Taliban have wrecked museums in Ghazni, but Afghans will rebuild, again

On the 4th of August, the Taliban used trucks to commit two suicide bombings against Ghazni Police and the Afghan National Directorate of Security (Intelligence), then launched a gun attack on the sites. The death toll rose inexorably from ten, to twelve, to twenty, to thirty-one, to thirty-three; the number of wounded grew from ‘dozens‘, to 150, to 160, to 200, to 350; and many civilian propertiesplaces of everyday life – were damaged.

Damage, destruction, silence

I first heard news of the attack via Lynda Albertson @sauterne, who also highlighted a video from the scene of the bombing, which had been shared by Seyar Mirzad. But the details of the harm to Ghazni’s cultural infrastructure were unknown.

Radio Free Afghanistan said that two museums and a library had been ‘damaged‘. Gazzetta del Sud reported that one museum had been ‘badly damaged‘. Voice of America reporter Jafar Haand @jafarhaand said that the two museums and the library had been ‘totally damaged’. BBC reporter Bilal Sarwary @bsarwary said that the museum had been ‘damaged‘ (though the exact damage was ‘not yet clear’) and the historic library had been ‘destroyed‘. Wall Street Journal reporter Ehsanullah Amiri @euamiri said that the ‘provisional museum [and] library [had been] completely destroyed’. There were no images to show which reports were correct and what had been lost.

Initially, paraphrased by the Associated Press, Ghazni Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said that the bombings had ‘destroyed’ the ‘city library and two museums‘; after the authorities had had time to assess the aftermath, quoted by Tolo News, Akbarzada stated that the Taliban had ‘severely damaged our library and the national museum of historical monuments’. But, again, there were no details. And, since then, (international) reports appear to have stopped. They have counted the dead and moved on.

Utter devastation of community work as well as material history

Archaeologist Liz Tideswell was kind enough to alert me to detailed evidence, which came through the former director of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’’s Cultural Heritage (SPACH), Ana Rosa Rodríguez García, from the General Manager of Museology at the National Museum of Afghanistan, Ajmal Yar.

The National Museum itself has suffered greatly through these decades of oppression and violence – it has lost 70% of its artefacts, the material history of this stretch of the Silk Road, on which Ghazni is the only remaining walled city.

Ghazni’s cultural heritage workers were recovering and rebuilding their services. They had gained international support, in addition to their decades-long collaboration with the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (IsIAO)). The Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni had only recently reopened. They had been working fifteen-hour shifts to create new exhibition spaces. Then this happened. Compounding all of this, Italy’s austerity government closed IsIAO. Who will help Ghazni now?

[Update (12th September 2014): the Vice-Chair of the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Andrew Potts, highlighted the Cultural Heritage Center-funded, Historic American Building Survey (HABS)-conducted work on the Towers of Victory: Ghazni Towers Documentation Project. He stated that ‘#usicomos was proud to work [with] @ECAatState to aid Ghazni heritage last year’ and ‘will look for new [opportunities]’.]

The destruction of archaeology and the archaeology of destruction

Ajmal Yar has shared two sets of photos that document the obliteration of the society’s history and the community’s hard work.

Figure 1: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 1: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 2: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 2: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 3: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 3: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 4: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 4: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 5: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 5: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 6: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 6: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 6th September 2014

Figure 7: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 10th September 2014

Figure 7: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 10th September 2014

Figure 8: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni (c) Ajmal Yar, 10th September 2014

Figure 8: Before and after the attack at Museums of Islamic and Pre-Islamic Art in Ghazni
(c) Ajmal Yar, 10th September 2014

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