Raising Awareness of Afghanistan Cultural Heritage

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© UNESCO

On November 24, Masanori Nagaoka, Head of Culture Unit at the UNESCO Office in Afghanistan, gave a key presentation at the National Museum, during a series of workshops on ‘’Awareness of Afghan Cultural Heritage’’ organized by the National Museum of Afghanistan and the Ministry of Information and Culture. The workshop brought together more than 150 participants including university students and school children who had been invited along to hear a selection of national and international experts talk on a wide range of contemporary heritage issues.

With an opening speech given by the Director of the National Museum, Dr. Omar Khan Masoudi, the aims of the workshops were to create and foster increased awareness in the Afghan community, specifically among the younger generation, of the nature of their heritage, the role of the museum sector in protecting their tangible and intangible cultural resources, and to provide an introduction to the issues associated with the problems of illegal excavation of archaeological sites and cross-border illicit trafficking of historic artefacts.

Mr. Nagaoka spoke on the ‘’The Protection and Return of Cultural Property: National Experience, Cooperation at National and International Level’’, looking at aspects of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. Afghanistan joined both Conventions in 2005. In the Asia Pacific region the UNIDROIT Convention has to date only been ratified by 4 countries; Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran and Pakistan.

With a view to explaining a complex subject dealing with these two international Conventions, Mr. Nagaoka invited school children, museum staff and other attendees to take part in a fictitious scenario relating to the theft of a Nuristani object from the museum, its subsequent transportation to Europe, its sale to an art dealer and eventual acquisition by a museum. The museum then repatriating the object to Afghanistan. The scenario effectively and simply explained the primary elements of complicated yet important Conventions, and highlighted that these Conventions promote an international dialogue concerning cultural property and provide a framework for the protection and recovery of cultural objects. Mr. Nagaoka closed with a short speech on the importance of individuals recognising that they have a joint responsibility, together with the authorities, to be aware of and protect their national heritage.

Other presentations and speeches were given by Nancy Hatch-Dupree, (Director of the Afghan Centre at Kabul University), Professor Nazar Azizi, (Director of Kushan Studies at the Academy of Sciences), Mr. Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento (Directeur de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan, DAFA) and Noor Agha Noor (Head of Ethnography at the National Museum).

The Workshops represent an ongoing series of events at the National Museum sponsored by UNESCO and a number of foreign governments, specifically looking to educate Afghan heritage professionals, university students and school children.