Showing posts with label Buddhas of Bamiyan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buddhas of Bamiyan. Show all posts

November 6, 2014

Editorial Essay: “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”

By Lynda Albertson

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” 

--attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche in a million places, but as the experts will tell you, it's not true.

I open this blog post with this pseudo quote from Nietzsche because it makes both my point and captures my feelings when I open a newspaper or turn to the Web for updates on conflict antiquities. In the rush to publish about atrocities to cultural heritage during war, some media outlets, possibly too eager to report the news first, do not take the time to verify facts, defaulting to simplistic headlines. This may be born out of a need to assuage their readership in a highly competitive and financially stretched market. Journalists are often pressured to churn out reports too quickly. But it times of conflict, this can be a deadly mistake. We don't need sensationalism or propaganda.  We need truth in journalism.

Yesterday I came across CNN’s Style page's photomontage of what it called “The greatest buildings you'll never see: 19 priceless monuments lost in battle”.  This photo report can be found under the slightly misleading URL descriptor "precious-monuments-lost-in-middle-east-conflicts".

I selected this article not because it is any worse than any other article being published by other news organization but because it had so many short "facts" that the average Joe citizen might assume as truth.  

My problem with many of the images and their accompanying descriptive texts in this, and other similarly-styled cultural heritage news reports, is that they represent information that is not wholly accurate or worse, for the sake of brevity, leave out important key components -- details that with a little more patience on the part of the green-lighting editors could have easily changed this from a  sensationalistic read-and-move-on piece into one that gives the reader more knowledge. Many people have a desire to know what nations in conflict zones are up against when wars are fought where the world's cultural heritage is at risk.

If harried journalists would consult experts, or at least take the time to data-mine the Web for collaborating imagery, we might have more knowledge about what is and isn't happening. I shouldn't have to read a news article and ask myself "did this really happen?".  Maybe in the case of conflict antiquities and heritage issues during war, we all should be reminded that that is, in fact, exactly what we should be saying to ourselves.

With the help of many, here is a bit more comprehensive information on the 19 images reported in the CNN article.  Feel free to write to me via ARCA's Facebook feed or my Twitter account if any of you have corrections or additional information to report.  I am not an expert on the Middle East so if there's something that needs tightening up, let me know. 

Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

CNN:

"Once the largest mosque in the world, built in the 9th century on the Tigris River north of Baghdad. The mosque is famous for the Malwiya Tower, a 52-meter minaret with spiraling ramps for worshipers to climb. Among Iraq's most important sites, it even featured on banknotes. The site was bombed in 2005, in an insurgent attack on a NATO position, destroying the top of the minaret and surrounding walls."
The Malwiya Minaret is perhaps the most famous and intriguing piece of architecture in Iraq but it was not destroyed. The pinnacle of the minaret was damaged during the explosion which rained debris on the minaret's ramp but overall the minaret sustained limited damage.  What the article doesn’t mention is that US troops used the summit of the heritage site as a sniper's vantage post from September 2004 until March 2005, only vacating the monument when ordered to do so by Iraqi antiquities officials. Insurgents bombed the minaret one month later. Military forces have also rethought their policies on using high heritage structures for vantage points.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

CNN:

"The Buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan - The most spectacular legacy of Buddhism in the war-torn country, among the tallest standing Buddhas in the world -- the larger at 53 meters, the other 35 -- had survived over 1,500 years since being carved out of sandstone. The Taliban considered the monuments idolatrous and destroyed them with dynamite."

Bamyan? Bamian? or Bamiyan?  CNN's fact checkers chose to go with "Bamyan" as the spelling for the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan.   In terms of accuracy I think it may have been better for the news agencies to refer to the site by the name utilized by UNESCO when describing the cultural Landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley.  Also the Buddhas popularly referred to as the "Solsol" and the "Shahmama" aren't buildings as the opening headline for the photomontage describes.  They are in fact monuments so lets give this one a pass as the descriptive content is otherwise accurate.

The ancient city of Bosra, Syria

CNN:

"Continually inhabited for 2,500 years, and became the capital of the Romans' Arabian empire. The centerpiece is a magnificent Roman theater dating back to the second century that survived intact until the current conflict. Archaeologists have revealed the site is now severely damaged from mortar shelling."

While the town located in Southern Syria's Da’ara governorate itself has sustained significant war damage, including mortar impacts near the ancient Roman theater, the theater itself appears to be ok. Satellite imagery analyzed for an April 2014 report conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force, the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) showed that there are no visible signs of damage aside from an earthen ramp constructed over a staircase located at the theater's Eastern entrance.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo, Syria

CNN:

"A world heritage site originally built in 715 by the Umayyad dynasty, ranking it among the oldest mosques in the world. The epic structure evolved through successive eras, gaining its famous minaret in the late 11th century. This was reduced to rubble in the Syrian civil war in 2013, along with serious damage to the walls and courtyard, which historians have described as the worst ever damage to Syrian heritage."

By "this" we can assume CNN meant the minaret and not the entire site.  Images of the mosque's courtyard have been widely circulated in the press.  Heritage for Peace gives a breakdown of the reported damages as "Minaret destroyed, al-Warka library burned, damage to the shrine of Zachariah, extensive damage to courtyard and some galleries".   While significant, I wouldn't say that one site realistically reflects the worse damage to Syrian heritage. 

Norias of Hama, Syria

CNN:


"These 20-meter wide water wheels were first documented in the 5th century, representing an ingenious early irrigation system. Seventeen of the wooden norias (a machine for lifting water into an aqueduct) survived to present day and became Hama's primary tourist attraction, noted for their groaning sounds as they turned. Heritage experts documented several wheels being burned by fighters in 2014."

Information from Hama indicates that one of the 17 Norias has been damaged, the Noria-Ga’bariyya, which had been previously rehabilitated in 2010 by Hama’s Archeological Authority.  According to the DGAM the restored modern wood wheel was heavily damaged at the top, but the original stone base remains intact. The full report is available in English here, and more completely in Arabic here.

Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

CNN:

"The fortress spans at least four millennia, from the days of Alexander the Great, through Roman, Mongol, and Ottoman rule. The site has barely changed since the 16th century and is one of Syria's most popular World Heritage sites. The citadel has been used as an army base in recent fighting and several of its historic buildings have been destroyed."
 
While a missile attack on August 11, 2012 damaged the citadel’s massive gate and destroyed the iron doors I found no collaborating information that its historic buildings inside -- the Ayyubid palace (built in 1230 and destroyed by the Mongols in 1400), two mosques, a hammam and a rebuilt Mamluk -- have suffered damages.

However, according to the AAAS report, significant damage has occurred south of Aleppo's citadel, the location of many historical government buildings. Structures near the citadel such as the city's Khusriwiye Mosque were demolished and the Grand Serail - the former seat of the Aleppo governor -- was heavily damaged.  In addition, the dome of the 15th Century Hammam Yalbougha an-Nasry was destroyed.

Aleppo Souk, Syria

CNN:

"The covered markets in the Old City are a famous trade center for the region's finest produce, with dedicated sub-souks for fabrics, food, or accessories. The tunnels became the scene of fierce fighting and many of the oldest are now damaged beyond recognition, which Unesco has described as a tragedy."

Aleppo’s sprawling Souq al-Madina, as the souks of Old Aleppo are known collectively, is purported to be the largest covered souq in the world.  It also hasn't gotten a break in this conflict. 


Thanks to a German posting in Wikipedia I have included their photo of a model that shows how substantial the Aleppo souq  which may help explain why knowing the exact number of losses is hard to estimate from the safe confines of our respective computers.  The labyrinthine souks stretches for eight kilometers an the number of quoted shops it held varies enormously and I have seen  numbers as high as 1550.  If anyone has any concrete data, I am happy to list it here as well as evidence of how much of the combined souqs have been damaged.


Deir Ez-zor bridge, Syria

CNN:

“This French-built suspension bridge was a popular pedestrian crossing and vantage point for its views of the Euphrates River. It became a key supply line in a battle for the city, and collapsed under shelling. Deir Ez-zor's Siyasiyeh Bridge was also destroyed.”

Again, not a building but it could be considered a monument.  Facts check out. In September 2014 Syria's state-run television said government forces were responsible for blowing up the al-Siyasiyeh Bridge over the Euphrates river.

Nimrud, Iraq

CNN

“The ancient Assyrian city around Nineveh Province, Iraq was home to countless treasures of the empire, including statues, monuments and jewels. Following the 2003 invasion the site has been devastated by looting, with many of the stolen pieces finding homes in museums abroad.”

To quote Dr. Donna Yates, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow's Trafficking Culture “Iraq's 'Nimrud Treasure', 613 pieces that made Tut's tomb, look like Walmart”, survived '03 looting in a bank vault.

While some objects originating from Nimrod (Kalhu) went missing from the Iraqi capital during the first conflict, we haven't much cultural heritage trafficking information from the actual zone itself. While the area is famous for depicting reliefs purported to show the first documented handshake in human history, recent clashes with ISIS in Nineveh left the Police Director of Nimrud and his son dead.

Despite media reports that looters have used chain saws to carve reliefs depicting scenes from daily life from the walls of the palace and selling pieces on the black market neither Paul Barford in his article "UNESCO on What is happening at Nimrud" or others seem to have come across photographic evidence to support those claims.  That’s not to say many important museums around the world don't have substantial collection pieces from Nimrud taken over a hundred years ago as well as pieces looted before the NATO invasion.  Science magazine also did some sleuthing reporting on the sale of trafficked Nineveh (Nimrud?) fragments in 2001.

Crac des Chevaliers, Syria

CNN

“The Crusader castle from the 11th century survived centuries of battles and natural disasters, becoming a World Heritage site in 2006 along with the adjacent castle of Qal'at Salah El-Din. The walls were severely damaged by regime airstrikes and artillery in 2013, and rebels took positions within it.”

Crac des Chevaliers castle, shows ”moderate structural damage" and the AAAS report describes  damage to a 6 meter gash in its southeast tower and three visible craters to the northern part of the castle.

Jonah's Tomb, Iraq

CNN

“It was entirely blown up by ISIS militants in 2014 as part of their campaign against perceived apostasy.”

This one is confirmed via  Dr. Sam Hardy’s detailed reporting on this the event as the confirmation of and destruction to the Shrine of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus were unfolding. If you are interested in conflict archaeology, I recommend following Hardy's academic website Conflict Antiquities.   If he posts something as fact, it's been checked and crossed checked.



In July 2014 Hardy reported that "it still was not clear how much damage has been done to Jonah’s Mound (Nebi Younis), the archaeological remains on top of which Jonah’s Tomb and the Mosque of Jonah were built." 

Khaled Ibn Walid Mosque, Syria

CNN

“The sacred mausoleum has been completely destroyed, and much of the interiors burned.”


Thanks to Heritage for Peace for pointing me to video footage of the mosque posted by the Association for the protection of Syrian archaeology. It shows that the Khaled Ibn Walid has been significantly damaged but doesn't reflect seem to reflect total destruction.

Northern Roman Necropolis, Palmyra


Palmyra, Syria

CNN

“It is feared that Palmyra has now been devastated by looting.”


How does "it is feared"  equate to the photo-montage's header of buildings or monuments lost in battle?  How about talking about the fact that the Northern Roman Necropolis in Palmyra has been damaged by road construction and the many earthen berms built to provide cover for opposing forces?

Armenian genocide museum, Syria

CNN

“The complex was destroyed by ISIS in 2014.”


Portions of the structure, although receiving damage remain.  A breakdown of the events leading to the damage can be found on the Conflict Antiquities website here.

Cyrene, Libya

CNN

“in the wake of Libya's revolution, vast tracts have been bulldozed including its unique necropolis complex.”

Many would argue that Libya isn’t in the Middle East but I will leave the politics of geography aside given Libya's ongoing conflict and cultural significance.  I have to say though that the photo chosen is misleadingly dramatic in terms of visuals even if the historic significance of the actual site damage can be seen here on the Archaeology News Network.   CNN would have done better to use The Art Newspaper's approach which specified that a mile-long section of the necropolis was flattened "in the hope of selling 500 sq. m parcels to real estate developers."


Museum of Islamic Art, Egypt

CNN

“Shortly after re-opening, a car bomb targeting a nearby police building caused catastrophic damage and forced the museum to close again.”

I wish news sites and even people like myself would try to avoid using unquantifiable terms like “catastrophic” or "significant" or "substantial" and simply list actual damages like UNESCO has in this report on the MIA’s hit.  It would give credit to the reader’s ability to discern for themselves what is or isn’t “catastrophic” though in this case, I agree.

Quaid e Azam residency, Pakistan

CNN

“The residency was attacked with rocket fire by a separatist group in 2013, and almost completely demolished. A new structure is being built on the site.”

The photomontage doesn’t make clear that the “new structure” is a rebuilt version of the Ziarat residency, restored to its original form under the directives of Pakistan's prime minister and the chief minister Balochistan at the cost of Rs 150 million.

Al- Omari Mosque, Gaza

CNN

“The walls, dome and roof were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes during the recent fighting in Gaza”

Some walls and roofing still standing as these photos attest though significant damage was sustained. 

'Old Beirut', Lebanon

CNN

“officials say just 400 of 1200 protected historic buildings remain.”


Thought this was a good image slide to conclude on.  By the time the Ta’if Accords were signed more than 150,000 Lebanese had died and 1 million individuals had been displaced or had fled the country.

In August 2014 the United Nations reported a chilling figure in the Syrian conflict listing 191,369 men, women and children reported as killed between March 2011 and the end of April 2014.  

Accuracy in journalism is important.  Monuments and cultural heritage and objects from our past are important, but people are the most important.

August 17, 2013

Llewelyn Morgan's "The Buddhas of Bamiyan" reviewed by Catherine Sezgin (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Llewelyn Morgan, University Lecturer in Classical Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, "had an interest in Afghanistan from a couple of sources," before he spent 14 months writing The Buddhas of Bamiyan. Morgan explained in an email:
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.
The Taliban's destruction of the giant stone Buddhas in Afghanistan captured international attention. Morgan concisely explains which group provided the Taliban with the ammunition to destroy the two colossal images of the cliff Buddhas (Al-Qa'ida) and why (to create international outrage six months before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001). Morgan assesses the loss of the archaeological monument ("Bamiyan was Afghanistan's Stonehenge, the most celebrated archaeological site in the country"):
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.
You may finish reading this book review by Catherine Sezgin in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney (available electronically and in print via subscription and Amazon.com). Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

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".


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.