In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful,
Excellencies, Distinguished Heads of delegations, Friends of the world’s cultural heritage,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the Governments of the United Arab Emirates and France for their initiative on holding this important international conference on the protection of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas, in the beautiful city of Abu Dhabi.
We are grateful to the brotherly government of the United Arab Emirates, particularly to His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed for his special attention to this important issue.
This conference is of particular interest to Afghanistan a country that has sadly lost some of its Cultural Heritage in the conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s Afghanistan is the product of an ongoing, creative negotiation between the deep structures of the past with the lived experience and perceptions of the present and our vision of the future.
In Afghanistan, a monument can never be just a monument. It is the history of our people’s encounters with other people’s markets, empires, technology, beliefs, and knowledge.
Our cultural heritage is embedded in our associational life, our institutions, and the physical structures and places that we inhabit. Understanding and valuing our past is part of how Afghanistan will build a collective national identity and sense of common purpose.
Afghanistan’s archeology and reconstruction provide physical reminders that Afghans have been participants in the construction of the states and empires that shaped world history.
Every one of our major cities was once the center of an empire. The ancestors of today’s citizens of Mazar-e-Sharif built the city of Balkh, a city that was already old when Arab chroniclers first called it Um-ul-Bilad, the mother of all cities. Herat was the center of the Timurids; Kandahar of the Durranis; Ghazni of the Ghaznavids; Bagram and Baghlan were centers of the Kushan and Bactrian empires; the names barely need elaboration to make the point that Afghans today live in the space whose people have been makers of history.
Afghanistan’s cultural history has been to be both an originator and transmitter of Asia’s great intellectual traditions. Afghan scholarship engaged with the scholars of India, Persia, China and even with the philosophers of ancient Greece, whose texts were taught in the only fully designed and built Greek city of Ay Khanum.
With our embrace of the the Holy Religion of Islam, our past became part of the grand synthesis of classical Islamic civilization. As Fredrik Starr has so ably shown,” it was no accident that four of Islam’s six great collections of hadith were compiled in Afghanistan and Central Asia, where our traditions of long-distance trade and urban manufacturing produced one of the world’s great centers of literacy, textual criticism and publishing.
Our national identity — a sense of “being” Afghan — was forged from the different historical moments that took our local identities and histories and fused them into a common national purpose.
In a country where 99.99 percent of the people are Muslims, the monuments of our past were as much part of the landscape as our rivers and mountains. But sadly, today there are dark forces that seek to obliterate our heritage.
Abusing the name of Islam they have insulted the message of our peaceful religion to deface, destroy, and rob countries in our region of their historical monuments, sculptures, and cities, the physical embodiments of that long conversation between our past, present, and future.
Modern warfare is ugly. Technology has advanced to the point where the barbarities of the terrorist are followed by the destructiveness of the response. Ancient city centers are being reduced to rubble, killing thousands.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This destruction of our collective past cannot be allowed to continue. We are proud to be a founding member of the international trust fund for the preservation of endangered cultural heritage in armed conflicts.
Let me just make one final comment before closing. Establishing the fund is an excellent idea and it has our full support. But such a fund will only work if the people in countries such as ours have the training and commitment to work with the agencies managing the fund.
We would like to suggest that in the fund’s final design, there should be some reservations to build up national skills and preparedness.
Comprehensive inventories of cultural heritage, conservation, specialized shipping, and other such capacities need to be national, not just international.
UNESCO has been a foundational partner for the Government of Afghanistan, and in fact, in recognition of their valued role, we were the first contributor to UNESCO trust fund for cultural heritage and creative industries. We again look forward to a successful partnership and a productive Conference.