Meet the Interns

Meet the Folks who are helping make SAFE happen this summer!

I (Elizabeth Markman) am a rising junior at Barnard College with a joint major in Archaeology and Art History. I have just returned from an archeological survey in New Mexico, where I spent my time looking for projectile points and potsherds. At SAFE, I am working on new educational initiatives and outreach. I am also tweeting and organizing the SAFE newsletter. Though I love working at my SAFE internship from New York City, I enjoy even more learning from SAFE’s global outreach.

“I love working with people who are truly knowledgeable and passionate about the cause! They are excited to be doing their work and excited for us (the interns) to be doing ours.”

Learn more about my colleagues  and fellow interns below!

Heather Lee  is a rising senior at Amherst College with a double major in Art History and European Studies. She is currently interning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her SAFE internship has helped her explore the questions that art museums usually do not always consider: what is going on in the original sites that the objects came from, and are we dealing with the problems with proper ethical and legal standards? This summer Heather has been working on the SAFE blog – See her work here!

At SAFE, Heather has learned:

“As much as I love pristine galleries with perfect temperature control, I realize that objects are better understood in their original contexts, rather than in glass cases.”

Kayla Schweitzer is from Manheim, PA, where she is currently working during her Summer SAFE internship. She is helping to coordinate a new project to raise awareness of heritage protection at a local level. (Stay tuned for more exciting news on this!) She is a graduate student in the masters program of Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Her research interests include cultural heritage loss and prevention, the protection of heritage during times of conflict and natural disasters, and the relationship between sustainability and cultural heritage.

Kayla’s favorite thing about her SAFE internship:

“I enjoy that as interns we are able to be creative with our projects and really cater what we are working on to our interests.”

Interns pictured in photo above from left to right: Heather Lee, Elizabeth Markman, Kayla Schweitzer

What lies ahead: Interview with SAFE founder (Part 2)

In my first interview with SAFE Founder Cindy Ho, we discussed how and why SAFE was founded and some of the challenges of starting an organization. In this installment, Cindy talks about whether she thinks the organization has been effective in reaching its goals and her continued belief in its mission to raise public awareness, ten years after she first had the idea. The interview concludes with an appeal to people she calls “those who know.”


DB: How does SAFE get funded to do all this work? Who donates to SAFE?
CH: In the beginning I funded SAFE to cover only small expenses until I resigned from my job two years later. We spent very, very little. In fact, we were so frugal that I had to be reminded to distribute printed materials we spent money to produce. Others also donated more than work. It was this kind of can-do attitude across the board that gave SAFE its start. I was running a grassroots organization, supported by the people it served, before I was even familiar with the term.

Funds came in as membership fees; we also did well with revenue-generating events. Still, SAFE’s existence was never about the amount of money it raised, but a shared commitment to doing whatever it takes to serve the mission. People worked for SAFE because it was something they had to do. This wealth of human resource made SAFE a well endowed operation from the start. Five years ago Sam Paley, one of our advisors, told me that we were functioning like a multi-million dollar enterprise without the multi-millions. If so, just imagine what SAFE could produce with a fraction of those millions…This was the definition of success, or so I was told.

DB: What is your definition of success?
CH: I could say success is when there is no more looting to feed the illicit antiquities trade. But that is not realistic; it is also not SAFE’s mandate to reach that goal. Years ago at our first benefit event, I said that success meant that SAFE didn’t need to exist any longer. When everyone is aware of what is at stake, then the decision to destroy or preserve cultural heritage becomes a conscious decision. That’s when SAFE can declare success. I still believe in this.

But SAFE alone cannot reach this goal. It can only happen with a concerted effort among those who know to tell those who don’t yet know what is at stake. It will take many people and organizations, working collaboratively, to achieve this success.

There are now a number of other web sites and blogs that also address the issues of looting and the illicit antiquities trade with the potential to reach the general public and SAFE recognizes and encourages these efforts with the Beacon Awards. But I don’t know of any other independent nonprofit organization with this focused mission. Oscar Muscarella said, “That [SAFE] is unique is a very sad indication of the present state of affairs.” I agree.

But success is not at all impossible. Look at the environmental movement. While the struggle to save the planet continues, and some even argue that it’s too late, there can be no argument that people know that it’s important to recycle and save energy. To pollute has now become a conscious decision. How much time and effort did that take?

As long as there are unexcavated ancient sites with information about our ancient past that has yet to be revealed, it is not too late to save cultural heritage from being irreversibly destroyed. Saving this undiscovered past is what SAFE is about.

The New Mexico State Parks system recently ordered SAFE student contest winner Evangelia Kranioti's poster to hang in all 35 parks statewide. "I've seen how hard our park field staff work at taking care of the parks at every level, from keeping restrooms clean to protecting and educating about irreplaceable natural and cultural resources," State Archaeologist Dr. Rebecca Procter said. "They face huge challenges in getting our visitors to understand why some things belong to ALL of us. It seemed to me that our staff could use every possible source of help in getting this message out and showing that they are not alone in promoting it." The New Mexico State Parks system ordered SAFE student contest winner Evangelia Kranioti’s poster to hang in all 35 parks statewide.

DB: What about short-term success, surely you can name some examples?
CH: Raising public awareness can be a numbers game which means the wider the reach, the greater the success. To reach unlimited audiences, the organization decided to focus its efforts online some years ago. Judging by the statistics on social media and web traffic, SAFE is reaching that goal. SAFE has become the go-to destination for people who want to know and network with interested others.

There is no denying that in the years since SAFE came into existence that public awareness about these issues has increased. What has this awareness produced? Colin Renfrew most generously commented to the 2013 Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage that “many of the good things that have happened in this area over the past decade would not have happened without SAFE.” If so, SAFE could not have done this without the participation of the experts.

UNESCO's office in Kabul is using these "LOOTED" cards  SAFE produced UNESCO’s office in Kabul is using these “LOOTED cards SAFE produced

SAFE has received generous support from donors and other like-minded organizations, which enabled us to create awareness-raising campaigns and materials I am proud of. They are not only innovative and fun to produce, they have been found useful around the world to create more awareness. SAFE videos and presentations have been viewed and downloaded tens of thousands of times. SAFE has earned the trust from key opinion leaders around the world who have not only lent their names, but rolled up their sleeves to work with us in the kind of collaboration I could only wish for ten years ago. This collaboration may be the most powerful and rewarding aspect of SAFE.

Gihane Zaki, Director General of the Nubia Fund, represented Egypt at UNESCO 40th anniversary meeting wears SAFE's "Say YES to Egypt's Heritage" button. Gihane Zaki, Director General of the Nubia Fund, represented Egypt at UNESCO 40th anniversary meeting wears SAFE’s Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage button

DB: Why do you feel SAFE is alone in this mission, so far?
CH: SAFE is alone, but not entirely. There are other organizations dedicated to preserving cultural heritage; some existed long before SAFE. But they don’t focus on the looting problem or the illicit antiquities trade, or raising public awareness. One reason is fundraising.

Changing hearts and minds takes time. Ten years after I first had the idea, I feel that SAFE has only begun. We all have only begun to become more aware. Donors seeking quick return on investments would prefer faster, more tangible results. While one can see and even touch an old monument restored, public awareness is ethereal. With the explosion of social media, effectiveness has now become more measurable and visible, but how this translates to donor contributions remains to be seen. Also, SAFE does its work in the US—a major “market country”—where antiquities are bought and sold for profit, often with no questions asked. Many people who routinely support the arts, history, or archaeology, have been engaging in very same behavior that SAFE points out as destructive. Organizations often steer clear of focusing on looting and the illicit antiquities trade because of this. It is hard to raise funds for a mission few grantors are informed about. But for me, these are all the reasons why SAFE needed to exist in the first place. Still, I can comfortably say that SAFE has done what it set out to do.

DB: In retrospect, do you still believe in SAFE’s mission, given these difficulties?
CH: Yes, now even more than before. Everyday, somewhere around the world there exists the possibility of a new discovery about our ancient selves that could inform us all. Looting to feed the illicit antiquities trade makes the collection of the information that everyone deserves impossible. Cultural relics become mere things. If knowledge belongs to all of us, then we are all responsible for safeguarding our shared humanity. And it is up to those who know to inform the rest, because there is nothing inevitable about wanton destruction.

How else could anyone understand that when a looter steps on an object in a tomb looking for something to sell, much more is broken than the object itself? How could one realize that removing an archaeological object from a National Park is against the law, that a museum acquiring objects with dubious provenance is not acceptable, that bringing back a treasured find from Peru or Greece might risk having it confiscated? How could one know that trading and collecting looted antiquities promotes the destruction of our shared heritage? We can’t protect something unless we know that it needs protecting. And ten years later, too few people are aware, still.

No doubt this is a lot of work. It takes us away from our immediate concerns: our careers and our routines; it takes us out of our comfort zones. But it is no different from any other cause, or any other endeavor that matters. When SAFE took to the streets to collect signatures, we found that it wasn’t difficult to educate the unknowing public. But what SAFE, or any one organization, can accomplish is limited, given the enormity of the task.

Public awareness is not a panacea. It is fundamental to—but only part of—the solution, like import restrictions, site security, or law enforcement. Awareness does not guarantee action. What is guaranteed is that there is no action without awareness.

DB: What do you see in SAFE’s future?
CH: SAFE’s future depends on the quality of the work it delivers, which in turn depends on the input it receives from those who know. Will there be a shared belief that there can be no long-term solution to combating the damaging effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade without public awareness? Will there be a true commitment to doing whatever we—expert or not—can to help protect everyone’s right to cultural heritage, for ourselves and for our children? The fact that SAFE is able to serve its mission today still is entirely the result of these two factors. But it’s not even about SAFE. Someone, some organization, must serve this mission. And until there is another focused effort to inform the public, SAFE has to keep going. What other option is there?

Public awareness is convincing only when it is based on fact and reasoned analysis. Otherwise, no matter how loud you shout, opinion is just noise and there is enough misinformation out there in the blogosphere. This is why SAFE must continue its work only with those who have done the research and analysis, for which there is no substitute. Without this, SAFE should not add more noise to the din.

Definitely there are more people knowledgeable about these issues today than ten years ago. There are more books and classes and lectures on the subject; even university programs offering advanced degrees that address looting and the illicit antiquities trade. I hope that those who know, those who do the research and the study, and archaeologists who have had firsthand knowledge of looting would continue to work with SAFE.

We only have the rights we are willing to fight for. What kind of a world do we want to leave behind for future generations, and future generations to come? Much of ancient history is still undiscovered, unexcavated and undocumented. Are we willing to do nothing while looting and the illicit antiquities trade continue to destroy information locked in this undiscovered past that belongs to all humanity? What are we willing to fight for here and now, so that our children’s, and their children’s lives could also be enriched as ours have been by our ancestors? These are questions for all of us.

Regardless of what happens, SAFE has done its part. If the collective will is there, it should continue to serve its mission.

DB: How can archaeologists do more to help?
CH: Archaeologists and other experts have been publishing on these issues for a long time. But most academic publications and conference discussions (and their accompanying papers) reach only a select few and are completely inaccessible to the general public: they are not publicized and are priced for institutional purchases only. For example, an article in an academic journal tells us that an overwhelming number of archaeologists have encountered widespread looting in the field. Everyone should know this. Many such publications that inspired me and taught me are similarly out of reach. This is a pity, because “ordinary” citizens are not only capable of understanding, most are ready to support archaeology and cultural heritage preservation, as a Harris Poll confirms.

I call on archaeologists, those who know, to not consider sharing information, research and analysis with SAFE as simply helping the organization, but as a contribution to the cause.

I founded SAFE to be the conduit to bring this knowledge to a wide audience, with the ultimate goal towards long-lasting solutions. I call on archaeologists, those who know, to not consider sharing information, research and analysis with SAFE as simply helping the organization, but as a contribution to the cause. Those who are serious in their interest to protect the sanctity of information—or archaeological context—about the ancient past, would do well to want to share what they know with the general public. I understand this requires an extension of one’s vision. Saving cultural heritage requires a very long vision: enthusiasm, fervor and conviction do not suffice. Neither do research and analysis alone.

I also want to appeal to professional associations and the academic establishment to support not only the study of these issues, but the means to advocate for the cause. Could looting and the illicit antiquities trade be more widely included in the annual conferences where archaeologists gather to learn and to share? If archaeologists themselves have experienced the damaging effects of plunder, are they also aware of the possible solutions so they can contribute to them? In the US, are they adequately informed about the Cultural Property Implementation Act, and CPAC? Could there be workshops or seminars at the annual conferences to cover legal mechanisms which ultimately aim to protect the very field archaeologists dedicate themselves to? Could there be a fund set aside to finance the attendance at CPAC meetings so that those who know don’t have to pay their own way to testify in Washington? Could there be legal assistance offered to those who do speak out about the issues and are threatened by those who don’t agree with them? These are questions for all those who know.

DB: Can you tell us something about this Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage?
CH: I came up with the idea with Donny George in 2007 to remember the looting of the Iraq Museum and to raise awareness about the ongoing plunder of ancient sites. This year, on the 10th anniversary, we decided to offer our web site and social media channels to showcase the work of others as a sign of appreciation, and in anticipation of future opportunities for collaboration. This furthers our mission, and also celebrates our own founding. It’s something like a birthday party, where we inviting our friends to join in. This is also an open call for the needed collaboration I described.

DB: Thank you Cindy, for this interview.
CH: Thank you, Deanna, for giving me the opportunity to observe the 10th anniversary in this way.

Looking back on the last ten years: Interview with SAFE founder (Part 1)

I first heard of SAFE through Liz Gilgan eight years ago. It was Liz, a founding Board member, who expanded my understanding of looting and the illicit antiquities trade and how source countries, archaeologists, and SAFE were fighting to protect the world’s cultural heritage. After hearing her speak at Boston University’s Archaeology Club, I became a volunteer. Now, on the 10th anniversary of SAFE’s founding, I am reminded of the beginning of my own involvement with the organization, which led me to interview its founder, Cindy Ho. I am intrigued by how Cindy—an advertising professional—came up with the idea of SAFE; how she decided to focus on looting and the illicit antiquities trade, why she chose raising public awareness to combat those problems, and her thoughts on the future of SAFE.

The 2013 SAFE Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage invites us to share our reflections on cultural heritage. This two-part interview gives me the opportunity to ask Cindy for her reflections; it also answers my own questions about the organization I admire and continue to support.


DB: What motivated you to start SAFE?
CH: It all began with the news about the looting of the Iraq Museum. The more I heard about the “catastrophe that has befallen the cultural heritage of Iraq”* and the more I learned, the more concerned I became. Looting wasn’t taking place only in Iraq but everywhere, and it’s been going on for many years. It wasn’t only the theft and destruction of beautiful objects in a museum, but the plunder of ancient sites and the irreversible loss of knowledge that was even more damaging. And the problem was growing in size, scope and complexity every day. [*In a press release issued April 15, 2003 the Director of the British Museum said: “Although we still await precise information, it is clear that a catastrophe has befallen the cultural heritage of Iraq.”]

SAFE founder Cindy Ho SAFE founder Cindy Ho

What was not complex, however, was the fact that the connection to our ancestors, our cultural heritage, must be protected. I’ve always thought of ancient cultural heritage the way one thinks of an old person as “everyone’s grandmother or grandfather.”  When the remnants of ancient civilization were stolen or destroyed, it was as though my own heritage was at risk.

But it’s not about antiquities for the sake of the objects. As a visual person, I’ve discovered that an object can become instantly beautiful, or more beautiful, when I know what it was, how it was made, and who made it, and why. I was interested in preserving the knowledge and understanding antiquities reveal that inspire us and enhance our own lives, here and now.

Before 2003, like most people, I took cultural heritage for granted. The news from Iraq made me realize how vulnerable it was and how little I had known about these threats to the very core of our humanity. How could I, how can we, afford to not know? When I discovered that there was virtually nothing about this that was easily accessible to the general public, raising awareness became the something that I had to do.

DB: What did you do then? How did SAFE come about?
CH: It didn’t take me long to decide on creating a global awareness campaign, given my career in advertising. I thought: if the news reports could move me to act, what would happen if I could rally the help of others once they also became aware?

The two friends I told encouraged me and offered to help, and we began having meetings in coffee shops about what to do next. Their interest confirmed that I was on the right track. The campaign needed a name, and my friend came up with Saving Antiquities for Everyone, SAFE.

SAFE 2004 fundraiser Crowds gathered at the first SAFE fundraiser in New York City

But enthusiasm was not enough. I knew that I needed help from two distinct groups: experts in spreading the word and experts in the issues. I placed tiny pro bono ads in Advertising Age and Adweek and emailed the academics, citing “time, energy and commitment” as my qualifications. How else could I raise awareness responsibly?

DB: So you were still working at a job at this time?
CH: Yes, full time at an ad agency. I was so single-minded and driven that I couldn’t help but share what I had just learned and planned to do. I hung a recruitment poster on my office door; I asked photographers, artists, and writers I was working with; I even tried to recruit my boss, who said, “Cindy this is great, but why would people care? The world is filled with problems—how will you convince people to pay attention to this particular cause? You’ll need ad campaigns on TV, in the newspapers…” Clearly, a global awareness campaign using traditional media channels would take too long, and wouldn’t nearly be enough. Volunteers kept coming in almost daily, but “why would people care” would stay with me as a constant reminder of what the ultimate challenge was.

DB: Who were those first volunteers? How did they help?
CH: Advertising and media consultants, public relations and publicity professionals responded. There were also archaeologists who had long been frustrated by the continued destruction of cultural heritage. The shock of the news brought us together with a single commitment: to inform others and to create a platform for action. Our otherwise disparate group had little more in common other than the knowledge that allowing the destruction of cultural heritage to continue was wrong.

Volunteers did research and came up with ideas: great, innovative ideas, borne out of a raw enthusiasm and an almost unstoppable eagerness to act, while I myself was learning and figuring out the next steps in a whirlwind of new experiences. Everyone knew from the start that there’d be no papers published, no career advancements (although this is no longer the case), and no pay. Just a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of trial and error—all done without any reward or personal gain other than the opportunity to right a wrong.

SAFE's debut at the 2005 AIA Annual Meeting drew crowds and signed up a large number of members SAFE’s debut at the 2005 AIA Annual Meeting drew crowds and signed up a large number of members

DB: What were some of your first projects?
CH: In a matter of weeks, we had gone well beyond the original idea of advertising people creating a campaign. Our first rudimentary web site—safenow.net—was launched only three weeks after that fateful day in April, when the Iraq Museum was looted. Two months later, volunteers distributed flyers at a Grateful Dead Concert. In July, SAFE received fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and began accepting tax-deductible donations. The next month, we launched a campaign lasting until the end of 2003 to advocate for emergency legislation that prohibited the importation of Iraqi antiquities into the US. By then, we also had the support, advice, and endorsement of experts around the world.

The next year, the growing web site was relaunched with the new and current domain name: savingantiquities.org. We held a benefit event, launched our first student competition, hosted a book signing event for Roger Atwood’s Stealing History and launched our first SAFE Tours at the Met.

In January of 2005, SAFE rented a booth at the AIA Annual Conference in Boston—the only booth to hold scheduled events. The next month, I resigned from my job to work full-time freelance, eventually giving that up at the end of the year to volunteer for SAFE full time. As long as I felt that SAFE was filling an unmet need, I was willing to fully commit to doing its work.

SAFE distributed these wristbands to raise awarenessIn February 2005, three SAFE members testified to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in Washington, DC, in support of import restrictions of antiquities into the US from China. For the first time, SAFE represented the general public with signatures collected in New York City parks and on the web site. Later that year, five of us repeated the same effort on behalf of Italy, presenting twice as many petitions to the Committee. That year, we also co-sponsored a panel discussion with LCCHP and held a lecture on book theft, had several more SAFE Tours, and held another student competition.

It was time that my project SAFE became incorporated as a bona fide organization. We applied for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3), which we received at the end of 2005. SAFE was a full-fledged nonprofit organization, by law, and in action. Meanwhile, the bar kept rising, internally and externally. The more SAFE produced and the better the results, the more there was to do.

DB: Was the transition from working in an ad agency to running a nonprofit organization difficult?
CH: Coming from advertising, the pace took me awhile to get used to. The whole world was being looted. There was just so much to do, so much to tell! The possibilities seemed limitless and I felt impatient.

Working with volunteers from around the world I never met was also a challenge. It became more time-consuming as the number of applicants grew each day. Aside from assessing their skills and availability and matching them with appropriate tasks, I needed to explain what the issues truly were, sometimes directing them to read a book first. Most people were not used to volunteering this way. In the end, it didn’t take more than a small number of very dedicated people to get things going. And I told myself the process of recruitment was just another way of raising awareness.

Becoming a nonprofit was another huge step. I was spending more energy and time on learning what that all meant than doing the actual work itself: the rules and requirements, the filings, processes and policies, etc. Fortunately, other volunteers with relevant skills made the process smooth and successful. It was another story transitioning from a loose group of fervent individuals to the reality that SAFE was now a bona fide organization that no longer was my sole responsibility. Volunteers who were not used to seeing their ideas not implemented immediately.

Also, it took a lot of work, and reworking, to craft messages that speak to the general audiences that are based on academic research, created by experts coming from a completely different training, discipline, and culture. But this isn’t unique to SAFE. Surely it’s not the first to advocate for a cause that took a lot of explanation, and where the work came before the organization, especially when it chartered a new course to serve an unmet need. If it weren’t so challenging, I probably wouldn’t have dedicated so much of myself to it; and learnt as much as I have.


Stay tuned for my next interview where I will ask Cindy how SAFE got its support, and what lies ahead . . .

FROM THE FIELD Knowing Nancy: An Interview with Afghanistan’s Grandmother, Nancy Hatch Dupree

In a country where news typically conjures images of warlords and Talib fighters, ambassadors and international forces, the 85 year old Nancy Hatch Dupree, has stood as an emblem of the country’s rich and ancient cultural heritage.  A force in her own right, her strength has been cemented in her singular, unwavering commitment to the culture of Afghanistan before, during, and after the more than thirty years of war.

Arriving in Afghanistan from the US in the 1960s she fell deeply in love with the country, and not long after, the renowned Harvard archaeologist, Louis Dupree. Together they worked side by side, him studying pre-historic sites and her writing numerous guidebooks. With the great loss of Louis in 1989, Nancy re-doubled her commitment to their work. She expanded the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), a rich source of regional information, which Louis had established in Pakistan before his death and which she moved to Kabul University in 2006. In 1994, Nancy founded the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage (SPACH) in Islamabad in order to organize international efforts to protect the National Museum of Afghanistan during the Mujahideen Civil War.

Today, Nancy Hatch Dupree is affectionately known as “Afghanistan’s grandmother” for her decades of dedication. Never one to withhold her opinions, the following interview is a candid conversation about her experiences and insights into preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. It is by listening and learning from these lessons – along with those of her colleagues interviewed for the Untold Stories series – that we may hope to ensure the country’s heritage for the next generation.

Q: For the sake of the film, could you just introduce yourself?
NHD:
My name is Nancy Hatch Dupree and I am working with the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University. It is a collection of 60,000 documents related to Afghanistan.

Q: What brought you here? You have been working here for many years.
NHD:
Well, I came first with the American Embassy, but that was many years ago. And then I married Louis Dupree who was an archaeologist and we spent many years here going to various places in Kandahar, and also in Balkh province, and also in Badakshan province, excavating pre-historic caves. Louis Dupree, my husband at the time, was the only one who was primarily interested in the prehistory of Afghanistan.

You have here the extremely rich cultural heritage; it goes from very early ages: beautiful things from the Kushan period and the Islamic periods. These are your spectacular periods. But if you want to understand the history of man in this area, then you start from the beginning, which is in pre-history. So he was primarily interested in pre-history and found that there was a very active association of peoples primarily in the north during the very, very early times, during the Upper-Paleolithic. And then in the Dasht-e Nawar we found Lower-Paleolithic, and this is a whole new period which has to be studied in greater depth.

Q: What was your own first project on Afghanistan?
NHD:
I was working with the Garzandoi (Afghan Tours). I went to Bamiyan and this was when there was no paper guides, no two-legged guides. And this is now of the wonders of the world, so I spoke to Wahab Tarzi, who was then the first president of the Garzandoi, which had just been established.

And I said, “You know what? This is a scandal. You are trying to attract tourists but you don’t have any information about the most important tourist site in Afghanistan.”

So he smiled, and he said, “Well, you do something about it.”

I said, “Well, I will not write anything unless I see it, so you send me back to Bamiyan. So I spent a good part of a month in Bamiyan going to all the caves and studying everything. And then I wrote the guide to Bamiyan.

After that I became a guide writer. I wrote not only on Bamiyan but on Kabul and then the next one was on Herat and then the next one was on the north, the provinces in the north. And then finally, I published a general guide to all of Afghanistan.”

Nancy Hatch Dupree Nancy Hatch Dupree
Jake Simkin

Q: For me as an Afghan woman who lives now in Afghanistan and finds it very difficult to travel on her own, it is very interesting to see that you traveled to all these places at that time. How was it? How did people behave?
NHD: People, you know, the Afghans, they respect Harijis, foreigners, number one. Or they used to. They respect women also. And, so, I had no trouble travelling alone. People were always very, very hospitable and they wanted to help me.

And then much of the time I was traveling and getting my information for the guide books. I was traveling with my husband after I married him here and he was looking for pre-historic caves. I was looking for interesting material for the guide book, so we worked together. It was a very nice, cooperative relationship. And also he was my photographer. And that was, I think, it was very solidifying as far as the relationship was concerned. It brought us closer together because we were working on things together.

Q: Were you able to continue your work once the civil war began with the Soviet invasion?
NHD:
I was thrown out before the Soviets came, when Taraki (Nur Muhammad Taraki) came. During the Taraki regime we were thrown out and my husband was put in jail. By then we were living in Peshawar. He was coming back with the Mujahideen. I didn’t come with the Mujahideen. I thought it was not fair because, again, the Afghan character, they respected an old lady, and if there was a helicopter coming he would stay in order to help me. And I was endangering his life and I had no right to do that.

So my husband, he was like a goat with the Mujahideen. They could find shelter. But, so, he was covering the Mujahideen. I was covering the growth of the refugees in Peshawar. You know, it grew from nothing. We have a picture; I have a picture, of one of the largest refugee camps when it had one tent.

And it became a big city, you know, hundreds and hundreds of houses. But we were there from the beginning. I was studying the development of the refugees and while he was travelling with the Mujahideen.

Q: Were you doing some preservation work as well when you were in Pakistan?
NHD:
Well there wasn’t much preservation except for the preservation of information. Now this is very important because it’s not very well developed here. And that’s one of the reasons for ACKU, my center. I’m collecting the things that everybody is working on, all the research that is being done now. Because usually what happens, with these big agencies, they bring a reporter or a consultant, pay them big money, and they write a report and they circulate it for a short time and then it disappears. So all that information is wasted. So we collect, or try to collect, all the reporting that is being generated by the NGOs, by the bilateral governments, by the UN agencies, anything that describes what is going on, and what is the situation here in Afghanistan. And the reason we do this is because I am convinced that if you give the people of Afghanistan access to the information they need, that they themselves will do 80% of all this specific development.

People seem to think that just because people in the rural areas can’t read and write, they’re stupid. They’re not! They’re very, very bright and they showed that during their time in exile. They learned a great deal. Their minds were open and they are thirsting for things. They will pick up what they think is useful for them. If you give them information they don’t think is useful they won’t take it. But if it’s useful they’ll take it.

I had a recent experience with this. I’m profoundly bleak that this is true, because one time I was living in a village in northern Afghanistan next to my husband’s excavations. Two ladies came with a baby and the eyes were all stuck-up. They wanted penicillin and I said, “you go home, make some very, very strong tea and I will come. And they were laughing at me.”

They said, “ha, ha. We come, we ask this woman for help, and she said go make tea.”

Shaharzad interviewing Nancy Hatch Dupree Shaharzad interviewing Nancy Hatch Dupree

So, they were laughing at me and off they went. So when I got there they had the tea and we washed the baby’s eyes with the tea. And about two days later they came back, and this baby with these big beautiful eyes wide-open. There is nothing more beautiful than Afghan eyes.

They said, “Look at this!”

I said, “Yes, you see, the tea was better medicine than the penicillin. There is tannic acid.”

So then about a month later I was at a fatia, and we were all crammed into this room, and suddenly a woman with a baby with all stuck-up eyes, she began crawling towards me. And the women sitting around, they could see she was coming to me, they knew what was going to happen. And immediately, before she got to me, all the ladies were saying, “tannic acid, tannic acid, tannic acid! Go home and make tea!”

So, you know, this was learning. Not learning in a dull way, just learning practically, learning with good humor. And this is why I have a program where I publish books that are made for new literates. It is very simple but with very strong messages, not only about health, but about geography, about history, about home management. We have a hundred and twenty-two – oh no, now we have more – two hundred and seven titles in something called the ABLE box library extension, which goes into a district high schools and into village communities.

And this is part of what I do here at ACKU, because ACKU, they’ve got 60,000 documents. OK. They’re all catalogued. That takes a long time. And they are also all digitized. They’ll be coming, but they’re not all done. But anyway, about three-quarters of them are digitized. And the reason for digitizing is to preserve them, right? But also, you know, it’s very nice to have them on the shelves. I’m very proud and they’re very neat and everything. You can find what you want. You can search for it and you can go and find it.

That’s all very good, but actually, those documents are no use unless somebody takes them off the shelves and reads. So in order to distribute more widely, we’ll put all of this digitized material on DVDs, and we send them to Herat, Mazar, Kandahar, Khost, wherever there is a university, wherever there is the facilities to use it.

We will share this information with the whole of Afghanistan. The motto of ACKU is “sharing information for nation building,” because you can take this information and build on the livelihoods of the people. And I’m convinced that this is very, very important: access, access to knowledge.

What Afghanistan needs is a national information network, because there is lots of information here.  And we know, for instance, one very interesting thing. You know, Afghanistan is very high in child mortality, very, very high. And the mothers, the maternal mortality rate is also very high. And you know 87% of that high rate is caused by the fact that the people don’t know they are preventable. You can prevent the causes of that high mortality rate. Prevent by giving them information about what causes disease, what are germs, where they lurk in your house, and how to avoid them. Simple things like washing your hands. So we have books on that.

And also, we don’t like to work in isolation. We like to work in a parallel with the government ministries. For instance, on health: they are lowering the mortality rate – one of the accomplishments, achievements of this government. And they are doing it through community health workers. They bring the community health workers for training and they send them home. But they don’t give them anything in their hand. So, when the community health workers think, “my god, was I supposed to put one teaspoon or two teaspoons of salt in this medicine?” Can’t remember and there’s nothing to tell. So we write a book that goes exactly according to the messages that the Ministry of Public Health are teaching. Nothing else, just reinforcing the same messages. But it is something that they can have in their hand. So we do this for veterinarians, we do this for agriculture, we do this in addition to the history, which they like very much.

Q: How long has the center been in place and how many people work for you? Are these Afghans?
NHD:
All are Afghans, except me. And I’m going to be replaced very soon with a very superior Afghan who will be joining us in October. So I’m very happy about that. I have about 23 people who are working: the digitizers, the catalogers, and there’s the finance, and there’s the IT. And we have a reading room also in the library. You can take pictures of the reading room if you like, where the students and the professors, they can access our documents. And now we are building because we have very little space here, because there is more to sharing information than just cataloging books: exhibitions, lectures, films, all of kinds of events.

And, as I say, I look about this as one step, one step towards the establishment of a national information network, which we should have, because there is a lot of information here. But there is no way to get it out. It is really concentrated here. For instance, we have the boxed libraries, the ABLE libraries; we have in the provincial councils.

You know, the basis of democracy is your provincial councils. And I went to Charikar and I saw the provincial council. They didn’t even have a copy of the constitution. Now how can you be an effective provincial council if you don’t even know what your rights are?

So, initially we were only sending books to the community. And the community, they manage these. We don’t – we deliver the box and the community selects who is to be the custodian. They decide where they are going to put it. Some of our ABLE boxes are mobile boxes. Some of them are in schools and some of them are in clinics. The mullah’s like them very much. They’re in the mosque and sometimes in the shop because, you know, they’re lending libraries. So when somebody comes to return a book and take a new book, they see something to buy, so the shopkeepers like them also. So it depends, if the community makes the decision and manages it.

Q: What do you think about the ongoing preservation projects that are going on in Ghazni, Herat, Mes Aynak and the groups working there?
NHD:
Well I’ve been working with the museum for…I don’t like to say for how many years because it makes me look very old. But the Kabul museum is very dear to my heart, and to see it being looted the way it was during the war was very disturbing. But the soil of Afghanistan is so rich that we now have Mes Aynak, which we didn’t know anything about then.

The video, “Who is the Historian?,” is available on YouTube and Kabul at Work.

Joanie Meharry is director of Untold Stories: The Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage with grants from the Hollings Center in 2011-12.  She has conducted fieldwork on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage with fellowships from the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies at Boston University in 2012 and the Global Heritage Fund in 2011, and an oral history project on the National Museum of Afghanistan with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 2009. She writes often on Afghanistan’s culture and politics. Joanie holds a double-master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies and International and Comparative Legal Studies.

Shaharzad Akbar is partner and senior consultant with QARA Consulting, Inc. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Shaharzad studied anthropology at Smith College and recently completed an MPhil in Development Studies at University of Oxford. Shaharzad has extensive media and development work experience in Afghanistan. In 2005, she was the journalism intern for the book Women of Courage. Reporting for the book, she traveled across Afghanistan to meet and interview active Afghan women in all sectors. She has also worked as local reporter for BBC for Afghanistan, producer and host of a youth talk show on radio Killid and writer and editor for several Afghan magazines and newspapers.

FROM THE FIELD: Change of Time, An Interview with Abdul Wasay Najimi, Conservation Architect for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Professor at Kabul University

In the summertime, thousands of visitors flock to Bagh-e Babur, “Babur’s Garden”, an historic park in the heart of Kabul. Presiding over the garden is the entombed 16th-century Emperor Babur the Conqueror, founder of the Moghul Empire in India, for whom the garden is named. In the emperor’s memoir, the Baburnama, he praises the location for its scenery, gardens, orchards, and semi-arid climate. “Within a day’s ride it is possible to reach a place where snow never falls,” he observes. “But within two hours one can go where the snows never melt.”

Five centuries later, the public enjoys this same ambiance. Enclosed by perimeter walls, fertile rows of cypress, hawthorn, and cherry trees adorn the cascading terraces of the garden. Groups congregate on the pavilions. Couples stroll lazily along the water channels. Families picnic beneath the shade of the trees, eating kebabs, chatting, and resting in the dry heat.

Babur’s Garden did not always paint so splendid a picture. By the end of the Mujahideen civil war (1992-95) much of the garden was destroyed. It lingered in this state of disrepair through the Taliban regime (1996-2001).  And it was not until 2003 that restoration work was begun by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), joined by Dr. Abdul Wasay Najimi, a conservation architect. Most of the work was completed by 2007 with facilities for cultural and recreational activities, including a caravanserai (inn with large courtyard and area for caravans), garden pavilion, swimming-pool, and Queen’s Palace complex.

It was at the garden that we filmed an interview with Dr. Najimi about his work as a conservation architect as part of the series, Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage. The interview can be watched in the short video, Who is the Conservation Architect?, which showcases Dr. Najimi’s work for AKTC, including conservation of the eighteenth-century Timur Shah Mausoleum. Today, Dr. Najimi is instructing in the history of the architecture of Afghanistan full-time at Kabul University, teaching a younger generation to appreciate their cultural heritage, so that in time, more of Afghanistan’s remarkable architecture may be preserved.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your work experience with the Babur’s Garden project?

AWN: The first time I saw Babur’s Garden was in the Taliban’s time. It was in 2000. One of my former students was involved in the project. He had some funds from HABITAT to plant some trees that you can see at the lower part of Babur’s Garden. He also wanted to build a door for the garden.

Generally, the garden was completely destroyed. All its old trees were cut down. The place we are sitting at was destroyed. The structure was in place. The garden was ruined and there were no windows or doors or anything. All the surrounding houses were in ruins. I came with him to see what his plans were and what he was doing. For the second time, when I came in 2002, we started a deep survey and study of Babur’s Garden. Naturally, it was as I described before. Slowly we surveyed and developed a design and we implemented the plans. Now you see the results.

Q: When you were abroad (working towards your PhD), were you following the issues related to Afghanistan?

AWN: Since 1986, I have had direct working relations with Afghanistan. But not all my activities were related to historical sites and buildings. There were no such projects then, and also, there was no funding or budget for this kind of work. To earn a living, I worked with other organizations working in Afghanistan, organizations for development of cities and rural areas and such. But throughout this period, there were projects and missions once in a while from UNESCO or something organized by myself, where I traveled and studied historical sites closely, and wrote on them.

From 1991 or even 1990, I became more involved and I went to Bamiyan on behalf of UNESCO once or twice. Once, I went to Munar-e Jam. From ’93 onwards I was in Herat for two years with a Danish organization. We reconstructed some of the significant sites there. For a while after that, I was not very involved. But since 2002, after AKF (Aga Khan Foundation) opened an office in Kabul, we identified some sites/projects for reconstruction in Kabul. After 2005, I also got involved with Herat. Since then (2002), I have been directly involved in different projects.

Q: How many important projects did you work on at this time?

AWN: In Kabul, one of the most important projects was the revival and reconstruction of Bagh-e-Babur. Others were repairing, strengthening, and restoring the Timur Shah Mausoleum and garden, and reviving and repairing a residential area known as Ashiqan wa Arifan, in the old city of Kabul.

We further developed to include [restoring] a series of historical mosques, historical public baths, fixing roads and streams, and helping provide drinking water. Similarly in Herat, our important projects included reconstruction of an area in Herat, close to the center of the city; we reconstructed some of the houses as a sample.

Q: What role did Afghans have in reconstruction of the garden?

AWN: Generally, all we have done has been done through Afghans. To the extent possible, Afghans have also done the expert and technical work. AKF (Aga Khan Foundation) is an international organization and naturally wants to work with international standards. For this reason, we occasionally had international observers or experts whom we consulted with in case of need and asked for advice… Thus, it was both satisfactory and enjoyable. During these talks, my colleagues and I learned a lot academically and they (the international experts) also admired the restoration of old building material, the style, and the way of old work. They would see how to reuse the material that had been used before, again, and get a good result out of it.

Q: What are the plans for the future of Babur’s Garden?

AWN: Babur’s Garden, after its reconstruction was completed in 2006, I think towards the end of 2006, found a new administration. We tried to form a trust or administrative organization for the garden. It would be run by an executive board with help from the municipality, which used to run the garden, and the Ministry of Information and Culture, which is responsible for preservation of historical sites and buildings. The executive board members are representatives of AKF, the Kabul municipality, and the Ministry of Information and Culture.  The day to day management of the garden is conducted by the trust or organization called “Organization for Protection and Preservation of Babur’s Garden”.  The organization is registered with the Ministry of Economics and is run according to regulations of NGOs.

Q: And the idea is that the garden will be independent in future?

AWN: No. The idea is that in the past, many years ago, the garden was run by the municipality, and they sold tickets for entrance to the garden. Now, the garden is at the beginning of its reconstruction, and it has some expenses to be paid occasionally for its preservation and protection. The decision was made that the garden can have revenue from selling entrance tickets, from renting out for cultural events, and if there is a shortage of money/budget, it will ask for help from aid organizations so that it can manage its own expenses. According to government regulations, the municipality did the same thing. So it is permitted. The organization/trust is a non-profit. They need to manage all their expenses and income themselves. At the end of each year, their accounts are audited by auditors that have so far been international auditors and a report is made on their expenses.

Q: Was the team from Babur’s Garden involved in the restoration of Timur Shah Mausoleum as well?

AWN: Our team was really big. One team worked with Babur’s Garden. The other worked on Timur Shah Mausoleum and then on the walls and the gardens there. We had another team that was working in the old city. Some of the engineers, who gained work experience here, went and worked with other organizations, or made their own companies. Some of them went to Herat with me. We had the same program there regarding training of young people and such. For now, our work has decreased in Kabul, and we try to go and work in some other provinces where we didn’t have access before.

Q: How has the collaboration from local people been? How much do they know about historical sites?

AWN: Local people know about the value of historical sites and buildings… Unfortunately, during the war, there were many limitations. Poverty was increasing and roads were closed. Many people started to think that if they dig the historical sites, and find some historical or antique artifacts, and sell them, they can earn a living. Unfortunately, this led us to lose some of our important and historical artifacts.

When there is no specific responsible organization, the local people also slowly become careless, especially when it comes to buildings and such. In some places, historical buildings and locations have been misused, and that may have caused their destruction. In other places, lack of any preservation efforts and existence of snow and rain has led to destruction. Sometimes, it has been a case of military use or buildings being employed in some manner during the fighting. Or the government has used the structures for military purposes. The people have often used buildings as shelters. The important point is that there is little public knowledge about historical artifacts of our country. And the officials, even if they are responsible, they are not fully active and accountable on raising awareness. We still have the problem that on one front, we need to raise public awareness through radios and TVs and through schools and teaching, and on the other front we need to work to improve the organizations that are responsible for this job of preservation.

Q: What was the worst period for cultural heritage in Afghanistan?

AWN: It is now and it was in the past 30 years of war. The main reason is that it was hard to preserve historical sites, traveling was difficult, there were few professionals and experts of historical artifacts in the country, everyone was on the move, everyone was a migrant. But the problem still continues.

Q: What is the impact of security on preservation work?

AWN: Security impacts everything. If there is fear and worry somewhere, there is lack of certainty. Any work, from business to personal and governmental activities, will be harmed. Luckily, since we have so far worked in Kabul and Herat, and also, the way we worked, we had very close relations with the public. We also occasionally have consulted the government offices that were responsible for preservation. We have never had any (security) problems. If you are working in a place that is hard to access, and is not safe and secure, sending professional staff and required material and equipment would be difficult. I have to say this, that the history has proved that civilization will grow in a place where there is security. Where there is peace among a community or in an area, the civilization has grown, progress has happened and economy has grown. During the war, all decisions are quick decisions, and while taking quick decisions, one can’t make useful decisions for the future.

Q: How do you see the future in three or four years?

AWN: Well, God knows better about the future. We can’t predict. But, from a personal and professional commitment viewpoint, I can only say that for me, it has been proved that in implementing such projects, we need to educate the youth. So that, we can train architects that are interested in the profession, have an understanding of the profession, and can work for the future, so that we can offer these people to our society.

It is for this reason that since 2009 we have had a more serious collaboration with Kabul University. I have gone there regularly on behalf of AKF and have taught there in the section related to history of architecture for Afghanistan, specifically regarding conservation and preservation. Also, this year we will invite some people from abroad to hold short term, expert classes for students in Polytechnic University Kabul and Kabul University simultaneously to restore the motivation for professional work, the style of professional work.

This interview is part of a series, ‘Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage’, funded by a Hollings Center for International Dialogue Grant. The series will be available on video, made in collaboration with Kabul at Work, and available on their website at: http://www.kabulatwork.tv/

Joanie Meharry is currently completing an MA in International and Comparative Legal Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is a 2012 John F. Richards Fellow for the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and is directing the project, Untold Stories: the Oral History of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, with a Hollings Center for International Dialogue Grant. She also holds an MSc in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

Shaharzad Akbar is partner and senior consultant with QARA Consulting, Inc. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Shaharzad studied anthropology at Smith College and recently completed an MPhil in Development Studies at University of Oxford. Shaharzad has extensive media and development work experience in Afghanistan. In 2005, she was the journalism intern for the book Women of Courage. She has also worked as local reporter for BBC for Afghanistan, producer and host of a youth talk show on radio Killid and writer and editor for several Afghan magazines and newspapers.

FROM THE FIELD: Speaking with Omara Khan Massoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan

Omara Khan Massoudi is more of a permanent feature at the National Museum of Afghanistan than many of the collections that are housed there. Now the director, he has worked at the Kabul museum for more than three decades: a tumultuous period that bore witness to the Soviet occupation, Mujahideen civil war, and Taliban regime, when irreplaceable collections were relocated for safekeeping, damaged, or destroyed.

These days, Mr. Massoudi is overseeing a period of progress. Stunning relics from the current excavation at Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist complex located in Logar province, are on display in a new exhibition, Mes Aynak: Recent excavations along the Silk Road. Plans are also underway to erect a new National Museum building with state of the art equipment on the lot next door with funding from the United States Embassy and the World Bank.

The director has given countless interviews in English about the history and future of the museum. But this time around my Afghan colleague, Shaharzad Akbar, interviewed Massoudi in his native tongue of Dari, so that little was lost in the conversation. What follows is Massoudi’s beautifully told account of his experiences in his own words. The interview can also be watched in the short video, Who is the Museum Director?, which includes rarely seen historical footage of the museum.

 

Q: When did you become interested in the cultural heritage of Afghanistan?

OKM: Thanks. When I joined Kabul University, the faculty of literature and human sciences, I studied the history and geography that is closely linked to museums and archaeology. In 1973, when I graduated, I worked as a teacher in Ibn-e-Sina for four years. Afterwards, I came to the Ministry of Information and Culture. For four months, I worked on Kushani international research. Then I came to the National Museum of Afghanistan (also known as the Kabul Museum) and I have been working in different parts of the museum since. It is closely linked to my field of study. You know museums are linked to history and geography both, and fortunately, I have been working in a small part of the museum since.

 

Q: When you came to the Kabul Museum, what was the situation?

OKM: The museum was in a good place then. The museum was exhibiting 10% of the artifacts from the collection of the artifacts stored in the museum. Storage was full of historical objects. There were lots of viewers and the exhibition was designed very gloriously. Until 1992, this museum was open to the viewers. In that time, not only Afghans, but also some foreigner friends visited the museum, and as days passed, the museum was making more progress.

 

Q: When did things change for the museum?

OKM: You know that in May 1988 (Afghan calendar: 1367), when the Russian troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan, rebels in Kabul’s surrounding areas began firing rockets on Kabul through the summer and fall of that year. The authorities decided to end the museum’s exhibition, because there was fear that rockets may hit the museum. The possibility of fire was also predicted.

One year later, we not only withdrew the exhibition of the objects, but we also proposed a plan to the Ministry of Information and Culture to move some of the important objects belonging to different historical areas to the center of the city for protection. Power was shifting from the communist government to the Mujahideen. And, naturally, it was predicted that transfer of power would create a power vacuum. And with a power vacuum, we predicted that some dangers or risks may face the museum. Fortunately, the Minister of Information and Culture accepted this proposal, and he shared it with the president, Dr. Najibullah, who also accepted it.

President Najibullah instructed the members of the museum to indicate a place that they deemed appropriate and safe for preserving the objects. Members of the museum studied all of the government buildings in the center of the city. At our last analysis, we chose an appropriate place, where in that small area; they specified two cabins for us. According to the capacity of the space, we chose important and unique objects from different historical parts or different historical areas. Then we packed them.

In the presence of a delegation of authorities, consisting of members of the museum and some individuals from the honorable Institute of Archeology, we moved it in 1368 (February-March, 1989). The purpose was that if there are any incidents or problems in one area, the second or third area may stay safe. Fortunately, this decision led to some very good and pleasant results for us. But unfortunately, for the objects that were mostly in the National Museum, which is in Darulaman area (southwestern Kabul), they were really damaged. Especially when the civil wars started during early 1992 until the end of 1994, many horrible battles happened here, and the objects from the museum were looted. Also, due to a rocket, on May 12, 1993, the upper level of the building was set on fire. Fortunately, the fire did not spread to the lower level. Most of our storage was in the ground floor.

Jake Simkin
Omara Khan Massoudi

The objects that were looted from the National Museum found their way to the black markets here. But the very unique objects, fortunately, did not come to the market. The looters were always looking, they always asked, ‘what happened to the Bactrian treasure?’ Because in 1357-58, these objects were excavated by Afghan and Russian archaeologists. When Viktor Sarianidi submitted these objects to the museum, there was instant attention. And it is worth mentioning that in 1980, we put some of these objects on display in the National Museum. Due to security issues, we collected these objects and put them in storage.

In this time, what I think is important is that when national and international journalists asked about the Bactrian treasure, museum staff decided not to give any information about the objects to the media. The concern was to keep it safe. Because we predicted that if, god forbid, any information about these objects gets out, they will face danger. This decision ensured protection of the objects that were placed in two locations inside the city, and they were safe till 2003. At that time, when H.E. President was visiting the central bank of the Presidential Palace, he was visiting the bank storage, I think the bank staff told him that the Bactrian treasure is safe; it is here. The president, who was extremely happy, shared with the media that the Bactrian treasure is still safe. At that point, we didn’t have any other option.

Several countries showed interest in having an international exhibition of these saved objects in their countries. Finally, I remember, in 2005, H.E. President had an official trip to France. Mr. Chirac, President of France, asked him to send an exhibition to France, based on previous relations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. During the kingdom of Amanullah Khan (1919-1929) and in the period of Zahir Shah (1933-1973), we had very friendly relations with France. You might know that after 1923, based on an agreement signed between the governments of Afghanistan and France, French and Afghan archeologists had excavations in various parts of Afghanistan. Thus, H.E. President agreed to Mr. Chirac’s suggestions.

President Karzai instructed for a selection of some of the saved objects by experts from both the Guimet Museum and the National Museum of Afghanistan. We selected 231 saved objects that belonged to the following four historical periods: objects from the Fullol hill that belong to the Bronze Age, Ai-Khanoum objects that belong to the 3rd or 4th Centuries BC, objects from the Bactrian treasure that belong to around the 1st Century BC through the 1st Century AD and also objects from the Bagram treasure that belongs to the 1st-2nd Century AD. We chose 231 objects that consisted of 1,441 individual pieces. Before the objects were sent there, we created inventories. We computerized the details and created documentations for them in both Dari and English, and in international standards. First, these objects were restored here for three weeks. French experts came. They were restored, fixed, and were made ready to be transferred. Then for more than two months in the Guimet Museum in France, they were cleaned by experts of both museums: the Guimet Museum and the National Museum of Afghanistan. They were made ready for exhibition, which was opened at the Guimet Museum in October 2006. Several countries put in requests (for future exhibitions), for example: Italy, Holland, Germany, and the USA. The Ministry of Information and Culture signed contracts with each museum.

I think this is a good message to the whole world. Especially to Afghans who are immigrants in a different world, in different countries. Afghanistan is always in the media. Reports are published that lead people to know Afghanistan as a country of terror, murder, bombs, explosions, and these things. But I think this exhibition at the National Museum of Afghanistan is a good message to the world, that Afghanistan is not only a country in war. Three decades of war have destroyed different aspects of people’s lives. It is a good message for the world that Afghanistan is a country with past civilizations, rich history, and also was and is rich with artifacts. This message introduces another face of Afghan people, and Afghan culture to people. Many countries have requested (the exhibition) so far and we are hopeful that it can show the authentic face of Afghanistan’s long living culture to the world. It is very effective in introducing our culture.

 

Q: This exhibition increases interest in Afghanistan.

OKM: Certainly. This exhibition, as I mentioned before, is not only a good message, but it also allows the international community to also learn about our history. And fortunately, I am very happy, that until now, more than one and a half million people have visited this exhibition. Good publicity has been done.

One of the advantages of this exhibition for us is that in addition to generating some income for the Afghan side, we have tried to get each country to print a catalogue. We have requested 1,000 catalogues from each country, translated in our national languages, in Pashtu and Dari. The Ministry of Information and Culture sends these free catalogues to all the public libraries of Afghanistan, and to libraries of all universities. We have sent them so that our youth access the research done about objects of Afghanistan in their national language, Pashtu or Dari. We have even distributed some in English for friends who know the language. We have another catalogue that we plan to officially send to libraries of all teacher-training institutions and to centers of education for teachers so that they can learn about their history and culture in their own national language.

Many books written by international archaeologists about the history and culture of Afghanistan have been published in their own language. Unfortunately, as you know, Afghan people, particularly youth, can not access all foreign languages. Russians have written in Russian, Japanese have conducted research in Japanese, Germans in German and British or American experts or archaeologists have published in English. We send these (Pashtu and Dari) catalogues to libraries as donations, to encourage young people to become interested and read. In future, if we had the capacity, we plan to send these to libraries of high schools not only in the capital but also in the provinces so that our people know that their country has had a valuable history and precious objects, and it still has them. This should become clear and comprehensive for them, and they should study. I think this is another advantage of this exhibition.

 

Q: When can we bring the objects from this exhibition to Afghanistan? Is the security situation ready for this? And are you optimistic about the future of Afghanistan in this area?

OKM: The objects were here. They were sent for exhibition in 2005. Fortunately, they were saved. Today, it is every Afghan’s wish to have real security in the country. One of the main responsibilities is also to put our objects on display for our own Afghans. And now, these objects are in an international exhibition. We hope that this tour will end after all the countries send their requests. Naturally, it will return to Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Information and Culture aims to construct a new building on the west side of the National Museum, for the National Museum. This building will meet all the requirements of a modern museum that is standard globally. These requirements are security signals, humidity control system, and heating system, as well as good lightening, good storages, and good display halls. Naturally, we will display these objects in here so that all our countrymen learn about their rich history.

The current building of the museum is, unfortunately, not built for a museum. It is a historical building that was built simultaneously with Darul-aman Palace in H.E. King Amanullah Khan’s period. It was used as a municipality building. The objects of the museum were transferred here in 1931, or 1309 solar year, from the city center to here. We use this building as a museum since then. The requirements I mentioned earlier do not exist in this building and it is a historical building. Even if we bring the humidity control system, strong security signals, and also heaters and such to this building, I don’t think it can respond to needs of the National Museum in future. It was based on this need that the Ministry of Information and Culture and Islamic government of the Republic of Afghanistan decided to have a new building, a bigger building that would be a model for the whole region. We hope that these objects will be exhibited for Afghans who are interested as well. We will wait for these facilities to be put in place, so that these objects are preserved in the best possible way in the National Museum.

 

The Director of the National Museum, Omara Khan Massoudi, overseeing restoration of a statue

Q: What was the situation of the museum in the aforementioned crisis periods in Afghanistan? Was the museum closed during the Taliban-controlled period?

OKM: Unfortunately, when the civil wars started, the museum building burnt down and its objects were looted. The museum was in bad shape, but it was not closed. It was always open for visitors. At least our countrymen could come and see the destroyed museum.

During the Taliban period as well, only a few objects were on display, but visitors would come. After the fall of the Taliban, the Ministry of Information and Culture decided to reconstruct the museum as soon as possible to reconstruct the National Museum of Afghanistan. Not only the National Museum, but all of our cultural aspects had been greatly damaged. Most of our historical buildings have been destroyed during the war. Our historical sites have been looted.

I am very happy that in May 2002, the Ministry of Information and Culture took an initiative and invited an international conference with financial support from UNESCO. It was for two days. More than a hundred Afghan and foreign experts attended the conference. This seminar studied issues in all aspects of Afghanistan’s culture. The participants in the seminar visited the National Museum of Afghanistan, the destroyed museum, and fortunately, this drew considerable attention to the reconstruction of the museum. Reconstruction was financially supported by friend country Greece, the US Embassy and also UNESCO. Reconstruction work started in 2003 and ended in September 2004.

At the same time, we tried to establish departments for the National Museum from scratch. We especially paid attention to the Restoration Department, the Photography Department, and other things. The objects that were left from war were mostly damaged. They needed serious restoration. They needed to be restored, cleaned, fixed. The destroyed objects needed to be reconstructed. We took positive steps in this regard. And I am happy that staff of the museum worked and worked seriously with courage and a sense of responsibility and dedication. More than 3,000 objects needed serious restoration, and were fixed and restored. From the destroyed objects, we reconstructed 300, and some of it is put on display.

But the work is on-going. We still have big responsibilities in front of us. The objects that were left from war generally need restoration, cleaning, and reconstruction. But we have limited facilities. Our efforts have continued and, fortunately, the National Museum has been able to expand its exhibition now. We have put some objects on display and the museum is open every day to visitors.

I am especially pleased that our visitors increase every year. The majority of our visitors are school and university students. I can provide you with a small statistic. In 2002, we had 2,000 visitors for the whole year, but last year in 1389, we had more than 24,000 visitors. This year, in the first three months, we have had more than 9,000 visitors. We are hoping to have more than 30,000 visitors by end of year. I think this is still insignificant.

Our services are also limited. I hope we can offer more services one day. And I hope there will be a time when the National Museum of Afghanistan has visitors in the same proportions as advanced countries. I hope that our youth take interest. Although, we do understand the problems of our people, the problems of our school students, that they have many problems. They do not have the financial means to come from provinces to center to visit and to come to the museum. But I am optimistic that a bright future awaits us. Our youth will take interest. Our people will take interest. They will even come with their families. They will visit the National Museum. The museum is open to visitors every day, especially on Fridays, when our people can come and visit the museum without a ticket. There is lots of hope.

 

Q: Do you have any agreements with the Ministry of Education to encourage the students (to visit)?

OKM: As I indicated earlier, the doors of the museum are open to everyone. My expectation from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education is to bring school and university students here. We do not require them to buy tickets. Not only do we not distribute tickets to them, but also our guide is there for them to serve them in our national languages, Pashtu and Dari. I understand that, unfortunately, the Ministry of Education also has some economic problems to provide transport. But, still our education system is improving. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education are slowly overcoming problems. They have international support. I hope that in future there will be an opportunity for school students to visit regularly. Every day, in every moment, the National Museum is ready to host 200-300 visitors with several breaks. We are ready to provide any service to our visitors, to our countrymen. One of the important functions of a museum is education. We are ready to provide these services.

 

Q: What were the difficult moments in the history of the museum? Have you ever lost hope in future of the museum?

OKM: Unfortunately, in the history of Afghanistan, these instances have repeated themselves. I am very disappointed when cultural issues are overshadowed by medium or big political policies. Unfortunately, there has been damage. During the earliest unrest, as you know, the National Museum of Afghanistan was in Koti Baghcha, the Presidential Palace. In 1308, it was damaged. The objects were looted. During the civil wars in years 1992-1995, and also in the unfortunate incident in 2001, the objects in the museum were destroyed.

The National Museum of Afghanistan has seen many ups and downs. I personally, serving the museum for 33 years, have witnessed these up and downs. But the sacred religion of Islam always promotes hope to individuals. One has to be hopeful. Our people should try. They should face every problem and struggle with it. Having hope is essential for life. We witnessed very difficult moments at the museum. We saw its destruction. But we did not lose hope. One has to be hopeful to serve his countrymen in all circumstances. One has to take steps with determination. They say that if you feel compassion, a blind eye also sheds tears. We did not lose hope. The big problems that were facing us are fortunately being solved slowly and day by day. And I am optimistic that in future, real peace will come to this country. The mistakes Afghan people made must not be repeated. They should beware that war does not bring happiness to any nation. War has no outcomes but destruction.

In a peaceful environment, one can focus on knowledge, on education, and serve one’s people. I am hopeful that our culture can play a big role in creating peace. It can restore national unity. We have the best examples in the National Museum. The objects of the museum, if one pays proper attention, are storytellers of different aspects of lives of Afghan people, be it political, social, economic, and cultural in different periods. We have great examples in this country. This country has seen up and downs in the period when it was great Ariana, or in the period of Khorasan, when this country was called Khorasan for 1,500 years, or when it was named Afghanistan. Fortunately, this country has offered artists to society. It has been influenced by all different civilizations. It has used them positively and has merged the influences within its own culture.

The product of this, when offered to the world, is very beautiful. It has amazing power. The objects in the National Museum tell us about all aspects of social, political, culture, and even religious aspects of life in different periods of Afghanistan’s history. We hope that in future our people hang on to their past culture, that they go back and search their past, that they pay attention to the present, and predict the future and that this long-lived Afghan culture plays its appropriate role in the national unity of Afghanistan.

 

Q: Do you have anything else to say? Any messages?

OKM: My wish, and my message to the nation of Afghanistan and to international friends, is to not forget Afghanistan’s past culture, that they help us with reviving it, that they help us with all hardships and problems we face, and help us with reconstruction. My wish from Afghans is that they pay attention to themselves. They should make an effort to preserve their objects as their national pride and national wealth. They shouldn’t cause the destruction and ruin of these objects, because the identity of a country is made of its history. We wrote a small slogan at the front of the museum, it is encrypted on a stone: a nation stays alive only when it can keep its history and culture alive. This seems like a small sentence but it has wider meanings. They should hang on to this and pay more attention to preserving their cultural wealth that is a source of pride for every Afghan.

This interview is part of a series, ‘Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage’, funded by a Hollings Center for International Dialogue Grant. The series will be available on video, made in collaboration with Kabul at Work, and available on their website at: http://www.kabulatwork.tv/

Jake Simkin

Joanie Meharry is currently completing an MA in International and Comparative Legal Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. This summer she lived in Kabul while researching the archaeological site of Mes Aynak with a Global Heritage Fund Fellowship and a Connecticut Ceramics Study Circle Grant, and directing the project, Untold Stories: the Oral History of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, with a Hollings Center for International Dialogue Grant. She writes often on Afghanistan’s culture and politics. Joanie also holds an MSc in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

Jake Simkin

Shaharzad Akbar is partner and senior consultant with QARA Consulting, Inc. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Shaharzad studied anthropology at Smith College and recently completed an MPhil in Development Studies at University of Oxford. Shaharzad has extensive media and development work experience in Afghanistan. In 2005, she was the journalism intern for the book Women of Courage. Reporting for the book, she traveled across Afghanistan to meet and interview active Afghan women in all sectors. She has also worked as local reporter for BBC for Afghanistan, producer and host of a youth talk show on radio Killid and writer and editor for several Afghan magazines and newspapers.

Kabul: "Who is the Museum Director?"

This short, but fascinating video is the first of a series produced by Kabul at Work and Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage funded by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue. In an interview with Omara Khan Massoudi we hear his first-hand account of the struggle to save Afghanistan’s cultural heritage throughout its tumultuous history. He talks about the famous Bactrian treasure and the future of the National Museum of Afghanistan. The video includes some wonderful old footage of the National Museum.

For more information on the situation in Afghanistan read Joanie Meharry’s story,  “Looting Afghanistan’s cultural heritage: A conversation with Abdul Wasey Ferozi”.

"She is the property of Italy…and they have every right in the world to put her in that museum. It feels right to have her there."

Senta German interviews Ralph Frammolino, co-author with Jason Felch of the recently published Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum in the latest installment of SAFE podcasts. Professor German had recently reviewed the book on SAFECORNER. The topic has also been discussed here. In this clip, Frammolino recalls the ceremony unveiling the statue’s recent return to Aidone and describes how the Italian people react to cultural patrimony. “There is a connectivity to the earth, to the ground to the civilizations that were there.” The full podcast can be heard here.

Photo: SAFE

Brian Rose on looting: "history that’s been murdered"

In an interview with American Public Media’s Dick Gordon, AIA President and Professor at University of Pennsylvania Brian Rose describes his recent first trip to Iraq where he saw ancient sites cratered by looters.

Professor Rose also speaks about the cultural heritage briefings he has been giving to American soldiers on the archaeology of Iraq and Afghanistan, and his visit to the Iraq Museum.

The interview can be heard here in the second part of the broadcast.

Chronicle of Higher Education Q and A with Larry Rothfield

http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i32/32b01701.htm

From the issue dated April 17, 2009
A Fragile History, Besieged
A post-mortem examination of the cultural disaster in Iraq

Six years ago this month, the National Museum of Iraq was extensively looted amid the chaos of the U.S. invasion of Baghdad. Among the stolen objects was the Mask of Warka, a 5,100-year-old Sumerian artifact that is believed to be one of the earliest surviving representations of a human face. The mask was found buried on an Iraqi farm five months later — but thousands of other precious objects were destroyed or disappeared into the black market.

“We do not know, and we may never know, a great many lessons about how human civilization first arose, because of this disaster,” says Lawrence Rothfield, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Chicago and a former director of the university’s Cultural Policy Center.

In his new book, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum (University of Chicago Press), Rothfield examines the sacking of the museum and the “slow-motion disaster” of the looting of archaeological sites across Iraq since 2003.

Rothfield recently spoke with The Chronicle’s David Glenn. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

Q. Why should the world care about Iraqi antiquities? Doesn’t this issue pale in comparison to the war’s political struggles and tens of thousands of deaths?

I hear that question sometimes: Why should we care? Why should we worry that all of this material is being brought onto the black market? After all, isn’t this making available to the rest of the world the beauty of all these objects that otherwise would not have been available for us to see?

One reason to worry is that this material is being ripped out of its context. The individual intact pieces that fall into the hands of collectors might be beautiful. But most of what we know about the origins of civilization has come from piecing together fragments and reconstructing contexts. The Epic of Gilgamesh was pieced together from fragments that looters today would have crushed underfoot.

Q. Before 2003 the National Museum of Iraq was regarded as one of the best in the region. Despite all of the cruelties and travails of Saddam Hussein’s regime, this institution thrived. Why was that?
Saddam thought of the Mesopotamian past as a propaganda tool — which meant that at least he cared enough about it to impose severe penalties on looters, and to spend the resources needed to support the work of the museum. And even before Saddam came to power, Iraq had some longstanding relationships with European and American archaeological institutions, including the Oriental Institute here at Chicago. So for decades, they had been training archaeologists to produce work that was of very high quality.

Q. Why did the United States do such a bad job of protecting the museum in 2003?
Before the war, nobody except archaeologists was worried about civilians looting the archaeological sites and the museum. And that includes the Iraqi exiles who were advising the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, which was supposed to develop plans for the postwar period. They set up working groups on all sectors of society — but they forgot about culture.

Q. But would it have made a difference if the Future of Iraq Project had paid attention to culture?

No, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all, given that the military threw all of their plans in the garbage can anyway.

Now, the military itself was very interested in doing its job in terms of protecting cultural sites and museums. But under international law, its job is defined as not destroying or looting cultural sites itself — not as preventing civilians from destroying sites.

So before the war, they reached out to archaeologists, and they did a perfect job of identifying sites to put on a no-strike list. None of those sites was destroyed in active combat operations.

Unfortunately, they ignored warnings from the same archaeologists they were working with that the museums and sites might be looted by Iraqis. The Pentagon should have known about that issue. Nine museums were looted after the 1991 Gulf War. The military did not learn its lesson from that experience.

Q. There were reports last year that the military had asked archaeologists to develop a similar no-strike list for cultural sites in Iran. And some archaeologists have argued that it is unethical to cooperate with that project, because they say an American attack on Iran would be immoral. Have you been part of those debates?
My thought is that requiring the military to spend time and effort to protect cultural sites actually makes the cost of war higher for the military than it would otherwise be. So if you’re interested in doing what you can to discourage the U.S. from going to war, raising the cost of war is one way to do so.

There’s no contradiction between speaking out publicly against the war and making sure that the military protects cultural sites if it does go to war.

Q. Do you believe the American military has learned lessons since 2003?
It’s a mixed picture. The new Army Field Manual includes on its task list the imperative to secure and protect cultural sites and museums. That’s a huge step forward in itself. They’ve also been developing excellent cultural-awareness training programs to sensitize soldiers heading into war zones, working with the Archaeological Institute of America.

But there is also the separate question about what to do going forward in Iraq — and in Afghanistan, where matters are arguably even worse. There is still severe looting in both countries. The British recently returned several tons of Afghan antiquities that had been seized at London airports since 2003, just to give you some sense of the size of the problem.

The looting of the Iraq museum was terrible, but the amount of material lost from the slow looting of Iraq’s archaeological sites dwarfs the amount that was taken from the museum. Estimates are that roughly half a million pieces have been destroyed or taken from the ground since 2003.

Q. If you had half an hour to talk to people at the Pentagon or the State Department, what would you say?

Archaeologists have been asking for years now for the military to share satellite photographs of the Iraqi archaeological sites so that they could count the number of holes and track the rate of looting around the country. They’re still waiting.

I would also urge the Pentagon to form a task force to develop operational plans to inject resources into those areas where it’s possible to make a difference. In some cases that might mean providing cars, weapons, and walkie-talkies to the civilians who are supposed to be protecting sites.

And I would suggest a tax on all sales of antiquities from Iraq and Afghanistan. The proceeds could be used to help finance anti-looting efforts in those countries.

Q. At the end of your book, you wrote that you didn’t expect the Iraq museum to reopen “for years to come.” But in February, after your book went to press, a part of the museum reopened. Were you surprised?
Well, I was dismayed by it, as were [the museum's former director] Donny George and a number of other Iraqi archaeologists. Conditions in Baghdad are still very fragile. And the museum is nowhere near ready to be open to the public, even if the situation weren’t so touchy. The recent reduction in violence is heartening, but it only brings us down to levels that are equivalent to other long-running civil wars.

David Glenn is a senior reporter at The Chronicle.

http://chronicle.com

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 32, Page B17

The case for Cyprus

Department of Antiquities, Cyprus
Coin from the ancient City-Kingdom of Idalion (460-450 BC); Side 1: seated sphinx, a flower and greek letters; Side 2: lotus flower, an ivy leaf and a sheep/goat nucklebone

In light of the recent decision to include ancient coins on the list of import restrictions, Jessica Dietzler conducted the following interview with Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, about the significance of the decision and why it is important to safeguarding the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

The Government of Cyprus has ratified several international binding treaties in order to safeguard its cultural heritage. In 2002 (Federal Register Vol. 67; 139), the Governments of the United States and Cyprus entered into a bilateral agreement concerning Import Restrictions Imposed on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Material Originating in Cyprus. As recently as July 16, 2007 (Federal Register Vol. 72; 134), the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was extended another five years and includes an amendment for the addition of ancient coins to the list of import restrictions.

It should be noted that the inclusion of coins on the list is the first of its kind in the history of bilateral agreements between the United States and a foreign government. The State Department’s decision has met with heated reactions. Some leaders of the coin dealer lobby believe that it heralds the eventual end of dealing and collecting activities. Recently, the American Coin Collector’s Guild (ACCG) has filed suit against the US State Department.

For those who are interested in learning more about why coins are important in the archaeological record, please see Coins and Archaeology and a recent SAFE feature article by Nathan Elkins.

Jessica Dietzler
“Temple of Apollo Hylates” Kourion, Cyprus

JD: Dr. Flourentzos, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to participate in this interview. The recent renewal of the MOU between the United States and Cyprus is a significant development for both countries. The inclusion of ancient coins figures prominently in the renewal, and has been the subject of intense debate. Clearly, coins occupy an important space in the corpus of scientific archaeological data. When scientifically excavated, they have the potential to help us reconstruct ancient political, economic and social environments. Why are Cypriot coins so important, to include them on the list of import restrictions? Is it because textual evidence regarding the island’s history is so rare, or are there other reasons?

PF: First of all, allow me to thank you warmly for the opportunity you are giving me to communicate with your readers. We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important to understand that there is no way of retrieving coins without destroying the stratigraphy of a site.

You would be surprised, but the truth is that coins are of much greater historical importance for Cyprus, than maybe other countries like Greece and Italy. The reason for this is that Cyprus lacks the abundance of rich ancient written sources other areas of the Mediterranean and the Near East enjoy. The plethora of texts of Classical Greece, for example, that have come down to us range from philosophy and science to everyday life problems. These are valuable sources for the history of this area. Cyprus is not that rich in such texts, so the Cypriot coins are especially important for the attempts of reconstructing the history of ancient Cyprus.

JD: Critics of the recent agreement with Cyprus contend that there is no substantive proof of significant looting of coins on the island. Have ancient coins been looted from Cyprus to any significant degree?

PF: Only a few days ago (first half of October 2007) the police of the Republic of Cyprus in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities managed to arrest a group of five smugglers who had a significant number of Cypriot antiquities in their possession, including several dozens of coins. According to the testimony police managed to gather, two of the smugglers were foreigners and they were planning to export and sell the antiquities outside the island.

The Department of Antiquities has collaborated with the police in quite a few cases in arresting people with metal detectors in archaeological sites, excavating for coins. I am referring to just a few cases of the recent years.

JD: Can you cite any specific instances of ancient Cypriot coins being looted and smuggled out of the island?

PF: On June 2002 in Italy the police managed to arrest a civilian who illegally had in her possession a hoard of 149 silver coins of the ancient Cypriot kingdom of Amathus, a city- state of the southwestern coast of the island of Cyprus. The Italian government returned these coins to the Republic of Cyprus. This case helped also the Italian police to trace an enormous amount of Roman coins excavated unlawfully in Italy.

JD: The collecting of ancient coins is a very popular hobby; ancient coins are also incredibly valuable, monetarily, in the worldwide antiquities market. Some supporters of coin collecting have proposed “responsible” collecting. Do you think it might be possible for coin collectors to collect ancient coins “responsibly” without contributing to the irreversible and destructive process of looting?

PF: There is no way for non-professionals to excavate coins at a site without destroying the archaeological context and the stratigraphy of the site. In the Antiquities Law of the Republic of Cyprus there is a special article for the protection of the stratigraphy of every archaeological site. In contemporary archaeology the ultimate value is context and not any isolated artifact. Thus, destroying stratigraphy to retrieve a coin is equal to destroying archaeology.

I am afraid that arguments about “responsible” collecting are based on the nineteenth century—and thus completely out of date—tradition when it was thought that archaeology is a pleasant pastime that anyone could “enjoy”. In the decades that have elapsed, the gradual transformation of archaeology from a pastime to a science has proved the essential difference between looting and scientific excavation.

JD: The UNESCO International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property states in Article 1 that “Professional traders in cultural property will not import, export or transfer the ownership of this property when they have reasonable cause to believe it has been stolen, alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported.” What if, let’s say, a dealer decides that there is no “reasonable cause” to believe a certain item is illegal. With all of the multilateral and bilateral ratified treaties in place to safeguard cultural heritage, should we still depend on the personal discretion of individual dealers, whose attentiveness may vary?

PF: Your remarks are of great importance. It is obvious that the international archaeological community in collaboration with political authorities should continue their efforts to create and enact multilateral and bilateral treaties so that the world’s cultural heritage is not left at the mercy of just anyone. In this sense, I would like to thank once again the Department of State which agreed that coins should be included in the MOU.

JD: Are dealers’ activities monitored? If not, should they be?

PF: In the Republic of Cyprus yes, the dealers´ activities are monitored. There is a special article in the Antiquities Law [see section 31.VII.26] about dealers. I should stress that during the last decades our policy is to grant no new license for antiquities dealing.

JD: Many coin dealers and collectors assert that they are the protagonists disseminating historical information to the public, claiming that the public needs to understand the importance of ancient history and artifacts through lively and colorful presentations that ‘narrow,’ ‘dead’ academics and archaeologists cannot provide. Another claim is that coin collectors offer the public the chance to experience ‘hands-on’ study of ancient history, a “cultural contribution” that museums cannot make. What is your opinion of this?

PF: It is true that there is a need for some museums to become more lively, more visitor-friendly. The “hands-on” learning method is part of the methodology of modern museology and it has been applied in many European museum programs. The dissemination of archaeological knowledge to the public is one of the main objectives of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and we try to do this with many ways and methods.   One should honestly admit that private collecting does not help bring historical information to a wide audience. Museums accessible to the general public are better at spreading historical and archaeological knowledge. So the real need is to transform museums to lively organizations. People who are really interested in contributing to the dissemination of knowledge could do this through support of museums.

I should add here that the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, recognizing the need to monitor private antiquities collections, has granted the opportunity to collectors to declare their collections two times in the past, in 1973 and 1996. It should be stressed that the Cypriot Antiquities Law acknowledges possession but not ownership of antiquities.

JD: What sorts of problems does the occupation of northern Cyprus by the Turkish army since 1974 pose for the Department of Antiquities? Has the Department been able to exercise its authority in the northern occupied territory?

PF: The northern part of the island is illegally occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. This occupation is illegal according to all UN resolutions. The occupied part is still part of the Republic of Cyprus. When the Republic of Cyprus was accepted as a member state of the European Union in 2004, the northern part of the island was considered to be still part of Cyprus. The so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey, the invading and occupying force. The Republic of Cyprus is the only legal and internationally recognized entity on the island. Any archaeological action on the island should be under the authority of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. As of 1974, the Department of Antiquities cannot exercise its authority towards the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage in the northern part of the island. As a result of these conditions, any archaeological activity or intervention on cultural heritage monuments in the occupied area is illegal.

JD: Enkomi, Salamis and Soloi are only a few of some of the most important sites on the island that have suffered damage due to destructive pillaging by looters. Are there any other sites (in the North or South) that are still in great danger?

PF: In the part of the island that is under the control of the Turkish military forces, Christian churches, which are ancient monuments have been destroyed or transformed into mosques or abandoned and neglected to collapse in ruins. Other holy sites have undergone a change of use and become military camps, storerooms, animal shelters etc.

JD: What types of preventative measures (conservation, salvage and rescue excavations or otherwise) are being taken, if any, by the occupying regime to safeguard the cultural heritage of the island? Does anyone monitor the programs (if any)?

PF: The first thing to note is that whatever act concerning antiquities takes place in any part of the island should have the permission and monitoring of the Director of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. Otherwise this act is illegal.

Only recently, a Neolithic site on the Cape of St. Andreas, which had been excavated before 1974, was destroyed by the Turkish military during leveling operations in order to install a pair of flag posts for the flags of Turkey and the so called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. I think this incident is eloquent about the quality of the monitoring of cultural heritage, exercised by the authorities of the so-called ” Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and the Turkish army.

JD: What obstacles currently face the Republic as far as looting in the South is concerned?

PF: The greater danger for cultural heritage on the part of the island controlled by the Republic of Cyprus is the looting of tombs which takes place in remote rural areas. The recent incident I referred to above brought to our hands antiquities that had been looted in the rural areas of the southwestern part of the island.

JD: Does the pace of development and tourism on the island (both in the North and the South) present any challenges for the Department of Antiquities?

PF: Tourism in Cyprus poses of course the same problems and dangers for cultural heritage that all Mediterranean countries are facing. In this part of the world, the duty for protecting a rich archaeological heritage has to be balanced with a galloping development of tourism. The Antiquities Law is the main tool for the Department of Antiquities to implement a monitoring mechanism towards a viable development. We are trying to turn tourism to an ally, by highlighting how a sensible management of cultural heritage could result to a tourist product of higher quality. Towards this end, we are cooperating with the Cyprus Tourism Organization.The most recent product of this collaboration is the implementation of a cultural route about Aphrodite, which promotes the idea of cultural tourism. The Cyprus Tourism Organization included the improvement of the archaeological sites in its strategic plan for the next ten years.

JD: What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems currently facing academic archaeologists and scientists working in Cyprus?

PF: The most serious problem and obstacle against a healthy development of Cypriot archaeology is the occupation of the northern part of the island by the Turkish military forces. The archaeological investigation on the northern part of the island has been paused since 1974. The Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus right from its early days has kept an open policy towards foreign archaeological missions which wished to excavate on the island. After the invasion of 1974 the foreign missions which had been working on the north part of the island were forced to abandon their excavations. Many of them lost even their written archives and scientific notes. Since then, they have not been able to go back and resume their work because any archaeological work, on the occupied part of the island is illegal according to international law, treaties and scientific ethics. Greek Cypriot archaeologists cannot go and work in the north either. Turkish Cypriot archaeologists remain isolated from the international archaeological community for the same reasons.

JD: Are these problems also jeopardizing Cypriot cultural heritage? If so, how?

PF: The inability of the scientific community to intervene in the northern part of the island poses great dangers for the preservation of cultural heritage, especially nowadays that a galloping building development is taking place in the occupied northern part of the island.

JD: Besides the return of the Kanakaria Byzantine Mosaics, what are some of the other major repatriations that Cyprus has received (in general or recently)?

Department of Antiquities, Cyprus
Byzantine Silver Dish with Relief Decoration from the Lambousa Treasure: Scene depicts a male youth (messenger of Samuel?) coming to speak to seated male (David?) who holds a lyre

PF: We have managed to repatriate a considerable number of antiquities which had been illegally exported from the island, namely a part of the Chr. Hadjiprodromou collection. Part of it was looted and illegally exported from the island and found in auction houses in Europe. Moreover we succeeded to repatriate several Byzantine icons from Europe and USA.

JD: What are your hopes for the future of archaeology, either on the island or in general?

PF: My deepest hope is that the two communities of the island could soon reach a political agreement for the re-unification of the island. Cyprus is too small to be divided. The archaeologists who work on the history of this island know very well that the cultural history of the island has been one and the same for its inhabitants throughout the millennia. In our days, when Europe is tending to unite under one entity, it would be a historical anachronism to have two separate states in Cyprus. Cypriot archaeology would be a major victim of such a development.

JD: Dr. Flourentzos, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of SAFE and the international community, for answering these questions.

PF: Please accept my sincere thanks for the opportunity you have given me.