Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stolen artefacts back in Afghanistan

  • 7 Aug 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald

Stolen artefacts back in Afghanistan

KABUL: Hundreds of looted treasures have been returned to Afghanistan with the help of the British Museum and British police and border forces. The haul is just a fraction of what has been stolen from Afghanistan’s national museum and rich archaeological sites in recent decades.
Photo: British Museum
Back home . . . a cosmetic flask returned to the national museum in Kabul after being looted.

‘‘The pieces, and their enormous range, bear testament to the incredibly rich cultural history of Afghanistan,’’ said Colin Crokin, Britain’s consulgeneral in Afghanistan, at the handover ceremony for the 843 meticulously catalogued items. ‘‘In a sense, they are symbols of Afghanistan’s struggle for national unity and peace – scattered by the civil war, recovered and now passed back to their own people for safekeeping.’’

Among the important recovered artefacts is a secondcentury schist Buddha, which now gazes down from a niche on the museum’s main stairwell, despite a 20-year odyssey to other corners of Asia.

The statue was part of the museum’s collection but disappeared in the early 1990s, when the building was on the frontline between warring factions, which repeatedly raided its storerooms.

The Buddha ended up with a Japanese collector, who refused to return it and could not be legally compelled to do so, even though it had been looted.

But an anonymous British dealer stepped in, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy it for the museum.

‘‘It’s very important for us to get these artefacts back because they are part of our cultural heritage and history,’’ said Afghanistan’s deputy culture minister, Sayed Masaddeq Khalili. About 9000 looted artefacts had been returned from other countries since 2001, he said.

The museum’s director, Omara Khan Massoudi, highlighted the return of nearly 20 items that were featured in the museum’s pre-civil war catalogue.

Mr Massoudi began working at the national museum in its pre-war heyday and has spent most of his professional life there, bar a few months of Taliban rule in 2001.

He resigned in protest against the Taliban’s destruction of artefacts they deemed ‘‘un-Islamic’’ but he rejoined as soon as they were ousted from power.
He has since helped rebuild the museum, which is raising funds for a new building.

Guardian News & Media

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