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.

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.

Spotlight on the First National Park in Afghanistan

Although natural conservation hasn’t been a top priority for Afghanistan over the last few decades, now that the country is enjoying greater stability and prosperity, that has begun to change. The Afghan government is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of safeguarding the country’s natural heritage. With the support of a variety of international NGOs, it has taken some significant steps in recent years to protect and preserve key natural areas.

A major victory came in 2009, when Afghanistan celebrated the creation of its first ever national park. The Band-e-Amir lakes in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan have long been recognized as an area of natural beauty. Now that they have been designated as a national park, it will be easier for the country to manage sustainable tourism more effectively, preserve and protect at-risk species, and work to reverse environmental damage already done in the area.

Visitors agree that Band-e-Amir is so breathtaking that it has to be seen to be believed, but you can still get a feel for the park with these five facts:

 

  1. Band-e-Amir is one of the world’s most spectacular travertine systems.

Located in a desert area high up in the Hindu Kush mountain range, the six stunning, sapphire-blue lakes of Band-e-Amir were formed by mineral-rich water gradually seeping out of faults and cracks in the surrounding mountains. Over time, the water deposited layer upon layer of travertine, or hardened mineral, at different points on the lake bed. These layers eventually grew into the massive natural dams that now contain the lake water.

Interestingly, local lore gives an alternative explanation for how these mineral dams came into existence. Legend says that the dams that hold the lakes in place were thrown into their positions by the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Hazrat Ali. The high mineral content of the water is also responsible for the incredible colors of the lakes, which can range from light turquoise to a deep, icy blue.

Band-e-Amir Lakes | Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

  1. The dams of Band-e-Amir’s lakes all have names.

All of the five dams that contain Band-e-Amir’s six lakes have names. There is the Groom’s Dam, the Mint Dam, the Dam of the Slaves, and the somewhat puzzlingly named Dam of Cheese. The most famous and most visited dam, however, is Band-i-Haibat, or the Dam of Awe. This dam is 1,500 feet wide and two miles long, and its waters are believed to have healing properties (that is, if you can withstand their icy temperatures!).

 

  1. Band-e-Amir has long been a popular tourist destination.

These beautiful lakes have been a popular destination for travelers ever since the 1950s. The area experienced a peak in visitor numbers during the 1970s. Naturally, tourism was virtually non-existent during the conflicts of the 1980s and 90s. However, more and more people, domestic and foreign tourists alike, have been visiting Band-e-Amir in recent years. People are drawn to the region not only by the lakes, but also by nearby tourist magnets like the valley of Bamiyan.

The national park designation proved to be a significant boost for tourism. At present, the park can receive as many as 5,000 visitors a day in the high season. While there are some facilities currently in place for tourists, including restrooms and recreational paddle boats that can be rented for use on the lakes, the Afghan government hopes to establish more extensive amenities in the future, including guesthouses and shops.

Band-e-Amir

Band-e-Amir | Image by Afghanistan Matters| Flickr

  1. Band-e-Amir is home to plenty of wildlife.

Although habitat destruction and poaching have certainly taken their toll on the flora and fauna of Band-e-Amir, the park is still home to an impressive array of wildlife. More than 150 species of birds have been recorded – including the Afghan snow finch, which is thought to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan – leading to the designation of Band-e-Amir as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

Additionally, wild goats known as Ibex and wild sheep known as urials as well as wolves, foxes, and fish are all common sights within the park. But perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Band-e-Amir is home to more species of wildcat than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, including some extremely rare examples. In 2015, a sensor-activated camera captured a photograph of a Persian leopard, which was long believed to be extinct in the region.

 

  1. The Wildlife Conservation Society is supporting Afghanistan in managing the park.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has played an important role in helping Afghanistan successfully implement and manage its first-ever national park. WCS staff members have provided support with tasks like delineating the boundaries of the park, conducting preliminary wildlife surveys, developing a park management plan, and hiring and training local rangers.

As for the rangers themselves, a big part of their responsibilities involves working with local communities and the provincial government to mitigate the impact of park residents on the fragile natural habitat. For example, 500 fuel-efficient stoves have been distributed to families living in and near the park area, which greatly reduces their need to chop down park trees for firewood.