Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Afghanistan. Show all posts

November 22, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014 - ,, No comments

Brent Huffman's documentary "Saving Mes Aynak" will screen six times at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam Nov. 22-30

Image from Mes Aynak (Brent Huffman)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Brent Huffman's documentary Saving Mes Aynak will premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam this week. Here's a list of the show times. A synopsis of the film:
“Like a mother watching her child dying right in front of her.” This is how archeologist Qadir Temori describes his feelings about the excavations that are threatened with destruction, all because a Chinese company will mine for copper directly on the archeological site Mes Aynak in Afghanistan. Temori is here with an international team of experts and volunteers, braving the threat of terrorism to dig up stunning ancient treasures. According to him, they are comparable in scale to a discovery such as Pompeii. It’s a race against the clock, because the mining company has given the archeologists a limited timeframe to excavate the 2,000-year-old Buddhist structures and relics. As in the case of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban around the turn of the millennium, valuable archeological objects are in jeopardy once again, although for different reasons this time. “Our history and heritage will vanish along with the money,” Temori sighs, indicating that the country will see little of the huge sums paid by the Chinese company to Afghan government officials for the mining rights. But there is hope: a protest has been registered with UNESCO and the Chinese company has put its copper mining activities on hold, at least for the time being. Saving Mes Aynak shows the dedication of the archeologists and the vulnerability of their discoveries, captured here in all their delicate splendor. - See more at:
And here's the link to the segment on the November 19 PBS Newshour by Frank Carlson, "In 'Saving Mes Aynak,' a real-life Indiana Jones fights to protect Afghanistan's Buddhist heritage".

Here are previous posts on the ARCA blog regarding Mes Aynak:

In this profile of Dr. Laura Rush, it is noted that the U.S. Military Army Corp of Engineers allocated one million dollars to support artifact preservation in Mes Aynak.

"Mes Aynak's archaeological wealth from the Bronze Age to ancient Buddhists threatened by excavation of world's second largest copper deposit" September 11, 2012

"Documentarian Brent Huffman Warns of Dangerous Precedent Being Set in Afghanistan if Mes Aynak is destroyed in order to mine copper" September 13, 2012

"Mes Aynak Archaeologists Given More Time to Remove Relics and Artifacts" January 7, 2013

"The Buddhas of Mes Aynak: Kickstart Funds Used to Purchase Computers and Cameras for Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul" April 14, 2013

"American Institute for Roman Culture to Host Third Annual UNLISTED Conference on Archaeological Cultural Heritage" April 15, 2013

"Brent E. Huffman Presenting Special Advanced Screening of "Saving Mes Aynak" at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York on Dec. 18" December 15, 2013

"Fair Observer's Will Calhoun publishes two-part interview with documentarian Brent H. Huffman on "The Race to Save Mes Aynak" (February 3, 2014)

April 14, 2013

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak: Kickstart Funds Used to Purchase Computers and Cameras for Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul

New computer at Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul
 (Photo via The Buddhas of Aynak on Facebook)
Documentarian Brent E. Huffman raised $35,200 on Kickstart for The Buddhas of Mes Aynak. On Friday he announced on Facebook (The Buddhas of Aynak) that new computers and cameras have been purchased from 10% of those Kickstart funds for the Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul.

"Now the Afghan archaeologists can accurately record record their findings at the Buddhist city at Mes Aynak and other archaeology sites in Afghanistan," Huffman wrote.

Brent Huffman is an assistant professor at the Medil School of Journalism at Northwest University.

German Camera Productions has finished the documentary on the Buddhist monastery ruins sitting on top of a larger copper mine contracted to a Chinese company for extraction. (See previous ARCA blog posts here: archaeological wealth threatened; dangerous precedent; and archeologist's deadline in Mes Aynak extended.

Mary Ellen Gabriel reported for the University of Wisconsin-Madison News ("Archaeologists on front lines of protecting ancient culture in turbulent regions") that archaeologists may only have until June to work at Mes Aynak unless something can be worked out once the excavation begins.
The China Metallurgical Group said in June it will close the site to archaeologists and begin preparing the area to make way for a massive copper mine that will bring in an estimated $100 billion in revenue, of which $3 billion will be paid to the Afghan government. Archaeologists fear that everything will be destroyed, including artifacts from undiscovered levels beneath the Buddhist monuments that may date back to 3000 B.C., during the Bronze Age. 
Though the mine will go forward no matter what, there is still a chance — a small chance — that the excavation site could exist alongside it.
University of Wisconsin-Madison's professor of anthropology J. Mark Kenoyer is working to rally support to preserve the site [again quoting from Ms. Gabriel's article].

“Miracles can happen,” says Kenoyer, which is one reason he agreed to travel for the first time to the heart of Taliban country to help make a dramatic case for preserving this vital piece of global heritage. 

Around the world, archaeological sites are threatened by war, environmental degradation, mining, dam-building, and even mass tourism. Rebellions in Libya, Syria and Mali have endangered not only the lives of millions of people, but thousands of years of human history. 

Archaeologists and anthro-pologists play an increasingly vital role in communicating not only the importance of what will be lost, but the potential benefits to tourism and culture if it can be saved. In the digital age, the impact of a well-crafted story, or petition, or documentary can resonate much further than it might have 15 years ago.

January 8, 2013

Mes Aynak Archaeologists Given More Time to Remove Relics and Artifacts

Documentarian Brent E. Huffman has announced on his Kickstarter page, The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, that archaeologists have six to nine more months to remove relics and artifacts from the ancient monastery in Afghanistan before the site is transformed into the world's second largest copper mine.

The remains of Mes Aynak of more than 300 Buddha statues and stupas were scheduled to be destroyed at the end of 2012 (here's an ARCA interview with Mr. Huffman last September on the site's endangerment and background on archaeologists' efforts to protect the site).

Here's a link to a 12/12/12 interview on PBS with Huffman.  And here's a link to an Opinion article by freelance journalist Andrew Lawler in The New York Times "Chinese-Led Copper Mining Threatens Afghan Buddhist Monasteries" that notes Buddhism came to China from Middle Asia where it thrived from the 3rd to the 9th centuries.

November 9, 2012

UCLA & UC Irvine: Two-day program in Southern California showcases international research on Afghanistan's archaeology and history

Oxford Classics lecturer Llewelyn Morgan, and author of The Buddhas of Bamiyan, spoke yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles at the first of a two-day program at UCLA and UC Irvine, "Beyond the Bamiyan Buddhas: Archaeology and History in the Modern and Ancient Persianate World".

Here's a link to the Thursday program at Bunch Hall in Westwood and here's another link to the program in Orange County today.  You will notice that the program uses the image of the Buddhas on a postage stamp printed in London for "Postes Afghanistan" (an Afghan banknote in 1939 showed a panoramic image of the Buddhas of Bamiyan).

Dr. Morgan, interviewed here on the blog last summer, was the keynote lecturer with "Oxus: Bamiyan, Afghanistan and the World", highlighting visitors to Bamiyan in the 19th century who saw the importance of Afghanistan's history as that of a path once taken by Alexander the Great.  For example, Lieutenant Vincent Eyre who along with his wife and son were hostages in Afghanistan for nine months after a British retreat during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1842.  Eyre noted in his journal that on a direct road to Cabul he had "Alexander the Great's column in view nearly the whole way" which he described as "one of the ancient relics of antiquity in the East" (The Military Operations at Cabul).  The 15-foot marble pillar was destroyed in 1998.

Tomorrow's meeting in Irvine will again include Dr. Morgan ("Hindu Kush: Boundary and Point of Encounter") along with Frederick Hiebert of the National Geographic Society; Phillipe Marquise, Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA),  Kabul (""2002-2012 Ten Years of Archaeological Activities in Afghanistan: A Travel through Cultures")Touraj Daryaee, UC Irvine, "King Huvishka, Yima and the Bird: Observations on a Paradisaic State"; Jennifer Rose, Claremont Graduate University, "Above the Bamiyan Buddhas: Mithra Rides in Judgment"; and Alka Patel, UC Irvine, "Afghanistan's Palimpsest Landscape: Buddhism and Islam in Material Culture".

September 13, 2012

Documentarian Brent Huffman Warns of Dangerous Precedent Being Set in Afghanistan if Mes Aynak is destroyed in order to mine copper

Brent Huffman filming one of the temples
set for destruction (Frank Petrella) 
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman will return to Mes Aynak this December for what some archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ of the ancient site which will be cratered to extract copper (valued at over 100 billion dollars) underground, potentially setting a dangerous precedent for other ancient sites on top of gold, copper, oil and coal mines in Afghanistan.

“My documentary finishes in December which feels like the definitive end to the site,” Huffman said. “I started out with the goal of capturing what is there and to record the difficult process of salvaging objects. But I have come to hope that maybe I can help raise awareness to actually save Mes Aynak, or at least postpone its destruction.”

Huffman and German Camera Productions initially set out to record the Buddhist monasteries and stupas in “the red zone” of this ancient city before a Chinese state-owned company, China Mettalurgical  Group Corporation, (MCC) begins work on a 30-year lease (for which they paid $3 billion) to extract copper by demolishing the entire mountain range.

Abdul Qadeer Temore, lead Afghan archaeologist, working
on the large standing Buddhas. (Brent Huffman)
“My fear is that Mes Aynak will be a precedent and that every site with gold, copper, oil or iron underneath will also be dealt with by this same standard. This is what happens to cultural heritage. This Bronze Age site will be gone when the mountain range is destroyed and all the Afghans will be left with is a toxic crater that will pollute the river and the environment. The future of Afghanistan will be a rush job of leaving polluted craters that will destroy the environment and the cultural heritage.”

The December deadline to end rescue archaeological efforts is pretty firm, according to Mr. Huffman’s discussions with the Afghan Ministry of Culture and the U. S. Embassy. “But the big question is are the Chinese ready to start mining?”

The Mes Anyak archaeological site was rediscovered in the 1960s. Researchers now believe the site not only provides artifacts from the 1st through the 5th centuries but also going back to the Bronze Age. The 400,000 square meter site was never fully excavated or protected from looting during the decades of almost continuous fighting in Afghanistan.

A head sculpted in the Gandhara style. (Brent Huffman)
“Archaeologists are frantically performing rescue archaeology which is pretty destructive. Like looting, much of the context gets lost as archaeologists rush to salvage moveable objects,” Huffman said, explaining that DAFA, the French archaeological delegation, and Afghan archaeologists have worked intermittently over the past two years through harsh weather and dangerous war-zone conditions at this former Al Qaeda training camp.

“My understanding is that archaeologists were given three years to complete a project that should take up to 30 years,” Huffman said. “The area is so dangerous. Last summer a worker uncovered a land mind which blew up in his face.”

“This is an important project to a small group of Afghan archaeologists who have worked at the site for the past two years,” Huffman said. “International archaeologists have visited the site in an advisory capacity but the accessibility has been limited by ongoing military conflict.”

Local people from Logar province have been involved in the digging and the unearthing structures, according to Huffman.

Afghan archaeologists work with crude tools and often protection of the artifacts is limited to coverings by plastic tarps and wooden crates.

“Afghanistan is the Wild West with so much corruption,” Huffman said. “What I don’t like about the argument of mining ‘responsibly’ and ‘preserving’ cultural sites is that in the end it won’t be good for Afghanistan. The money will be lost in corruption, the high-level jobs will go to the Chinese, and the locals will get the low paid slave labor jobs. Plus, the toxins left over from mining will be in the ground permanently. Advocates for Mes Aynak have tried to get cooperation between the mining and cultural preservation but it doesn’t seem that anyone involved sees any value in the Mes Aynak site.” 

A Buddhist stupa from Mes Aynak (Huffman)
“The US Military will be pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 which is not good,” Huffman said. “The World Bank has put in a lot of money to support the mining yet there’s a shortage of funds to support the archaeological work. For example, the Czech Republic promised $5,000 to the Afghan team for computers and digital cameras but I was told that the money was stopped from coming through.”

Huffman plans to return to Mes Aynak in December. “In October there will be some 3-D reconstruction work and I will send someone to film that if I can’t go. I will be there in December for what the archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ and I hope we can stop it from happening. There is something so disrespectful about blowing up the site. It’s troubling to have no reverence for the past as if someone is looting your grandparents’ cemetery.”

“In Mes Aynak, the silence gives me a sense of connection to the past,” Huffman said. “My mind floods with what life was like in this vibrant city. Recklessly destroying it is like erasing history.”

“The resilience of this site amazes me,” Huffman said. “It has been through so much as a major hub on the Silk Road. The murals and statues are so fragile and yet they have survived harsh winters, floods and snow and fighting amidst land mines and rocket attacks. Yet Mes Aynak still manages to survive and pull people in who fall in love with it and want to save it.”

“Most Afghans don’t know that this is happening because there’s been no coverage in the local media,” Huffman said. “Americans think of Afghanistan is terrorists or victims or terrorism but it’s not that – Afghans are warm, friendly and open-minded people. The Buddhist sites are a testimony to Afghanistan’s past. The Taliban are an external force that destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and now the Chinese mining company will do the same thing at Mes Aynak. Afghans need someone like UNESCO to push back against these money deals that don’t care about cultural heritage, but this is not happening today.”

Here's a link to the petition to President Hamid Karzai to prevent the destruction of the archaeological site Mes Aynak and a relevant Facebook page, The Buddhas of Aynak.

Here's a link to the article Huffman wrote for the Asia Society on this subject.

September 11, 2012

Mes Aynak's archaeological wealth from the Bronze Age to ancient Buddhists threatened by excavation of world's second largest copper deposit

An Afghan archaeologist examines
 a Buddha in Mes Aynak (Penn Museum)
by Catherine Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor

What are Buddhas doing in Islamic Afghanistan?

In addition to the gigantic Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, another Buddhist site, Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan is being threatened by the country's desire to improve its economy by extracting natural resources.

Archaeologist believe Afghanistan may have been farmed by humans for as long as 50,000 years. Today's war-torn Afghanistan, with commercial centers and an art culture dating back to the Bronze Age, was controlled by numerous empires and dynasties -- Aryans and the Medes, Achaemenid invasion and Zoroastrianism, Greco-Bactrian rule, Maurya Empire, Sassanid Empire, and the Shahi dynasty. Darius the Great marched his Persian army into the region in 500 BC, almost two centuries before Alexander the Great defeated Darius III. The inhabitants of the area traditionally practiced Hinduism then Buddhism when it became part of the Kushan Empire in the first century.

Located 18 miles south of Kabul, the ancient site of Mess Aynak was rediscovered in the mid-20th century. Now archaeologists have less than four months to extract artifacts from Mes Aynak before a Chinese company begins mining the world's second largest copper deposit.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH International) explains in a video the cultural importance of the monasteries and fortifications of Mess Aynak and the other pottery and jewelry found at this 5,000 site. The organization asks that responsible mining methods be used to help preserve the most important archaeological sites.

Here in a CNN video, documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman also shows the archaeological digs at Mes Aynak which will be closed in December. According to Mr. Huffman, it would take 30-35 years to properly excavate this site.

A petition to President Hamid Karzai requests the preservation of the ancient site of Mes Aynak. Here's a link to the petition.

Another petition sponsored by the Association for Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA) with more than 13,000 signatures asks UNESCO to include Mess Aynak, Afghanistan, on the Endangered Sites and the World Heritage List.

Afghanistan ratified UNESCO's 1970 Convention in 1979.  Two cultural sites are listed on the World Heritage List: Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (2003) and Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (2002).

Here's a link to the Penn Museum blog with a post about Mess Aynak.

August 30, 2012

Violence escalates in Bamiyan, killing 5 New Zealand soldiers in the last month, and threatening an ancient culture and people as troops plan to withdraw from Afghanistan

Last month on the ARCA blog we interviewed Oxford's Llewelyn Morgan, author of the book, The Buddhas of Bamiyan (published in the United States by Harvard University Press). Last week at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, I was fortunate to find a copy of this compact account of the history of how Buddhist statues survived for more than 1,000 years in an Islamic country. Today, Laurie King for the Los Angeles Times, reports escalating violence, including the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers in the last month, in the province of Bamiyan. (You can view the moving video of the Maori funeral Haka farewell dance at the funeral of three of the soldiers last week). Formerly considered a stable region, Afghan police died in bombing attacks in July, and last year the Taliban kidnapped and beheaded Jawad Zehak, Bamiyan's provincial leader. The two gigantic Buddhas, which overlooked a valley of commerce for centuries, survived Ghengis Khan and others until destroyed by the Taliban in the spring of 2001. Additional information about the history of the area and the archaeological importance of what remains can be seen on UNESCO's website on the Bamiyan valley; through the website of the Sacred Land Film Project; and through the website of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology.

August 6, 2012

Classics Scholar Llewelyn Morgan and the “Buddhas of Bamiyan”: For more than 1,200 years a Buddhist icon reigned over an Islamic Trading Post

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

One of our ARCA subscribers alerted me to a book published this year by Profile Books (UK) and Harvard which tells of the long history of the gigantic Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban’s anti-artillery weapons in Afghanistan in 2001. My only knowledge of these objects is the furor created on international news of the videotape that showed the destruction of these cliff icons. YouTube has a video, “Afghanistan Taliban Muslims destroying Bamiyan Buddha Statues”, which supposedly interweaves the religious justification for this act of iconoclasm. But the destruction of the statues is not the point of Llewelyn Morgan’s book, which focuses on ‘their remarkably long lives’ (See "The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan - review" by Samantha Subramanian in The Guardian, May 18, 2012).

Via Skype and email, Llewelyn Morgan, a lecturer in Classics at Oxford University, discussed his book, which tells of the survival of these symbols of Buddhism alongside one of the major trading routes of Afghanistan, a limb of the famous “Silk Road”, for more than 12 centuries. His book is based on
the recorded impressions of travelers such as Xuanzang, journeying through Bamiyan en route elsewhere…. Writings of surveyors, soldiers and antiquarians of the Raj … texts by Muslim travelers allow Morgan to parse the surprising malleability, over the ages, of Muslim attitudes towards this Buddhist iconography. [The Guardian, Subramanian]
Buddhism arrived in the Bamiyan valley in the 1st or 2nd century AD.

A German visitor in the 1950s photographed
 another tourist's car at the foot of the Buddha.
Photo Courtesy of Edmund Mlzl.
ARCA blog: How long did it take you to write this book? And what drew you to this subject?
Dr. Morgan: It took me from starting research to submitting final proofs about 14 months. I had an interest in Afghanistan from a couple of sources. Like a lot of Classicists I was fascinated by the legacy of Alexander the Great and the Greek culture that persisted in Central Asia for centuries after him. Years ago, I was staying at my grandmother’s house (after her death), and was sifting through the antiques and knick-knacks she obsessively collected. I found a samovar and discovered that it was from Kandahar in 1881 during the Second Afghan War. Later I made friends with someone who was in charge of clearing mines in Afghanistan and he persuaded me to celebrate my 40th birthday by visiting the country.
ARCA Blog: What are your personal feelings after studying the history of these statues?
Dr. Morgan: It remains a terrible tragedy that they were destroyed. What I hadn’t realized before doing the research is what an immensely rich history that they had and what very significant monuments they had been for a variety of cultures. They were a wonder for three separate cultures, the Buddhists that created them, the Islamic peoples who followed, and then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, for the Western world. The 19th Century, when British and European travelers and spies rediscovered the statues, is a particularly fascinating period of history. The best way to compensate for an artistic crime is to fill in the proper meaning of these monuments.
ARCA Blog: Is this like the story of a murder victim?
Dr. Morgan: Indeed. Parallel to a murder victim. Rather like the Buddhas, most victims are anonymous until they are murdered. These Buddhas were very celebrated in the western world in the 1830s/1840s because so many people were writing about them. But their celebrity waxed and waned. In 2001 nobody had heard about them, their name recognition was restricted. Yet when I started talking about these statues, many people in their 50s and 60s who had visited as hippie travelers in Afghanistan brought me their photographs. The Buddhas of Bamiyan are now famous because they have been destroyed, and because of the circumstances in which they were destroyed, because their destruction was followed by the more serious events of 9/11. 
Key to the story of the Buddhas is that there were on this major route between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, not the only route through the mountains of the Hindu Kush, but one favoured for its comparative easiness. Traders, missionaries and armies moved through there. For the British in 19th century, and in this they followed armies going back centuries, Bamiyan was a critical strategic military location, occupied by them in 1839/40 (a bulwark against the threat they believed was posed by the Russians). 
The strategic location of Bamiyan and its position on the trade routes, all help to explain what made it a thriving Buddhist centre in the first place. Buddhism is a religion with very strong commercial instincts. Buddhist monasteries were banks and commercial operations as well as straightforwardly religious institutions. The gigantic Buddhas advertised the piety of this place to visitors, but also blazoned its wealth and power. The Buddhists of Bamiyan would have seen no contradiction in that, I don’t think. Buddhists and Muslims coexisted for a period at Bamiyan, we believe. But by 900 AD, there are no longer any Buddhists around. For 1100 years it has been a strictly Islamic community that surrounds it. But the statues had become an integral part of those Muslims’ home environment. The Muslims of Bamiyan are predominately Shiite, and the statues were incorporated into the Shiite mythology of the area, for example believed to be images of the last pagan king of Bamiyan and his wife, converted to Islam by Hazrat-I Ali, a kind of Islamic St George.