Will This Amazing New Facility Put Bamiyan Back on the Map?

For centuries, the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan stood guard over the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan. These two massive sculptures—one measuring 115 feet in height, the other 174 feet—were carved directly into the valley’s sandstone cliffs approximately 1,500 years ago.

Visitors came from around the world to view these unique examples of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage. However, years of fighting and conflict took their toll on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Unfortunately, the statues were destroyed in 2001, an incident that was devastating for Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

Today, however, a bold new initiative is in development that aims to pay homage to the legacy of the Bamiyan Buddhas and to put the Bamiyan region back on Afghanistan’s cultural map. The Bamiyan Cultural Center, a project initiated by UNESCO in collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, is intended to serve as a hub for culture and creativity in Afghanistan and to contribute to a vital national discussion on the past, present, and future of the country’s cultural heritage. Read on to learn more about this exciting project.

 

What is the vision for the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

Image by DVIDSHUB | Flickr

The Bamiyan Cultural Center is envisioned as a vital space for a wide range of activities and programs around the topics of cultural diversity, cultural heritage, and the future of cultural identity and cultural preservation in Afghanistan. The Afghan government, like many of the country’s citizens, believes that sparking conversations around these topics is an essential part of rebuilding and redevelopment efforts, and that the thread of culture and heritage is one of the most important in the fabric of civil society.

Practically speaking, the Bamiyan Cultural Center will be home to two gallery spaces (focused on Afghan archaeology and similar cultural subjects), an auditorium for live performances, a tea house, and an extensive outdoor garden. The Center will host a variety of events—from speakers and lectures, to regular exhibits, to special displays like the Kabul Photo Biennale. When it is complete and operational, the Center will benefit many stakeholders from a wide demographic, including schoolchildren, visiting scholars and researchers, and national and international organizations.

 

Who will design the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

In 2015, after being flooded with a remarkable 1,070 design entries from 117 different countries, UNESCO and the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture chose a proposal from an Argentina-based architectural team as the winning design. Carlos Nahuel Recabarren, Manuel Alberto Martínez Catalán, and Franco Morero won over a panel of distinguished jury members with their proposal, entitled “Descriptive Memory: The Eternal Presence of Absence.”

The vision of the Descriptive Memory proposal is of a generous public park that extends out to meet the rooftop of the Cultural Center, which is imagined as a sunken building complex which surrounds a public plaza and is bordered by a reflective pool. As the architectural team described in a statement, its vision was inspired by the image of a meeting place where ideas can be shared and communicated, and which highlights the impressive surroundings of the Buddha Cliffs.

Thus, rather than imposing a newly-built structure on the landscape, the team is working very much with the notion of the Center as something that is “found” or “discovered” by carving it out of the ground. This strategy ensures that the building is fully integrated into its environment. It also pays homage to the area’s ancient building traditions.

In choosing this proposal as the winner, the jury particularly praised the design’s well-conceived plan and sensitive site strategy that minimizes the structure’s visual impact; the choice of brick as the designated building material; the Center’s elegant curving passageways; and the project’s appropriate consideration of scale and feasibility of construction. The design has been endorsed by Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, who also took the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to protecting the country’s cultural heritage through the announcement of a national program to support cultural diversity.

 

Who is financing the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

Image by txmx 2 | Flickr

Financing for the main complex of the Bamiyan Cultural Center—which has a projected cost of US $2.5 million—is being provided by the government of South Korea. The Afghan Ministry of Urban Development and Housing is supplying an additional US $1.5 million for the creation of the outdoor areas, including the gardens and public park.

 

Why is the Bamiyan Cultural Center important?

Initiatives like the Bamiyan Cultural Center, with its focus on national unity, cross-cultural awareness, and the safeguarding of ancient heritage, are hugely important elements in the broader process of reconciliation, peace-building, and economic development in Afghanistan.

In addition, the Bamiyan Cultural Center is expected to make a valuable contribution to Afghanistan’s socio-economic development by revitalizing visitor interest in the Bamiyan valley, which remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site even without the famous Buddhas. Finally, the Center will encourage local residents to participate in tourism-oriented efforts that will help grow their communities and showcase their ancient heritage.

How Is the Wildlife Conservation Society Helping Afghanistan?

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is a US-based organization that works to protect wild places, and the species that inhabit them, all around the world. The WCS has been spearheading environmental preservation and sustainable resource management efforts in Afghanistan since 2004.

Afghanistan’s environment has suffered greatly from decades of conflict. Additionally, many of its fragile ecosystems are under threat due to factors like over-hunting, deforestation, over-grazing, water diversion, and land encroachment. Through its work in Afghanistan, WCS aims both to preserve the country’s unique biological diversity, and to improve, through sustainable management practices, the natural resource base that 80 percent of Afghans currently depend on for their economic survival.

To date, WCS has launched and implemented conservation initiatives across a broad range of environmental categories, including:

 

Ecological Research

When WCS began working in Afghanistan, understanding the condition of the country’s natural resources was a top priority. To help the Government of Afghanistan develop a critically-needed baseline on which to build sustainable resource management decisions, WCS conducted a number of important ecological research surveys that helped prioritize areas for further protection.

Some of the key results and insights achieved by this work included the identification of the range, population, and threats to Afghanistan’s ungulates, such as the majestic Marco Polo sheep; the identification of several new species of birds and their habitat; the implementation of Afghanistan’s first-ever satellite tagging program for snow leopards; and extensive surveys of wildlife and rangeland in Bamyan province.

 

ibex

 

Community Natural Resource Governance

When local and national-level government agencies work together with local communities to develop governance and management systems for natural resources, everyone benefits. Communities feel empowered to take ownership of the conservation process, and protection and preservation efforts are more robust and effective because of increased buy-in from the very people most affected.

To date, the community natural resource governance initiatives that WCS has helped implement in Afghanistan are closely connected to the country’s two national parks. These initiatives include the democratically-elected Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee, the Band-e-Amir Community Council, and the Wakhan Pamir Association.

 

Wildlife-Livestock Health

WCS works in some of the most remote areas in Afghanistan, where both people and animals have limited access to health care. Thus, an important part of WCS’ efforts to conserve wildlife populations involves addressing the health of livestock and local herders in order to diminish the risk of disease introduction and communication between domestic and wild animals, and between animals and humans.

Some of the steps that WCS veterinary teams have taken in this direction include performing the first surveys for avian influenza (in both wild birds and poultry) in a number of northern Afghan provinces, identifying new livestock pathogens, developing educational material in local languages to educate farmers and herders on wildlife diseases, and conducting comprehensive livestock vaccination campaigns.

 

Wildlife Trafficking

WCS has played an instrumental role in identifying, and working to combat, the extent to which the international community is driving wildlife trafficking through demand for wildlife furs and for exotic species as pets. Surveys conducted by WCS have helped identify threats to protected wildlife. Additionally, outreach to key stakeholders and the development of more effective legislation is intended to reduce the trade in wildlife and improve the enforcement of infractions.

 

Asiatic black bear

 

Climate Change

In Afghanistan’s already harsh mountain landscapes, climate change is expected to pose unique challenges to humans and wildlife alike. To help the country assess the potential impacts of climate change and prepare to mitigate its effects, WCS has been working on studies of long-term changes in air temperature. This is an important proxy to understand how animal survival is affected by climate. It is also collecting data monitoring the retreat of glaciers in the Wakhan area in order to provide information on the expected impact of climate change on the important ice water stores of the Amu Darya River.

 

Community Livelihoods

In remote regions of Afghanistan, human communities and endangered wildlife often share the same habitat and depend on the same resources for survival. To help ensure a sustainable future for people and animals alike, and to reduce pressure on already overused local resources, WCS has been working with local communities to find new ways of increasing incomes and diversifying livelihoods that do not come at the expense of wildlife and critical natural habitat.

Of these efforts, ecotourism is one of the biggest. Now that Afghanistan has two national parks, WCS and its partners are working to make the most of sustainable tourism in these areas and expand the benefits that the increased numbers of tourists can bring.

 

Legislation and Policy

One of WCS’ most important goals in Afghanistan is to help the government develop, implement, and enforce environmental protection legislation. To date, the organization has worked with government agencies and many national and international partners to establish new laws that protect wildlife and habitat, to develop a comprehensive plan for protected areas, to build knowledge of environmental laws and best practices among Afghan policy-makers, and to promote collaborative, cross-border conservation efforts.

Fascinating Facts About Afghanistan’s Most Famous Poet You Need to Know

Of all the threads that make up the tapestry of Afghanistan’s rich culture, poetry is one of the most important. The history of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years; even today, Afghans live and breathe poetry in a way that few other people do.

While Afghanistan has produced countless powerful and passionate poets over the centuries, none are more famous than Rumi. He was a 13th-century poet and theologian who continues to fascinate readers all over the world more than 700 years after his death.

There is some debate around which nation or country Rumi “belongs” to – his exact birthplace is not known, with some scholars saying it was in present-day Afghanistan and others claiming it was present-day Tajikistan. He also spent much of his life in in present-day Turkey. Regardless, Afghans have always held him in their hearts as their own beloved poet. Read on for fascinating facts about this legendary figure.

 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

By İncelemeelemani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32889117

 

He came from a long line of preachers.

Rumi’s father and grandfather were both well-known Muslim preachers and Sunni jurists. Baha Valad, Rumi’s father, often led prayers at the local mosque, and was very disciplined about following religious rules and regulations. He was also deeply influenced by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam that Rumi himself strongly identified with in his later years (in addition to his poetry, Rumi wrote several works of Sufi philosophy).

 

He reportedly saw angels as a boy.

After the poet’s death in 1273, many stories about his childhood and early life began to emerge, including the report that he had visions of angels as a small boy. While these episodes agitated the young Rumi, his father reassured him by saying that the angels appeared to him in order to offer favors. Many scholars view stories like these as a valuable clue to the interest in religion, spirituality, and poetic imagination that Rumi would become known for.

 

 

He spent much of his life away from his homeland.

Around the year 1210, Rumi’s father made the decision to move the family away from the town where Rumi was born, likely in response to the imminent invasion of Genghis Khan’s armies. After this move, Rumi never saw his homeland again.

Instead, he spent much of his life as a migrant, moving with his family through Uzbekistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and finally Turkey, where he lived for the last 50 years of his life. This experience exposed Rumi to a wide variety of languages and religious traditions. It also contributed to his embrace of the impermanence of things, which is reflected in much of his poetry.

 

One of his most important relationships was with his great teacher Shams of Tabriz.

By the time he was in his late thirties, Rumi was settled in Konya, Turkey. Despite being known as a respected jurist, scholar, and preacher, he wasn’t wholly satisfied with his life. It is at this point that he met Shams of Tabriz, a mystic and a religious seeker.

The two fell immediately into philosophical conversation, and each recognized a kindred spirit in the other. Over the next three years, the two men pursued what scholars describe as an “electric friendship,” during which time Shams of Tabriz introduced Rumi to the idea of considering music and poetry spiritual practices.

 

Rumi’s poetry was sparked by Shams’ disappearance.

The friendship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz was counter to the social norms of the time and was a source of great strain for Rumi’s family and community. After their period of closeness, Shams of Tabriz disappeared from Rumi’s life. Scholars are still uncertain whether Shams left of his own volition or whether he was killed, possibly by a jealous son of Rumi’s. Whatever the reason behind Shams’ disappearance, Rumi turned to poetry in order to cope with his grief and suffering.

 

Much of Rumi’s poetry is regarded as a fusion of the sensual and the devotional.

Perhaps not surprisingly given that they are rooted in the loss of a beloved friend and spiritual teacher, Rumi’s poems often mix sensual and religious themes and imagery. His most famous work, the Mathanvi (also known as the Masnavi), is a spiritual epic – a six-book mystical poem that attempts to teach followers of Sufism how to become one with God. His thousands of other poems (including ghazals, or lyrical rhymed poems, and robaiyat, or four-line rhyming poems) explore both earthly and spiritual passion.

 

Rumi is credited with creating the dance of the whirling dervishes.

The dance of the whirling dervishes is a unique form of religious ceremony in which Sufis aim to connect to God by listening to spiritual music and spinning in circles. According to legend, this practice can be traced back to Rumi, who heard the rhythmic sound of metalworkers striking their hammers as he walked through a marketplace one day. At the same time, the workers were chanting “La ilaha ilallah” (or “There is no god but Allah”), and Rumi was so overcome with joy that he reached out his arms and began spinning in a circle.