National Museum in Kabul.
(photo credit: Reuters)
KABUL - While everyone else is worrying about Afghanistan's future, a dedicated band of men and women is gathering up its past, hoping that a growing museum collection will show the world Afghan culture is more sophisticated than the tide of news reports suggest.
Kabul's rebuilt National Museum, near the haunting remains the bombed-out royal palace, is running out of secure rooms to house centuries-old Buddhas, gold and silver coins from antiquity and other rare artefacts.
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Many of the museum's original pieces were broken, destroyed or stolen during the Taliban era or the civil war that preceded it in the 1990s, but some have been pieced back together and a series of archeological digs have also unearthed new treasures.
Among the fresh discoveries are a wooden Buddha dating back to the fifth century and Buddha heads made of clay and plaster.
They are helping a whole nation slowly rediscover a classical past as a confluence of cultures from India to China and from Iran and central Asia to the East.
"Each week there is a new find. Most museums in the world are static, but this one is growing," said Anne Feenstra, a Dutch architect involved in restoring the museum which itself was heavily damaged in the civil war.
A statue of the Buddha sitting cross-legged is placed in a glass box up a flight of stairs in the museum building, while the headless figure of Kushan king Kanishka, restored after it was destroyed by the Taliban, adorns another corner.
Some walls have pictures of treasures lost during the civil war or to the Taliban, who famously showed their contempt for Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage by blowing up two giant, centuries-old Buddha statues carved into a hillside in Bamiyan.
A group of high school girls in head-scarves listen in a hallway as a teacher explains the country's Buddhist past, part of the museum's drive to build awareness in a generation that has seen too much conflict and extremism.
"Afghanistan is an amalgamation of cultures of the region," Information and Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen told a conference in Kabul this month where he appealed for help to preserve the nation's heritage.
After 30 years of war, Afghanistan is often portrayed as simply a land
of warring tribes, defined by a battle against outside powers.
Reconnecting with its past reminds Afghans they have a more complex and
If Afghanistan can preserve its monuments, it can show its own people
and the world that as a key part of the ancient silk route it was once a
crossroads of Asia, a creative melting pot with a cosmopolitan spirit,
"We have seen massive destruction and decay, but many relics still exist," he said. "They must be saved from annihilation."