Battlefield National Museum of Afghanistan reopened, with Taliban security negotiated by director


The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul has reopened under Taliban control. The Islamic militant group, which rejects representative art as idolatrous, returned to power after the problematic withdrawal of US and NATO troops in August, sparking global concern for Afghan artists and heritage.

In 2001, the Taliban attacked the museum, looting about 70 percent of its collection of 100,000 objects. In their quest to enforce Sharia law, the Taliban have destroyed priceless cultural heritage across the country, including, most notoriously, the 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas, carved into the mountainside and measuring 125 and 180 in size. feet high.

In the aftermath of two decades of war, the destruction took years to unravel, but UNESCO and other experts painstakingly reconstructed the museum and its collections, which now include 50,000 artefacts.

So when the Taliban returned to Kabul on August 15, museum director Mohammad Fahim Rahimi feared a repeat of the performance.

Paintings from the Kabul National Gallery that were torn to pieces by the Taliban are housed in the city museum on April 23, 2002. Under the Taliban, all forms of images and images were prohibited. Photo by Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images.

“It was the worst day of my life,” he told the national in September. “I felt the responsibility of the museum: that I should take care of it, and that I should not leave it. I was ready to give my life for it.

But the Taliban did not attack the museum or harm the ancient objects in the collection. Within days, Rahimi had enlisted members of the Taliban to guard the institution. The militant group continues to provide security, reopening the facility on November 25. Rahimi and other staff, including women, still have jobs, although they haven’t received a salary since August, a problem all Afghan officials now share.

“The problem is that the country’s assets and money have been frozen under sanctions ordered by the US government,” Cheryl Benard, president of ARCH International, the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, said in a statement. e-mail to Artnet News. “Some international organizations have worked hard to find a way to pay teachers and health workers by paying money directly or by releasing smaller sums held by the World Bank for direct payment to teachers and health workers. health. But museum staff are not included in these efforts.

Despite regular power cuts and a broken generator that sometimes leaves the galleries in darkness, the museum welcomes between 50 and 100 visitors a day, including Taliban operatives, some of whom roam the halls with assault rifles.

“It comes from our ancient history, so we came to see it,” a 29-year-old fighter named Mansoor Zulfiqar told The Associated Press.

Prior to the US withdrawal, ARCH International had worked with Islamic theologians to help convince the Taliban of the importance of cultural preservation, and found the group surprisingly receptive.

“In the end, we didn’t need that,” Benard said. “On their own initiative, they even sent an order to their commanders in the field, not to destroy any historic sites or structures and to prevent looting.”

The Taliban, who now seem more concerned with their public image and the maintenance of international relations than 20 years ago, also issued a statement in February promising not to loot and to protect the rich cultural heritage. from Afghanistan.

The Kabul National Museum, which was looted during the 20-year war in Afghanistan, is now closed and in decline on March 4, 2000. Photo by Robert Nickelsberg / Liaison.

The Kabul National Museum, which was looted during the 20-year war in Afghanistan, is now closed and in decline on March 4, 2000. Photo by Robert Nickelsberg / Liaison.

“As Afghanistan is a country teeming with ancient artefacts and antiques, and these relics are part of our country’s history, identity and rich culture, everyone has an obligation to protect , monitor and preserve these artifacts, “he said.

“The Taliban are now engaged in cultural preservation,” a source in Kabul told Artnet News. “I hope they will allow the girls to go to school, this is my last hope.”

Even if the worst has not yet happened this time around, Afghan artists and creatives nonetheless live in fear since the Taliban’s return to power.

Afghan construction workers installed a new ceiling in one of the halls of the Kabul Museum on February 18, 2003 in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The museum, which was significantly damaged by previous regimes, is now undergoing renovation with the help of the British Museum, UNESCO and the Greek government.  The renovations include a special conservation workshop for the restoration of the many broken artifacts.  Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images.

Afghan construction workers installed a new ceiling in one of the halls of the Kabul Museum on February 18, 2003 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The museum, which was significantly damaged by previous regimes, is now undergoing renovation with the help of the British Museum, UNESCO and the Greek government. The renovations include a special conservation workshop for the restoration of the many broken artifacts. Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images.

Artists at Risk, a nonprofit that helps Afghan artists inside and outside Afghanistan, sent an open letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and to other leaders in Europe, begging for help and expedited asylum processes, all of which have but froze, reports the Art journal.

“Without jobs, without a future, in constant fear of being arrested and killed by the Taliban, we don’t live but simply exist. Deep darkness has descended on Afghanistan, ”write the authors, who have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

The letter follows a similar missive to the US government from Arts for Afghanistan, signed by 350 artists and creatives in August.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Anne Proctor.

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