UNESCO Protects Endangered Historical Sites in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Italian-funded UNESCO project in Bamiyan, Afghanistan has restarted after being halted following the Taliban's takeover in August 2021.
The project aims to conserve various UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bamiyan, provide job opportunities for locals, and foster skills for long-term viability.
Italy's decision to restart the Bamiyan project is believed to be the first instance of a country approving conservation funding in Afghanistan, which could indirectly support efforts to decrease the isolation of local societies from the international stage.
The Taliban demolished Bamiyan's iconic Buddha statues in 2001, but have established Cultural Heritage Preservation Day and emphasized the importance of preserving all heritage sites, including pre-Islamic ones.
UNESCO operates within the Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF) in Afghanistan, which restricts engagement with and recognition of the current government but emphasizes humanitarian aid and cultural site conservation. UNESCO has various initiatives in Afghanistan, including projects in Jam, Bamiyan, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Kabul, as well as a water management program in Samangan and Zabul.

 

After an unexpected halt following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Italian-funded UNESCO project in Bamiyan has restarted.

In November 2022, specialists in cultural heritage from around the globe met in Florence to discuss methods to preserve Afghanistan’s at-risk historical sites, with particular attention paid to the Bamiyan Valley.

The Italian foreign ministry ultimately decided to reevaluate and approve funding for the Bamiyan undertaking following the conference.

Project Aims and Advantages for Local Communities

The project’s primary objectives include conservation efforts at various UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bamiyan, improving site safety and infrastructure, creating better visitor experiences, and formulating a long-term conservation management approach.

The project’s central focus is on the Bamiyan cliffs and the Shahr-e Gholghola citadel, dating from the sixth to the tenth century, both of which require urgent attention.

The initiative is expected to provide humanitarian support by offering job opportunities for approximately 100 locals who are currently facing one of the world’s most severe humanitarian disasters.

UNESCO’s goal is to foster skills that will enable local residents to secure future work and income while addressing the World Heritage property’s long-term viability.

A Trailblazing Move for Conservation Financing in Afghanistan

Most foreign investments and projects were halted following the Taliban’s rise to power, leading to the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy and the country’s estrangement from the rest of the world.

While UNESCO and private foundations have maintained some heritage projects in the country, Italy’s choice to restart the Bamiyan project is believed to be the first instance of a country approving conservation funding in Afghanistan.

Project coordinator Mirella Loda highlights that relaunching the project will ensure the continuation of engagement and investment spanning the past 20 years while fostering opportunities to interact with more moderate voices among the new leadership.

The move will also indirectly support efforts to decrease the isolation of local societies from the international stage.

In November 2022, specialists in cultural heritage from around the globe met in Florence to discuss methods to preserve Afghanistan’s at-risk historical sites, with particular attention paid to the Bamiyan Valley.

Bamiyan Buddha Statues and Taliban’s View on Heritage Preservation

The Taliban demolished Bamiyan’s iconic sixth- and seventh-century Buddha statues in 2001. Although the group has not publicly apologized, they have established March 11 as Cultural Heritage Preservation Day.

The Ministry of Information and Culture hosted an event at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, underlining the importance of preserving all heritage sites, including pre-Islamic ones.

UNESCO’s Activities and Limitations within Afghanistan

UNESCO functions within the boundaries of the Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF), which emphasizes humanitarian aid and the conservation of cultural sites but restricts engagement with and recognition of the current government.

UNESCO’s initiatives in Afghanistan encompass projects in Jam, Bamiyan, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Kabul.

Furthermore, UNESCO is collaborating with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on a water management program in Samangan and Zabul.

These initiatives employ around 200 people across various locations.

Although UNESCO remains deeply troubled by the situation in Afghanistan, it is dedicated to working within the TEF’s guidelines to preserve the nation’s vast cultural heritage.

Craig Miller

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