Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Germany Returns Looted Afghan Sculpture

This week, Germany returned an ancient pre-Islamic sculpture looted during Afghanistan's civil war. The 30 cm high limestone relief shows eight figures, and dates from the second century AD,. The figures are all facing left, and are believed to represent people regarding Buddha on his throne in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara (which extended across part of Afghanistan and Pakistan). The object was housed in
Afghanistan's National Museum before it was stolen. It was flown to Kabul earlier this week. The report says that "Afghanistan's embassy in Berlin has been investigating who owned the sculpture since it appeared in Munich a year ago" (surely that should be BEFORE it surfaced).
As warlords battled for control of Kabul in the early 1990s following the Soviet exit, fighters pillaged around 70 percent of the museum's antiquities, or around 70,000 pieces, selling the choicest artifacts on the black market.[...] Afghanistan's looted treasures have appeared across Europe, the United States and Japan. Kabul might see twenty ivories currently held in the British Museum return sometime this year, [Omara Khan] Massoudi [the director of Afghanistan's National Museum] said. An agreement with UNESCO [...] and global police Interpol to recover stolen [items] is proving successful: he said over 8,000 artifacts have returned since 2007, including a fifth century wooden Buddha. Tens of thousands are still missing however.
Sadly the looting is still going on even after the US-led invasion:
endemic corruption, poverty and insecurity after thirty years of conflict mean even new discoveries do not reach cultural authorities. Ancient Jewish scrolls, which Massoudi confirmed were recently smuggled out, are currently being kept by private dealers in London. Most of those that have been recovered and are in Afghanistan are under lock and key until larger spaces are built with the top-notch security systems museums in the West have. Ten million dollars have been committed, half from the United States, for a new museum with such features and climate control, to be built next door to the old one over the next three to four years.
Photo: Reuters (Omar Sobhani)

Amie Ferris-Rotman, 'Germany returns two millennia old Afghan sculpture', Reuters - Jan 31, 2012

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