It was a Black Day in the history of human civilization. When the forces of evil went beyond the definition of brutality and committed a crime not only against the people of Afghanistan, but the entire human civilization. Redefining evil with genocidal crimes, massacres, rape and persecution of religious minorities, the forces of evil even did not forgive culture and demolished whatever seemed out of the frame of their brutal brand of “Islam” and “Sharia”.
People say mass genocides were crimes against a population, but destroying the centuries old Buddhas is a crime against human civilization and history. Vulnerable to defend their heritage, people cried in Bamyan on this Black Day, when the Buddahs which have been watching over them from centuries, were destroyed by a group of barbaric fanatics who committed a shameful crime on the face of humanity.
On March 11, it was the 9th anniversary of the destruction of Buddhas of Bamyan. Very shameful that the concerned authorities didn’t arrange any function or program to remember a Black Day in the cultural history of Afghanistan. The Ministry of Information and Culture should have arranged some program to mark these dark pages of Afghanistan’s recent history. In the midst of drums of talks with Taliban, we should not compromise on the darkest era of our history. The Government quarters didn’t do anything, but the non-state organizations like UNESCO also doesn’t have any such program on March 11.
The largest Buddha statues in the world known as Bamyan Buddhas once stood on the cliffs of Bamyan—Roof of the world, heart of Asia and crossroad of the Western and Eastern ancient civilizations–which is the cultural capital of ancient civilizations and trade, the axis of Silk Road trade and a place where East met West. The beautiful valley lies amidst the mountainous highlands of Hindu Kush and Pamir. Center of the ancient Kushan Empire, Bamyan centuries ago used to be an intersection where Eastern and Western civilizations met and co-existed. Thus the land was the center of trade between East and West. Bamyan has rich history of civilizations and tragic memories of brutality. Beauty of this valley had not only impressed Marco Polo, but also Alexander the Great. Bamyan is at the altitude of 9200 (feet), making it roof of the world. Its geographical location highlights the mountainous valley as heart of Asia.
The largest Buddha Statues in the world were in Bamyan, which was the identity of this ancient historical place. Buddhas of Bamyan were destroyed by Taliban on March 11 2001. This day is remembered as a Black Day by the local population of Bamyan—the builders of Bamyan Buddhas, who once followed Buddhism before the rise of Islam in this region.
Despite international appeals, Taliban Shura led by one-eyed Mullah Omer ordered destruction of the Buddhas on 26 February 2001. When the news spread to the world, Kufi Anan, the then General Secretary of United Nations sent his special envoy in Kabul and Kandahar to persuade Taliban not to destroy the centuries’ old treasure. Head of UNESCO asked the Organization of Islamic Countries to pressurize Taliban. OIC members including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates—states that officially recognized the rule of Taliban—demanded for protection of Bamyan Buddhas, but all in vain. Director of the Metropolitan Museum New York asked Taliban leadership to sell the giant historic Buddhas to western museums. Large protest rallies were organized by the adherents of Buddhism in several cities of the world. But the forces of evil—Taliban—didn’t hear. On March 09 after offering Friday Prayers, they started planting bombs inside Buddha statues. Some local people were arrested, tied with bombs in their back and lowered from the top roof of the statues to plant explosive material in the holes of statues. Later all of them were killed or slaughtered. While talking to me in a recent visit of Bamyan, a survivor who had taken part in plantation of explosive materials said, “those who rejected to plant bombs in the Buddhas, were shot dead at the spot. At the beginning some persons rejected, when saw their fate, we trembled and reluctantly went up to dynamite….” He (anonymity on request) further said destroying completely after a week of explosions, Taliban slaughtered 50 cows in celebration.
Reconstruction of the Buddhas?
Now that nine years have passed from the Black Day, visitors who flock to Bamyan for the Buddhas, see the remaining ruins. In 2002, after the ouster of Taliban, UNESCO talked about reconstruction of the destroyed statues. Many countries including Japan and Thailand offered to build it. But during this decade, there was no effort to rebuild the Buddhas. In 2002, the then Transitional Government in Kabul announced plans of reconstruction. UNESCO started working on clearing the cave-dwellers, but later the Ministry of Information and Culture opposed reconstruction plans saying it would lose the historic value and Taliban brutality will be removed. Officials say the huge fund needed for reconstruction could be used for poverty in the province. Since then the plans are pending. Two years ago, hundreds of people in Bamyan had signed a petition demanding the Government to rebuild the Buddhas. Governor Sarabi, too, supports the idea. She says, at least one of the statues be built. It will bring international tourists to improve the economy of the province. A couple of months ago the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul said, “Bamyan Buddhas will never be built again.” But WHY?
If the Government is kind enough to remember Taliban brutality with keeping the ruins of Buddhas, this wish is accomplishable. Ruins of one of the destroyed Buddhas could be kept as a symbolic of Taliban barbarism, and one Buddha should be reconstructed. Many destroyed historic monuments have been reconstructed in recent past. Construction of ancient bridge in Bosnia by Turkish experts is one of them. The fact is that Government is not interested or wishful to let the reconstruction happen. When Buddhist countries like Thailand and others are ready to help reconstruction of the Buddhas, why should the Government oppose it? It makes not logic. Had it been to remember Taliban brutality, ruins of one statue is enough. The international community, particularly UNESCO should play active role in raising voice for the reconstruction of the largest Buddha statues of the world. Not only for the sake of the tourism promotion in Afghanistan or assistance to the downtrodden economy of the poorest province—Bamyan—but for the sake of the history of the centuries old Buddhas.