Afghan Cultural Leaders Visit Heritage Preservation
A delegation of cultural leaders from Afghanistan visited Heritage Preservation on August 13, 2004, to spotlight the plight of their cultural heritage and discuss how to save their national treasures. Heritage Emergency National Task Force Director Jane Long and other staff members spoke with them about the needs of their institutions and Heritage Preservations work in the United States.
The visit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of States International Visitor Leadership Program. Meridian International Center in Washington, DC, administers the program, which brings some 4,500 professionals to this country each year.
The visitors were accompanied by an interpreter and included Anwar Zulmaiyar, Director of the National Archives; Mohammad Yahya Mohebzada, Deputy Director of the National Museum; Abdul Majid Babay, Director of Information and Culture, Kandahar; Walishah Bahra, Director of Information and Culture, Herat; and Abdullah Roeen, Director of Information and Culture, Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh.
Mr. Zulmaiyar noted that 7,000 manuscripts and 150,000 historical documents are kept in the National Archives, in danger not only from normal deterioration but from pests and mold. The buildings climate control systems are not fully functional, and most cultural institutions in Afghanistan currently suffer from a lack of trained professionals and the supplies to preserve their collections. Aside from computers donated by Japan, he noted, they have almost nothing to help themno conservation supplies or training program.
Afghanistan is a country rich in cultural artifacts, but its museums, libraries, and archives have been damaged by 25 years of war and the depredations of the Taliban era. The National Archives and many other institutions were closed by the Taliban, and those working in the cultural field either left the country or took other jobs.
While in Washington, DC, the delegation also met with staff at the National Archives, National Park Service, and the Library of Congress, and their itinerary included Charleston, South Carolina; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and New York City. While their visit to the U.S. had been informative and enlightening, they found it sad to contrast the care of American cultural objects with the condition of those in Afghanistan. Mr. Roeen noted that a 100-year-old document in a Washington museum is far better cared for than a 1,500-year-old object in his province.
The visitors acknowledged that problems with infrastructure and security will make preservation projects more difficult, but they made the case that time is running out for many of their national treasures. By spreading word of their plight, the Afghan leaders hope they can find the resources to care for their heritage before it is too late.
The State Department made it possible for each delegate to take with him copies of the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel, Caring for Your Collections, and The Conservation Assessment: A Tool for Planning, Implementing, and Fund-raising. At the end of the meeting, several delegates said they were encouraged and motivated by meeting people who also care about cultural heritage.
To support the conservation of Afghanistans cultural heritage, please contact the American Embassy, The Great Masoud Road, Kabul, Afghanistan, Tel (00 93) (2) 230-0436, Fax (00 93) (2) 230-1364.
Map courtesy the U.S. Department of State.