Taliban demolish part of ancient Buddha relics, most of other statues

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Mar 3, 2001 - 01:01 PM

Taliban Demolish Part of Ancient Buddha Relics; Most of Other Statues

By Amir Shah, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Despite pleas from an outraged world, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have destroyed most of the ancient relics from their nation's pre-Islamic past, including parts of two towering statues of Buddha, Taliban officials said Saturday.

By Monday - exactly one week after the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, ordered all statues destroyed - the task will be complete, Information Minister Quatradullah Jamal told The Associated Press.

"Two-thirds of all the statues in Afghanistan have already been destroyed, the remaining will be destroyed in the next two days," he said.

Using explosives, rockets and heavy artillery, Taliban soldiers blasted away at the two ancient statues of Buddha hewn from a cliff face in central Bamiyan province in the third and fifth centuries.

"The head and legs of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan were destroyed yesterday," Jamal said. "Our soldiers are working hard to demolish their remaining parts. They will come down soon. We are using everything at our disposal to destroy them."

The two Buddhas, 175 and 120 feet tall, were damaged in fighting. Witnesses who have climbed to the top of the Buddha statues say that Russian soldiers carved their names in the statues following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began in 1979.

Caves at the foot of the statues had become home to families of refugees and a place for soldiers to stash their weapons.

One of the statues is thought to be the world's tallest of a Buddha standing rather than sitting.

The destruction of statues began after Omar ruled that they were idolatrous and against the tenets of Islam. Others argue that Islam does not ban images, only the worship of them.

A special representative of UNESCO met with the Taliban's ambassador to neighboring Pakistan on Saturday to register the world's outrage.

Pierre Lafrance said the destruction of the statues only will worsen the Taliban's already troubled relations with the world community.

But the Taliban's Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said the order could not be reversed. The Taliban say there is no place for statues in an Islamic country.

"It's a decree by ulema (clerics) and the government can't stop its implementation," Zaeef said.

The Taliban religious militia, which rules 95 percent of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, adheres to a strict brand of Islamic law. Their interpretation has been questioned by Islamic scholars in other Muslim countries and Islamic institutions.

But the Taliban have been unmoved by international appeals to save the statues - even those from fellow Muslim nations, including their closest ally, Pakistan.

An estimated 6,000 statues were housed in the Kabul Museum. It's believed most have been destroyed, although the Taliban have refused to allow anyone inside the war-ravaged building.

"Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible damage that is being done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage," Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization said on Friday.

"The Japanese government is deeply concerned," said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, spokesman for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Japan, where most people consider themselves followers of both Buddhism and the native Shinto religion. "Those statues are assets to all human beings."

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned the decision. "Unfortunately, the Taliban's destruction of the statues has cast doubt on the comprehensive views offered by Islamic ideology in the world," he said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "Clearly, the world's Muslims pin the blame on the rigid-minded Taliban."

Ancient statues are "just a recording of history and don't have any negative impact on Muslims' beliefs," Egypt's chief Muslim cleric Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel was quoted as saying by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat.

AP-ES-03-03-01 1301EST

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 03, 2001


To anyone who has even a minimal appreciation and respect for art history and culture, this is a truly unbearable crime. Such systematic, large-scale, barbarian destruction of priceless treasures and heritage has, to my best knowldge, not occurred for many centuries anywhere on the planet.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 03, 2001.

I suspect that China's GPCR* destroyed a greater quantity of artifacts than the Taliban, but I haven't seen any credible numbers.

* Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

-- Barb Knox (barbara-knox@iname.co,), March 04, 2001.

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