Relics destroyed while Web looks on

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2001, 12:00am

The destruction of ancient Buddhist relics across troubled Afghanistan shocked and dismayed people around the world.

Even Pakistan, the nation generally believed to be pulling the strings of Afghanistan's dominant Taleban movement, has criticised the action.

Most of Afghanistan's historical legacy, from its palaces and places of worship to its artworks and museums, have been stolen or destroyed over the course of more than two decades of incessant warfare.

Even the towering Buddhas of Bamiyan, the focus of most world attention, have been badly damaged during the war.

Until last week, the most recent damage came from Taleban fighters who attempted to destroy the sculptures when they captured the valley two years ago.

The Taleban Web site (, does nothing to explain the destruction. Instead, the site restricts its comments to general reports on the ongoing war and anti-Afghan sanctions.

If you had considered sending protests against the campaign to the government, this is probably as close as you will get.

The country's official Web site (, is under construction.

Bamiyan is the centre of the Hazarajat region and home to the Hazara ethnic minority.

The local people, who claim to be the descendants of Genghis Khan, and the original builders of the statues, are not surprisingly against their destruction.

At, you can read about the remarkable and tragic history of the Hazara people and their continuing modern-day problems.

The site shares some content with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (Rawa). The Rawa offers a heartfelt, compelling but not always very balanced view of the destruction of Afghan antiquities ( Its site also offers some gory and disturbing videos of public executions and amputations.

The international movement to stop the destruction has been led by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Unesco has launched a Web site dedicated to the Afghan Cultural Heritage Crisis at

The site currently lists Unesco news and pleas to the Taleban, but offers no solutions. However, it does have a selection of free, high-quality photographs that it offers for news organisations to help get the point across.

The most vociferous group working for protection of Afghan antiquities is the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage (Spach).

The group was founded seven years ago by a group of refugee support workers in the country.

Spach is now working to persuade the Taleban to protect its monuments rather than destroy them.

The group's basic Web page is at

Jet van Krieken, one of the founders of the group, explains her work at the Asian arts Web site

The non-governmental International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) and International Council of Museums (Icom), both of which have previously campaigned against the smuggling of antiquities, have offered their support to Spach in its controversial plan to buy back smuggled antiquities.

At, Icomos and Icom offer their views.