treasures hidden in the vault of Kabul’s Presidential Bank.The staff of the museum had hiden them underground to avoid possible looting and destruction during the fighting. In Bamyan valley, the Sunny Taliban destroyed the two big Buddha statues when they fought with the Shi’it Hazaris people living in the area. The two statues were built by Buddhist monks pilgrims who built meditation chambers by carving the rock on the side of the mountain along side the Buddha statues. Bamyan valley was a crossroads of many cultures in Central Asia from traders to pilgrims. The Taliban wanted to eliminate all forms and influences of other religions and ethnic groups and made Afghanistan an Islamic State. Now, there is a war going on between the NATO force and the Taliban establishments in the rural areas. What I am afraid of is that the modern weapons used could damage historical places shown at the exhibition namely one of the Unesco Cultural Heritage sites, the Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamyan Valley. The exhibition will end on 20 September 2009.

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