One wonders what is the point of organisations such as UNESCO and ICOMOS if they cannot properly monitor those sites that they have identified as in danger. I mean, that is their job! I am saying this because the international community has reacted in shock to news that a German-led team of archaeologists has been reconstructing the feet and legs of the smaller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas, the monumental Afghan sculptures blown up by the Taliban in 2001. News of this reconstruction, which has taken place without UNESCO’s knowledge or permission was revealed during the 12th meeting of UNESCO”s Bamiyan working group in Orvieto, Italy, last December.
A team of archaeologists from the German branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) led by Michael Petzet, who himself served no less than as the head of the organisations for 9 years, from 1999 to 2008, spent most of last year rebuilding the smaller Buddha’s lower appends with iron rods, reinforced concrete and bricks, an operation that Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, describes as ‘wrong on every level’. He says: ‘UNESCO has nothing to do with this project. It was undertaken without the consent of the Afghan government and now it has been stopped’.
This project was carried out against the decision (taken in 2011) to rebuild the Buddah’s and, apparently, UNESCO was never informed that the project was going ahead. Apparently Petzet agreed with the Afghan authorities on build a platform to protect visitors from falling rocks but they decided to use that project as a front to embark in an extensive program of reconstruction. The question is how they managed to do that without no one noticing bearing in mind that it is UNESCO’s job to ‘monitor’ those sites? UNESCO’s answer was that ‘Things like this can happen in such a remote Afghan province, especially since they have worked there for years before this.’ I, personally, do not think that this is a satisfactory answer for it seems that UNESCO has not followed up the advances of the original ICOMOS project and is clearly not in touch with the Afghan authorities for updates.
The Buddhas once stood along the ancient Silk Route in the remote Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan around 250 km west of Kabul. The sculptures -53m and 35m tall- were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in the sixth century, at the height of the Kushan empire and before the Islamic invasion of the late seventh century. several attempts were made to destroy the statues during centuries of Islamic rule, until the Taliban brough them down with anti-aircraft guns, artillery and dinamite.