Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Afghan gold: How this country's heritage was saved

A remarkable tale of human ingenuity and bravery lies behind an exhibition of treasures from Afghanistan that opens at the British Museum this week.

In 17 many years of war after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal, and 5 many years of Taliban rule, the majority of the Afghan national museum's riches have been looted and some have been deliberately destroyed.

However the most important objects survived, in a vault deep beneath the presidential palace, thanks to 5 men - amongst them museum director Omar Khan Massoudi.

"He stored his nerve through the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan and displayed tremendous courage in not submitting to their demands and threats to reveal its place," says British Afghan specialist and member of parliament Rory Stewart.

"It was an act of extraordinary courage and he done a fantastic service to his region."

The Kabul national museum is positioned a couple of kilometres south with the funds, in a location that repeatedly altered hands as mujahideen militias vied for affect within the early 1990s.

Every time it had been used, the museum was looted once again. From the approximated one hundred,000 object on display in 1979, some 70% had gone by the mid-1990s.

A rocket destroyed a 4th Century wall painting in 1993. Priceless merchandise, some looted to order, altered hands about the global artwork marketplace. Other individuals have been buried in rubble or burned as firewood.

However the legendary Bactrian gold - which professionals feared had been stolen and melted down - had in reality been packed up, together with several important objects from your collection, and moved to a Central Bank vault within the Presidential Palace in 1989.

Mr Massoudi was among 5 men who had keys for the vault. All 5 keys have been essential to open it - and every with the men risked their lives not to hand them over for the militants.

The holders with the keys stored their places top secret - if a important holder died, it had been agreed, the main element could be passed on for the keeper's eldest kid.

In that way, the priceless artefacts have been preserved.

"Mr Massoudi and his employees are unquestionably unsung heroes," says exhibition venture curator Constance Wyndham.

"Without his initiative its very unlikely this great collection could be about nowadays."

Ms Wyndham says the Soviet-backed President Mohammad Najibullah, whose federal government fell in 1992, also played a part, however it remains unclear exactly how closely he was concerned.

"All that we do know is the fact that the selection was created by a committee and President Najibullah ordered the objects to get moved for the presidential palace," she explained.

Right after the ingenuity with the rescue arrived the bravery which was necessary to help keep the hoard secure.

Mr Massoudi and his employees have within the intervening many years remained modest - and relatively reticent - about their achievement.

But his feedback within the museum's guidebook give some idea with the hazards of retaining the treasure secure from "terror, violence, civil war as well as the Taliban".

Regardless of currently being subjected to different threats by the Taliban - usually at gunpoint - individuals who realized with the top secret place gave absolutely nothing absent.

It was not until finally 2003 the retailer of 22,000 gold and glass objects have been exposed.

"Today together with the grace of Allah Almighty, we've got succeeded in seeing the central treasure of Afghanistan," President Hamid Karzai declared.