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Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage Restored

Afghanistan’s cultural artifacts, dating from hundreds of years ago, are making their way back to the country, where recently renovated museums await to house the relics. The Museum of Afghanistan in Exile, a Swiss establishment in Bubendorf, maintained a vast collection of over 1,600 rare artifacts, including a wooden scepter which belonged to the Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, the founder of modern Afghanistan. Museum director Paul Bucherer launched the museum in 2000, following concerns raised about the security of the country’s cultural artifacts. Bucherer says he will be sad to see the collection leave. "Now the Afghan government has made a request to UNESCO and the Swiss government that these items should be brought back to Kabul to be on display in the Afghan national museum," he said. "It's also a political act to give back some parts of national identity, as identity is part of the peace and reconstruction of a country."

Bucherer is among many in Europe who have pioneered the cause for Afghan art and culture. Restoration specialists in Italy are working hard to train Afghans to salvage works of art that were damaged during the civil war and the Taliban rule – a critical period that attempted to eradicate artistic pieces that reflected the human form.

Several young men and women have enrolled at Rome’s Art Restoration Institute to learn restoration techniques for wall paintings and frescoes. The coursework will culminate in an extensive training session on a site in southern Italy, which will include work on stuccos supplied by the Afghan collections at Rome’s National Museum of Oriental Art.

Afghanistan is not far off in the restoration trend. In efforts to promote art and culture, a joint project between President Hamid Karzai and Britain’s Prince Charles will renovate Kabul’s historic Murad Khane neighborhood to make it an established arts community. Murad Khane, a neighborhood once praised for its richness in culture and elaborate buildings, was reduced to ruins in the decades following the Soviet invasion. Laborers have so far removed 350 trucks full of rubble, dropping the level of the street by almost two meters. The project, spearheaded by the author and former diplomat Rory Stewart and the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, will fund its efforts through Prince Charles’ School of Traditional Arts in London as well as from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The project is expected to contribute to the renovation of up to 55 homes, with some buildings used as artists' workshops and art galleries.

The project has solicited help from a wide array of professions, including woodworkers, engineers, calligraphers and pottery experts. The organizers see the project as a means of generating income for artists while simultaneously advancing Afghan culture. Residents of Murad Khane note that rebuilding the neighborhood can not only substantially improve the preservation of cultural heritage, but also boost tourism.

Like residents of Murad Khane, Afghanistan is anticipating a culture and arts revival that can improve the war-torn image the nation has borne for decades.



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