A Look at the 4 Afghan Sites on the World Heritage “Tentative List”

In addition to its two properties that are officially inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List—the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley and the Minaret of Jam—Afghanistan boasts a further four sites that are currently candidates for World Heritage status. At present, these sites are included on Afghanistan’s “Tentative List,” which is an inventory of properties that are under consideration for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Read on to learn more about what the Tentative List is and which Afghan sites are on it.

 

What is the Tentative List?

UNESCOlogoThe selection and official designation of World Heritage Sites, which represent the most outstanding examples of natural and cultural heritage from all around the globe, follows a detailed set of formal procedures. Of these, the submission of the Tentative List is a very important step: it is essentially an opportunity for countries to introduce UNESCO to sites and properties they believe are deserving of World Heritage status.

To prepare a Tentative List, each country—working in collaboration with key stakeholders, including site managers, local communities, local and regional governments, and non-governmental organizations—identifies and compiles details about the sites or properties it is nominating, including their name, their location, and their qualities, and offers justification as to their exceptional universal value. The nations then submit their Tentative List to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center to be evaluated by the World Heritage Committee. If a nominated site meets the specific criteria for inclusion on the World Heritage List, the Committee inscribes the site on the list.

Note that the only entity allowed to place a site on a Tentative List is the country in which it is located. Further, only countries that are signatories to the World Heritage Convention can submit Tentative Lists (as of 2016, 193 countries had ratified the Convention). Tentative Lists are not considered to be fixed or exhaustive: indeed, the World Heritage Committee encourages countries to reevaluate and resubmit their Tentative Lists every few years. This is important as the Committee cannot consider sites for World Heritage status unless they have first been included on a Tentative List.

 

What sites has Afghanistan included on its Tentative List?

Afghanistan currently has the following four sites (three natural ones and one cultural one) on its Tentative List:

 

The city of Herat (nominated in 2004)—The regional capital of Western Afghanistan, Herat was once one of the most impressive cities in ancient Afghanistan and a center of great strategic, commercial, and cultural significance. Originally established around 500 BCE, Herat has survived several waves of destruction over the centuries. Today, the city is home to an exceptional collection of architecture and monuments that stand as a testament to its rich history. Most famous for the medieval Islamic buildings, including the extraordinary Great Mosque complex, that fill its historic center, Herat is also the site of some of Afghanistan’s oldest structural remains, including the ruins of a fort built in 330 BCE, after Alexander the Great captured the city.

 

The city of Balkh (nominated in 2004)—It’s hardly surprising to find Balkh on Afghanistan’s Tentative List, as many consider it to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Once a rival to the spectacular city of Babylon, Balkh, like Herat, suffered several periods of destruction and rebuilding under different dynasties. Contemporary visitors to Balkh can spot the layers of its history in the monuments that have fully or partially survived, like the traces of the earthen walls that surrounded the city in the 10th century CE or the remains of the Madjide Haji Pivada, one of the world’s oldest mosques. Balkh is also the reputed birthplace for some of the ancient Islamic world’s most notable figures, including the Sufi poet Rumi and the prophet Zoroaster.

 

Band-e-Amir (nominated in 2004)—Band-e-Amir is the only property on Afghanistan’s tentative list that is a natural wonder rather than a cultural one; and indeed, “wonder” is the word that most people use to describe this breathtaking collection of blue and turquoise lakes in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Band-e-Amir is what is known as a “travertine system,” which means that each of its six lakes is separated from the others by natural dams of hardened mineral deposits that built up gradually over time. Band-e-Amir may not be an official World Heritage Site yet, but a major step towards recognizing its value came in 2009, when it earned designation as Afghanistan’s first-ever national park.

 

Bagh-e Babur (nominated in 2009)—The largest public green space in Kabul, Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, has a history that stretches back more than 500 years. Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, created the gardens after he conquered Kabul in 1504. Designed in accordance with the principles of traditional Islamic gardens, Bagh-e Babur is one of the oldest surviving gardens of the Mughal dynasty. The gardens fell into decline following Babur’s death, but an extensive restoration program (launched in 2002 with the help of the Aga Khan Development Network) has beautifully restored the site to its former glory.

Spotlight on the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan

A global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people rebuild their lives after conflict and natural disaster for more than 80 years. And while the IRC currently operates in more than 30 countries around the globe, it’s in Afghanistan that the organization’s efforts have been the most longstanding.

Read on to learn more about the IRC, its history in Afghanistan, and what the organization has planned for its future efforts in the country.

 

What is the International Rescue Committee?

IRC logoA non-governmental humanitarian aid, relief, and development organization, the IRC provides both emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and others displaced or affected by war, persecution, and natural disaster. By focusing on key areas like health, safety, education, economic well-being, and decision-making power, the IRC works to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and recover from crises and gain control of their futures.

 

How long has the IRC been working in Afghanistan?

Within weeks of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the IRC was on the ground helping support the waves of Afghan refugees flooding into neighboring countries. The organization has continued to provide Afghanistan with relief and development assistance ever since. Some key dates and highlights from the IRC’s more than 30 years in Afghanistan include:

1980 – John Whitehead, then the board president of the IRC, journeyed to the makeshift refugee camps springing up just beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The situation he witnessed, in which more than 5 million Afghans had fled their homeland only to encounter terrible living conditions outside it, proved to be the catalyst for the creation of more permanent IRC operations in the country.

1988 – This year saw the official establishment of IRC operations in Afghanistan, although by this time the IRC had already been operating an extensive relief program in Afghan refugee camps for some years. Mobile clinics and dispensary tents, vocational and self-help programs, and comprehensive educational programs were some of the IRC’s most important contributions to improving the lives of Afghans displaced by conflict.

1989 – Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many aid agencies also left the country. The IRC was one of the few organizations to remain and to continue operating under the new regime. Working with a dedicated team of Afghan national staff members, the IRC helped with significant rebuilding efforts, including making repairs to roads and irrigation systems and establishing public health and sanitation facilities.

Early 2000s – Following yet another regime change at the start of the new millennium, millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans began to make their way back to their homes. During this period, the IRC intensified its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild and repair critical infrastructure.

2007 – Education has always been an important tool for the IRC to help people affected by crisis to regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In Afghanistan in 2007, for example, the IRC trained more than 1,000 new teachers, and helped roughly 11,000 students enroll in 400 schools. In addition, nearly 2,000 people graduated from IRC-supported vocational programs.

 

What’s next for the IRC in Afghanistan?

Now that Afghanistan is beginning to establish and sustain modest but important gains, the IRC’s experience and expertise are more critical than ever. In 2017, the IRC published a strategic action plan for Afghanistan, outlining its program priorities through 2020 and detailing the key focus areas and actions that will help Afghanistan move into a new era of stability and prosperity. Particular desired outcomes of this plan include:

Education – Building on its extensive experience in coordinating community-based education for children, the IRC aims to ensure that Afghan children aged 6 to 14 have the opportunity to fully develop their literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. Achieving this goal will involve training more teachers, supplying educational materials to classrooms, and partnering with the Ministry of Education to create an evidence-based assessment program to determine the quality of Afghan education services.

Health – Because inadequate sanitation and water supply access are leading causes of disease, the IRC plans to build safe and accessible water and sanitation facilities in the nine Afghan provinces in which the organization currently operates. Community-oriented hygiene awareness and disease prevention programs will also help curtail the spread of illness.

Economic well-being – All Afghans should have the opportunity to earn an income that is sufficient to meet basic needs, build assets, and save for the future. To this end, the IRC will continue to offer skills-based training and apprenticeship programs that prepare participants for skilled, high-demand jobs in Afghanistan’s new economy.

Power and decision-making – The IRC aims to ensure that Afghan citizens have the knowledge and power to influence the decisions that affect them. Community education programs around critical issues like property rights and land expropriation are a key component of this objective.

What You Need to Know about the Afghanistan Music Unit

Not that long ago, traditional Afghan music was almost non-existent in Afghanistan. Civil conflict and poverty had caused many musicians to flee the country, while those who remained were generally unable to play as music was widely banned. In recent years, however, Afghanistan has rediscovered its rich musical heritage and revived traditional instruments, musical styles, and songs.

While Afghanistan’s musical renaissance has been largely spearheaded by local artists and organizations—including the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the country’s leading institute for music education founded by the dynamic musicologist Dr. Ahmad Sarmast—a number of institutions outside the country have also played an important role in helping preserve Afghan musical traditions during the last few tumultuous decades. Perhaps the best-known of these is the Afghanistan Music Unit, housed in the music department at Goldsmiths, University of London. This research center was founded by ethnomusicology professor and Afghan music specialist Dr. John Baily.

 

What is the Afghanistan Music Unit?

Founded in 2002, the Afghanistan Music Unit (AMU) is dedicated to the study of music in contemporary, post-conflict Afghanistan, and to supporting the revival of traditional Afghan music. Under the direction of its founder, Professor John Baily, AMU conducts extensive research into Afghan music and music history, supports musicians returning to Afghanistan after years of exile, and offers concerts, workshops, and other educational resources about Afghan music to diverse audiences in its home city of London and around the world.

 

 

About the founder of the Afghanistan Music Unit

One of the world’s leading experts on traditional Afghan music, Dr. John Baily has been researching, promoting, and performing Afghan music for more than 30 years. Baily’s strong commitment to the music of Afghanistan began in 1973, when he and his wife, Veronica Doubleday—an accomplished Dari folk singer and expert on women’s music in Afghanistan—spent two years in the western Afghan city of Herat conducting ethnomusicological research. Since that time, Baily’s research has taken him around the world: he has conducted musical investigations in Afghan communities in countries such as Iran and the United States, worked with Afghan musicians worldwide, and helped establish a traditional music school in Kabul. An accomplished rabab player as well as a dedicated researcher, Baily also gives concerts and workshops on traditional Afghan music, organizes Afghan music festivals, and is a co-founder of Ensemble Bakhtar, a UK-based Afghan music collective. Baily’s contributions to the preservation of Afghanistan’s traditional music have been officially recognized by the Afghan Ministry of Culture, and have earned widespread praise from Afghan citizens.

 

The history of the Afghanistan Music Unit and its work

2002—The Afghanistan Music Unit was founded by Dr. John Baily to research and document the state of music during a new era for Afghanistan, and to provide assistance in helping the practice of traditional music recover from an extended period of extreme censorship. To launch AMU, Baily made a month-long investigative visit to Kabul; video footage of this research trip was made into the documentary film A Kabul Music Diary.

2003—Through a commission from the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), Baily helped establish a Culture Bearers’ Programme in support of traditional Kabuli art music. The program saw four master musicians teaching this musical style to 35 students. The initiative proved so successful that a second AKMICA school was later established in Herat; the Kabul school continues to operate under the leadership of director Mirwaiss Sidiqi.

2004—Supported by the British Institute of Persian Studies, Baily and Doubleday made a research trip to eastern Iran, at the time home to many exiled musicians from Herat. In addition, the area supported a strong traditional music culture very similar to that of Herat. Baily and Doubleday also lectured on Herati music at Tehran University as part of their trip.

2006—Baily and AMU began a period of research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Diasporas, Migration & Identities Programme, into the presence of Afghan music in London and the role this music plays in connecting London with Kabul and the Afghan diaspora. Key outputs from this research period include a chapter in the book Understanding Afghans, the documentary feature Scenes of Afghan Music: London, Kabul, Hamburg, Dublin, and a concert of Afghan music performed at Goldsmiths.

2008—Baily retired from teaching and administrative duties at Goldsmiths with the goal of focusing full-time on AMU. Funded by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship, Baily began conducting extensive research on music in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora during the years 1985 to 2009. Afghan music in Australia was a particular focus area for this project.

 

 

What’s next for the Afghanistan Music Unit?

As part of their mission to make Afghan music more accessible to a wider audience, Baily and Doubleday have plans to digitize their archive—a remarkable collection of audio recordings, super 8 films, still photos, and comprehensive field notes assembled during their early research years in Herat and their many subsequent travels throughout the Afghan diaspora. Baily also hopes to create an online learning module for the study of his primary instrument, the Afghan rabab.