What’s New at the UNESCO Office in Kabul?

Since it was re-opened in 2002, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been working with the government of Afghanistan and a variety of local and international partners and stakeholders to build Afghanistan’s capacity in the areas of education,culture, communication and information, and natural and social sciences. In pursuit of this goal, the Office oversees a broad range of programs and events across these focus areas, all designed to enrich thelives of Afghan citizens and contribute to a stronger future for their country.

Some of the most recent offerings from the UNESCO Office in Kabul include the following:

Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage involves more than monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions and living expressions (e.g., oral traditions, rituals,social practices, festive events, and performing arts, as well as the knowledge and skills involved in the production of traditional crafts) that cultural groups have passed down to their descendants for generations. UNESCO refers to this body of traditions as “intangible cultural heritage” (ICH), and the question of how to safeguard these practices is of growing concern in the face of globalization.

Image by Unesco Headquarters Paris | Flickr

In October 2018, UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture organized a community-based workshop on the topic of preserving and promoting ICH in Afghanistan. Held over four days in the city of Bamiyan, the main goal of the workshop was to train local communities to effectively document,protect, and promote their own ICH practices. The workshop’s attendees included local ICH practitioners and representatives from a variety of organizations,including the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the University of Bamiyan. Over the course of the four days, participants learned about and discussed some of the fundamental theoretical concepts of ICH, assembled an inventory of documented examples of ICH practices in Bamiyan, and conferred about practical measures to safeguard ICH.

Bamiyan Management Plan Workshop

The former site of two massive and ancient open-air Buddha statues, the Bamiyan Valley is one of Afghanistan’s most important World Heritage Sites. However,the property’s fragile archaeological and geological context has also earned it a ranking on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Over the last decade,emergency preservation efforts have been undertaken, but the site is strongly in need of a comprehensive overall management plan, especially now that a variety of development initiatives are currently underway.

To assist with the development of the ambitious plan, UNESCO organized a three-day workshop in Bamiyan to bring together the key stakeholders that manage different areas of development in the region. At the October 2018 workshop,representatives from a variety of government offices—including the ministries of Information and Communication; Development and Housing; Agriculture,Irrigation, and Livestock; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development—came together to discuss how the proposed Bamiyan Cultural Master Plan and the Strategic Master Plan could be harmonized with existing development plans.

Curriculum Reform Workshop Series

Improving the quality of and access to education is currently one of Afghanistan’s top priorities. One of the key policies the country is adopting in pursuit of this goal is an ambitious reform of the national general education curriculum. To date, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been one of the strongest supporters of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum reform efforts.

In late September 2018, the Office organized a workshop, the first in an intended series of five, to strengthen and advance the reform work that has taken place so far. The workshop series is geared toward the members of the Ministry of Education’s Technical Working Group, and also involves a number of Ministry senior officials. Broad workshop objectives include finalizing the Curriculum Framework for General Education, the Afghan Life Competencies Framework, and the syllabi for a variety of subject areas, as well as developing guidelines and quality assurance frameworks for textbooks and learning resources.

In addition, each of the five workshops will explore an element that is central to the goal of curriculum reform, including student-centered teaching and learning, strategies for active learning, formative assessment, integrating life competencies with particular subject areas, and syllabus mapping and review.

IPDCtalks

In 2016 UNESCO designated September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. According to UNESCO, access to information is an essential human right that is necessary for the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To commemorate this day in 2018, the UNESCO Office in Kabul held an IPDC talks event in early October.

Inspired by TED Talks and organized by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), IPDC talks is a global event series that aims to spark an international discussion of how to foster open societies and create better laws and policies in support of access to information. Speakers at the Kabul IPDC talks event included members of the media and civil society and representatives from Afghanistan’s government and the UN.

Spotlight on the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan

With its thousands of years of history, Afghanistan is home to a remarkable treasure trove of archaeological wealth. Within the country’s borders, incredible examples of protohistoric, Greek, Buddhist, and Islamic sites can all be found, reflecting the rich and complex legacy of Afghanistan’s many peoples and influences.

For nearly a century, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) has been one of the most important organizations working on the ground to preserve and protect Afghanistan’s exceptional archaeological heritage. In a recent article from CNRS News, DAFA’s director Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento gives readers a unique glimpse into DAFA’s history and current projects in Afghanistan.

Some of the most important takeaways from the article include:

 

DAFA is the only foreign archaeological team to have a permanent presence in Afghanistan.

Many scientific organizations have left Kabul in recent years due to the instability that continues to affect the city. The fact that DAFA has remained is a reflection of its long history and close ties with Afghanistan.

DAFA was established in 1922 at the request of the Afghan head of state at the time, King Amanullah. Under the original agreement between the French and Afghan governments, DAFA was granted exclusive rights to carry out archaeological excavations in Afghanistan. This changed in the 1960s, when other organizations were permitted to conduct excavations.

DAFA was forced to leave the country during the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil conflict. The organization returned in 2003 and has continued its work ever since. Today, the DAFA headquarters in Kabul are home to offices, a research center, a library of 20,000 books, storerooms, and restoration and photo laboratories.

 

archaeology

Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

 

DAFA’s most important current project is the creation of a comprehensive inventory and map of Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage.

In 2014, the government of Afghanistan entrusted DAFA with the mission to produce a comprehensive archaeological map of the country. This document would serve as a detailed inventory of all of Afghanistan’s ancient sites. The goal of this project is to ensure that the Afghan government is able to make fully-informed decisions about prospective development projects—including road construction, urban planning initiatives, and mining—that may impact sites of archaeological importance.

The decision to launch this project was prompted in part by a decade-old controversy. In 2007, the news broke that a Chinese company had acquired the mining and extraction rites to Mes Aynak. This site is roughly 25 miles southeast of Kabul and is home to both the remains of an ancient Buddhist city and one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits.

The future of the Mes Aynak archaeological site remains uncertain. Fortunately, historical preservationists all around the world have been working hard to save it. Going forward, DAFA’s inventory and mapping project is intended to help prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

 

DAFA currently relies on remote detection to conduct the majority of its survey work.

There are extensive logistical challenges involved in accessing Afghanistan’s archaeological sites. These include security concerns, extreme weather conditions, and the remote nature of many of the locations. As a result, it’s not feasible for DAFA team members to conduct systemic excavation campaigns in the field.

For this reason, DAFA is assembling its map of archaeological sites with the aid of thousands of drone and aerial photos. These are drawn from a variety of sources, including declassified NATO satellite images and aerial survey photographs taken by Airbus around mining concessions.

It’s a painstaking process. Because ancient Afghan buildings were typically made of mud, their remains are fragile and difficult to spot. In addition, many archaeological sites have been broken into and damaged by looters over the years, making them even more challenging to identify. This means that each photograph must be carefully examined by a trained professional who knows precisely what to look for.

 

The DAFA inventory has made considerable progress in recent years.

Hundreds of hours of effort have been made by the project’s 20 dedicated team members, most of whom are Afghan researchers and technicians. As a result, DAFA has made considerable progress on the mapping and inventory project over the last few years.

About 1,300 sites had already been discovered and published by the time of the Soviet invasion, when DAFA was forced to leave Afghanistan. Since the current mapping and inventory project was launched in 2014, DAFA has brought to light nearly 5,000 additional sites. The organization emphasizes that the survey is far from complete.

On the map, the sites are color-coded by category. Sites marked in yellow have already been excavated, those marked in blue have been identified but not excavated, and those in red have been only recently discovered and still need to be identified. Eventually, DAFA aims to produce a detailed geographic information system (GIS), in which a database of available site information can be accessed from each point on the map.

Featured Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

These 6 Afghan Sites Have Appeared on the WMF Watch List

WMFlogoA private, non-profit organization headquartered in New York City, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been working to preserve, protect, and raise awareness about the world’s significant cultural and artistic treasures for more than five decades. One of the most important programs the WMF operates is the World Monuments Watch: launched in 1995, this global initiative identifies cultural heritage sites that are at risk and works to help raise the financial and technical support needed to preserve them.

To date, six cultural sites in Afghanistan have made appearances on the World Monuments Watch list. Read on to learn more about these treasured, but imperiled, historic locations.

 

Murad Khane, Kabul (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The story of the rehabilitation of the historic district of Murad Khane in the heart of Kabul is truly inspiring. When Murad Khane was included on the World Monuments Watch list in 2008, the neighborhood was in devastating shape after decades of conflict and neglect: beautiful historic buildings had fallen into complete disrepair, and the entire area was covered by garbage. Fortunately, the non-profit cultural organization Turquoise Mountain was at that time in the process of launching a comprehensive restoration project aimed at bringing Murad Khane back to its former glory. With the help and skills of thousands of local community members, Turquoise Mountain completely cleaned up the neighborhood, hauling away tons upon tons of garbage and carefully restoring the beautiful historic buildings that lay underneath. Today, Murad Khane is a vibrant artistic neighborhood, and the restoration project earned Turquoise Mountain the 2013 UNESCO Award of Distinction.

Murad Khane

Image courtesy Canada in Afghanistan | Flickr

 

Tepe Narenj, Kabul area (2008 World Monuments Watch).

In the Zanburak Mountains just south of Kabul sits Tepe Narenj, a Buddhist monastery established in the fifth or sixth century. An important testament to historic Buddhist influence in the region, Tepe Narenj is comprised of a number of stupas (in Sanskrit, a “stupa” is a mound-like structure containing relics, which are often the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns), individual meditation cells, several chapels, and numerous statues of the Buddha and Boddhisatva figures. Tepe Narenj was believed to have been destroyed by armies in the ninth century, but it was later rediscovered and was the first site in Afghanistan to be excavated after the Soviet conflict. The site was placed on the watch list as it is at serious risk of damage due to exposure to the elements.

 

Ghazni Minarets, Ghazni (2004 World Monuments Watch).

Soaring 20 meters above the arid landscape at the foot of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the minarets of Ghazni are a striking reminder of the great Ghaznavid Empire, which ruled a huge portion of Central Asia during the 11th and 12th centuries. The minarets are constructed of fired mud brick and covered with highly detailed terracotta decorations, including geometric designs and verses from the Quran. Today, the minarets themselves are structurally sound, though subject to periodic flooding, but the terracotta decorations are rapidly deteriorating as a result of exposure to rain and snow. Since the Ghazni minarets were placed on the watch list, a laser scan survey of the towers was conducted by architects from the US National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey: this has provided a valuable record of existing conditions, and can serve as an important resource for future preservation efforts.

 

Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan, Bamiyan (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The 2001 destruction of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan—colossal, extraordinary sculptures carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley—was a huge blow for cultural preservationists in Afghanistan. Today, efforts are being made to preserve other aspects of the site, and discussions are ongoing about the possibility of rebuilding the Buddhas. Learn more about what’s happening in the Bamiyan area here.

 

Haji Piyada Mosque, Balkh (2006 World Monuments Watch).

Also known as “Noh Gumbad” for the nine cupolas that once covered it, the Haji Piyada Mosque is not only Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, it’s one of the earliest structures in the eastern Islamic world. Built in the late ninth century, the mosque is modest in size but architecturally rich, even though the cupolas have collapsed and only one supporting arch still stands. Its age makes the Haji Piyada Mosque a structure of unparalleled cultural and architectural significance, but at the time of its placement on the watch list, the structure was highly vulnerable to erosion, looting, and lack of proper maintenance. To assist with preservation efforts, the World Monuments Fund worked with UNESCO and other agencies to develop and implement a long-term conservation plan, which was completed in 2010.

 

Image courtesy Richard Layman | Flickr

 

Old City of Herat, Herat (1998 and 2010 World Monuments Watch).

A key stop along the ancient Silk Road, Herat is home to a spectacular assortment of medieval Islamic buildings, including the Qala Ikhtyaruddin citadel and the famous Friday Mosque. However, the entire Old City has suffered as a result of military conflict, looting, earthquakes and, more recently, pressures brought on by rapid development and intensive construction. Alongside the World Monuments Fund, many other organizations are working to implement protection and preservation efforts in Herat, most notably the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.