Afghan archeologist pleads for help to save treasures

Director of the Archeological Institute at the Academy of Sciences is on a mission

Published on 18 May 2012

Author(s): The Australian/Leigh Dayton

Type:  News

More than 2800 archaeological sites of significance need security guards for protection

UNABLE to save his country's precious cultural heritage from being destroyed, looted or lost to corruption, warfare and religious intolerance, Afghan archeologist Abdul Wasey Feroozi is on a mission to persuade the world to support efforts to retrieve, restore and protect the ancient treasures.

"If the government of Australia would kindly support us from the point of view of returning looted objects from the international market and for the training of the young generation in restoring cultural heritage, historical monuments, objects and excavations that would be a great help for us," Dr Feroozi said yesterday.

Dr Feroozi is director of the Archeological Institute at the Academy of Sciences in Kabul. Previously, he was director-general of the National Institute of Afghanistan Archeology and then director of the Preservation of Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan.

Dr Feroozi spoke to The Australian ahead of today's keynote address at the annual workshop of the Sydney University's Chinese Studies Centre. His call for a "different" form of support follows this month's announcement by Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith that the government will pay $100 million a year to help keep Afghanistan's security forces in action after Australian troops return from the war.

"More than 2800 archaeological sites of significance need security guards for protection," he said, adding that between 1992 and 1994 more than 70 per cent of the Kabul National Museum's artefacts were looted, and during the "dark ages" of the Taliban regime (1996-2001) officials not only destroyed the colossal images of the Buddha in Bamiyan, they profited from illegal excavations and looting.

Dr Feroozi's call was echoed yesterday by Sydney University archeologist Zahir Youssofzay, also a former director-general of the National Institute. "They need international help to protect the heritage," he said. "The government of Afghanistan is very weak and corrupted."

Dr Youssofzay said he would welcome government support for scientific and educational agreements such as the one between Sydney University and the Afghani Institute of Archeology to train archeologists and produce joint publications and conduct limited excavation "if the situation permits''.

Dr Youssofzay said the damaged and looted artefacts date from the "beginning of civilisation'', about 3000BC, to the Islamic period from about 600AD. "They looted it all.''

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