Friday 13 July 2012

National Museum of Afghanistan, UK Returns Stolen Items

During the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, more than 70% of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s collection was stolen and to date less than 1% of this has been recovered. Museum staff were able to save many of the key objects. Some of these have been included in a touring exhibition that is currently at Norway’s Museum of Natural History and Archaeology in Trondheim. The show was at the British Museum in 2011 and has also been to New York, Washington, Paris and Bonn. The National Museum was also hit by a rocket in 1993 and partially destroyed. It was rebuilt in 2004 with funding from Greece, the US and Unesco (there are now plans to build a new national museum at a cost of about $40m that will provide modern facilities and sufficient space for storage, display and conservation; the US has already pledged support). Meanwhile:
About 600 artefacts stolen from Afghanistan that have been seized in Britain are to be returned to Kabul next week. The transfer has been overseen by the British Museum, London, which has cared for the objects after UK customs officials and police confiscated them. Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, the chief curator of the National Museum of Afghanistan [...] says other countries such as Switzerland, US, Iran, Norway, Denmark and Germany have also returned looted objects to Afghanistan but he would like to see more items sent back. He is particularly keen for private collectors to return artefacts.  [...]
We recall the ignoble role of certain dugup dealers' associations in the US in 2005 to block the passage of legislation restricting trade in antiquities from Afghanistan. This was "HR 915, Cultural Conservation of the Crossroads of Civilization Act - To authorize the President to take certain actions to protect archaeological or ethnological materials of Afghanistan". We find opposition to these measures were the main reason the Ancient Coin Collectors' (sic) Guild was set up in the summer of 2004 and - to their great shame - one of its first actions, eight years ago today, was writing to a load of US lawmakers urging them not to apply this to coins.  The legislation did indeed fall by the wayside soon after and the US has not since attepted to apply any form of special protection for artefacts dugup in Afghanistan, which it would seem are still today among those flowing into US dealers' stockrooms and collections.

Museums Journal, 'British Museum helps national museum in Kabul', July 7, 2012.

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