Afghanistan: twenty years after the destruction of the giant Buddhas, return to the Bâmiyân valley

They were witnesses to all the richness and diversity of the different civilizations that have passed through Afghanistan. Today, all that remains of the giant Buddhas of the Bâmiyân valley, carved out of the cliff 1,500 years ago, are two gigantic empty rocky excavations.

The archaeological site of the first statue now seems to be abandoned and huge cracks run through its niche, testifying to all the fragility of the vault. “We try to prevent people from entering it with barriers, because it is dangerous, blocks of stone can fall, everything can collapse”, explains one of the guardians of the Buddhas.

A little further on, along the vertiginous facade crammed with troglodyte dwellings once dug by monks and hermits, a second stone giant dominated the valley. This site is better preserved. Steps carved into the very interior of the sandstone cliff provide access to the summit. At 40 meters high, however, the niche also presents dangerous fractures.

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Archaeological remains for the moment protected by the Taliban

The Buddhas of Bâmiyân were, however, an invaluable vestige of the universal heritage. These two statues, 55 and 38 meters high, date from the 5th century AD. But for the Taliban, these human representations were unbearable. They destroyed them in 2001 with cannon and explosives. Twenty years later, the discourse has changed, but nothing guarantees that the remains will be preserved, despite Unesco’s hope of trying to reconstruct the statues.

“The site, we are protecting it for the moment. Thereafter, we will follow the orders of our leaders”, says Moussa Nasrat, the Taliban commander who became governor of Bâmiyân province. It is therefore difficult to believe that the Taliban will transform themselves into protectors of Afghan cultural treasures, as their doctrine prohibits them from opening up to horizons not inspired by fundamentalist Islam.

The local population, the Hazaras, has also suffered from Taliban domination. The statue of one of its leaders was destroyed last month and confidence in the new regime is very limited, as confirmed by a young resident of the city of Bâmiyân.

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“Some Taliban leaders say bad things about the Hazaras, because we are Shiites. Some say, for example, that we are not from Afghanistan”, he testifies, assuring to be afraid of the new regime. Formerly located on the Silk Road, the Bâmiyân valley used to link civilizations to one another. She now fears to see a new scourge of lead fall on the country.

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