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Scholars call for protection of Afghan cultural relics

By WANG KAIHAO | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-11-24 11:41
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Twenty-two museum directors and distinguished scholars from around the world issued a proposal on Tuesday for global cooperation to ensure the protection of cultural heritage in Afghanistan.

The proposal was initiated by Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum in Beijing.

"As the situation in Afghanistan has recently undergone major changes, the country's cultural heritage has once again drawn great attention among heritage experts across the world," the proposal said.

"We thus call on all parties in Afghanistan to strengthen the protection of cultural heritage. At the same time, we also urge the international academic community to keep a close watch on the state of the country's cultural heritage, and show concern and support for improving the working conditions, education and training rights, and other basic interests of staff at Afghan museums and heritage sites."

Afghanistan is home to two UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites: The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley and the Minaret of Jam.

"For over two millennia, these sites have witnessed the development of Afghan civilization and sustained economic and cultural exchanges along the Silk Road," the proposal said. "Their legacy belongs not only to the Afghan people, but also to humanity as a whole."

The proposal was released through the English and Chinese websites of the Palace Museum. It was also endorsed by Su Bomin, director of the Dunhuang Academy in Gansu province; Wang Chunfa, director of the National Museum of China; directors of the Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hunan museums; and scholars from Peking University.

Overseas signatories came from the International Council of Museums and key institutions in seven countries.

They included Bae Kidong, chairman of the ICOM Regional Alliance of Asia-Pacific Countries; Stephan Berg, director of the Bonn Museum of Modern Art in Germany; Antony Long, acting vice-chancellor of Durham University in the United Kingdom; Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and Jebrael Nokandeh, director of the National Museum of Iran.

Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in Paris.

A statement issued by the Palace Museum on Tuesday said that while fully respecting the sovereignty of the states on whose territory the heritage is situated, the parties to the convention recognize that their protection is the duty of the international community.

Chinese people were able to observe and appreciate the ancient civilization of Afghanistan in March 2017, when Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, an exhibition featuring artifacts from the Bactrian Hoard collection, toured the country. That collection of Afghan national treasures ranged from the third century BC to the first century AD, and was also a witness to the efforts to rescue them from the ravages of war and destruction.

The exhibition traveled to nine venues across China in the next three years, including the Palace Museum, the Dunhuang Academy, the Chengdu Museum in Sichuan province and the Hong Kong Museum of History, attracting over 1 million visitors.

In February last year, all the treasures were safely shipped back to Afghanistan and placed in proper care.

The Palace Museum's statement said that in light of recent changes: "This joint proposal aims at better protecting the country's cultural heritage, strengthening the world's focus on its protection and research, and encouraging more cooperation between Afghanistan and other countries. In this way we wish to ensure these priceless bequests of human civilization endure forever."

Last month, representatives of 27 countries jointly announced the Recommendations for the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation at an online conference hosted in Beijing, echoing the theme of the initiative, which was proposed by China in 2019.

"The value and spirit of Asian civilizations are invaluable properties left by our ancestors," the recommendations said. "Asian countries should uphold their responsibilities, share their resources, and work together to safeguard and transmit such cultural heritage properties for the benefit of generations to come."

Afghanistan has been an active participant in the conservation initiative. As recently as May, an advanced workshop for Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani professionals specializing in the preservation of stone monuments was held online.

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