Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, April 24th, 2017

Destruction of the Statues of Buddha, or Cultural Terror

Destruction of the Statues of Buddha, or Cultural Terror

BAMYAN - Whenever Khan Ali remembers that day, he trembles from head to toe and sighs from the core of his heart. He says: “It got wasted! It really got wasted… A destruction that can never be repaired. These were the symbols of artistic works of human history.”
16 years has passed from the horrendous explosion that occurred before the eyes of thousands of shocked people, but whenever he looks at the empty frames of Buddha statues, the sound of the explosion echoes in his ears and the scene of destruction of the two statues of Buddha reincarnates in his eyes.
Khan Ali says, “18th of Hooth, is a tragic day in the history of Bamyan,” After a pause he continues, “it was in this month that two unforgettable tragedies occurred; one was the martyrdom of Abdul Ali Mazari, the political leader of Hazaras, in Char Asyab area of Kabul and the other, the destruction of the statues of Bamyan.
He is 74, and has spent most of his life in Bamyan and he witnessed the smoke that rose as a result of the demolition of two statues.” After a bitter smile that shapes on his lips he adds, “look! Both of them became a sacrifice to a traditional and extremist ideology; an ideology that was born outside the borders of the country, from a completely different mindset and culture.”
On the 7th of Hooth 1379, the leadership Council of Islamic Scholars and the Supreme Court of Taliban, at the order of the leader of the group, ordered the destruction of all the cultural heritage that according to their interpretation was Non-Islamic; according to this Fatwa, both the statues in Bamyan had to be destroyed.
Khan Ali says, “Following the order of destruction of the statues of Bhudda, hundreds of Talib warriors entered Bamyan. From their first steps in this province, they started chanting Allah-hu-Akbar and fired at the statues in order to gain oblation of heaven; but the local people were watching this scenes with chargin and were very worried because their history was being wiped out.”
He further adds, “The statues of Buddha always had cultural and historical value for the people of Bamyan, but Taliban believed that these statues are Idols and are worshipped, which is against the Islamic Law and must be destroyed.” When the order of destruction of the irreplaceable statues of Salsaal, 53 meterd and Shahmama, 37 metered, was issued, efforts at the international level was also started to prevent the Taliban from the destruction of these statues. Kofi Anan, the Secretary General of the United Nations Organization, sent his special representative to Qandahar and asked the Taliban leadership not to destroy the statues of Bamyan. Director General of UNESCO, Cultural and Educational Organization of United Nations, the President of New York Metropolitan Museum, and Organization of Islamic Conference, asked the Taliban to abandon this decision
Hundreds of thousands of fans of the statues of Buddha and followers of the Buddhist religion protested against this decision of the Taliban. However, none of these international pressure and efforts had any impact on the decision of Taliban, which was the destruction of the statues.
Khan Ali further adds, “At the time when international efforts were being made to dissuade the Taliban from destroying the statues, tanks, cannons and explosives from different provinces of the country were being transported to Bamyan for the destruction of historical sites of this province.”
For a while, Khan Ali stares at the historical city of Gholghola, Zahak and the caves of the Buddha era and then with a glance at the empty frames of the Buddhas of Bamyan, he continues as if he remembers something new, “Throughout history, whoever came here robbed, destroyed, and went away.”
According to Khan Ali, Taliban were not the first group who threatened the cultural heritage of Bamyan based on special aims, rather, the first time that the Islamic army conquered Bamyan, they took part in destruction. Similarly, Changez Khan in 1222, Orangzeb in 1689 and Abdur Rahman Khan in 1892, all took part in the destruction of these two statues and some other smaller ones.
Halima Rezai, one of Bamyan’s civil activists, who deals most of her time with books, adds after Khan Ali’s points, “These statues, which were carved about 1600 years ago at the heart of a mountain in the north of Tagab of Bamyan, had their bodies covered with green and red silk cloths and their ears and necks were decorated with precious jewels at the peak of their glory.”
She says, “The face of the statues were coated with gold. Their eyes were made from precious jewels in such a way that when a candle was lit at night, the eyes sparkled from far away. When Muslim Arabs took over Bamyan during the reign of Hajjaj Bin Yousuf, they took away lots of statues along with their jewelries as spoils. They shaved off the gold temple of ‘Bait Alzahb’ and the gold coating from the face of the statues of Buddha, from the forehead section downward.” Talking with much more emotion now Halima Rezai further says, “In the past, Bamyan was one of the important domains of influence of Buddhism. Here, was the intersectional point where east met west; hundreds of Buddhist monks were busy in worship, and education in the caves of this valley. Followers of the Buddhist religion, came here from the farthest points of earth and dropped precious jewels, countless coins and brocade cloths as a sacrifice.”
She is an educated girl and a drama writer. she continues, “The historical remains that have been obtained from this location, shows a mix of influence of Greek, Turkic, Persian, Chinese and Indian cultures, a mixture of culture which cannot be found anywhere else. Based on this fact, the destruction of the Buddha in this province, is the destruction of cultural heritage of the whole humankind.” Khan Ali steps into Halima Rezai’s words and breaks his silence with a hoarse sound, which seems as if something is stuck in his throat, “It was 18th of Hooth 1379 when the Taliban got in lines to offer the Friday prayer, opposite to the statues of Buddha. All the Talibs were armed with different kinds of weapons and fired at the statues of Buddha for three days and nights.”
He continues with chagrin, “Finally, at the dusk of 21st of Hooth, 1379, a horrendous blast, which even trembled the peaks of Kohi-Baba mountain and also the world, broke apart the strong and firm stature of Salsaal and Shahmama and fell on the ground and changed into a hill of dust before the perplexed eyes of hundreds of millions of people who were trying to prevent the destruction of these statues.”
Sajjad Mohseni, one of the elders of Bamyan who was watching the destruction of these statues from the side of Kohi-Baba mountain says, “After the complete destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, the Taliban celebrated the next day as an Eid and they sacrificed two or three cows in every province, but UNESCO called this act of Taliban as cultural terror.”
Sayed Mirza Hussain, being a Taliban captive at the time, was used for the destruction of the statue. He says, “After Buddha got destroyed, Taliban sacrificed nine cows before the ruins of Buddha and said, ‘we are Abraham, who destroyed the idols’ and they distributed the meats of the cows among their own men.”
Since the destruction of the statues by Taliban, the people and civil activists of Bamyan have constantly requested for the reconstruction of these statues. They say that in order to return Bamyan its old glory, the statues must be rebuilt. But Halima Rezai says, “The ruined statues are the symbols of ignorance and despotism, and therefore, they must remain as ruins.” She further adds, “If till yesterday, the two statues of Buddha represented the past civilization and ancient history of this country, from now on, the empty frames are memorials from the extremist religious rule.”
Official authorities of Bamyan says that the repair and reconstruction of these statues is a national and international project and the central government of Afghanistan and the international community must decide on it. He adds, “However, if these statues are repaired, Bamyan can once again become a site of attraction for the world, which will result in increased trips of tourists to this province.”
“There is no agreement on the reconstruction of the statues. Previously, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had said that they have no plan to rebuilt the statues; however, still both national and international archeologists are doing research on the ruins of the bodies of the statues.”
Sayed Ahmad Hasanpoor, acting director of Information and Culture of Bamyan, says, “in the 13th meeting of Archeological experts, which was held in Germany with the presence of UNSECO, the reconstruction of one of the ruined statues was talked about and it was agreed upon to rebuild the 47 metered statue, called Shahmama.”
Previously, Japanese experts had also expressed that one of the statues should be rebuilt. Meanwhile, it is said that 70% of the ruined statue must be present in order to rebuild it. Khan Ali believes that the government doesn’t want the statues to be reconstructed in order to appease the Taliban.
In order to prevent further damage to the ruined statues and their frames, a German institution has taken the responsibility of strengthening the demolished statues and its empty frames. The works of strengthening Shahmama has been complete, however, works on Salsaal, which had to start in the spring of 1394 has not started yet.
Khan Ali on the other hand is worried that improper construction around the demolished statues, has put the empty frames at risk. He says, “The works for strengthening the statues and their frames, which are in the process of demolition internally, are done with normal bricks, wire and clay.”
Along with other historical sites of Bamyan, the statues of Buddha, which at times was considered as one of the biggest stone statues standing in the world, for a long time remained as a main center of attraction for tourists in Afghanistan.