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THE BUDDHAS of BAMIYAN

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two 6th-century monumental statues of standing buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, northwest of Kabul. The statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco.

The statues were dynamited and destroyed by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. The statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting on 2 March 2001, carried out in stages. Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. In the end, the Taliban lowered men down the cliff face and placed explosives into holes in the Buddhas. After one of the explosions failed to completely obliterate the face of one of the Buddhas, a rocket was launched that left a hole in the remains of the stone head. Taliban ambassador-at-large Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi said that the destruction of the statues was carried out by the Head Council of Scholars after a Swedish monuments expert proposed to restore the statues’ heads. Hashimi is reported as saying: “When the Afghan head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, ‘No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children’. Herein, they made the decision to destroy the statues”; however, he did not comment on the claim that a foreign museum offered to “buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children. 

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas despite protests from the international community has been described by Michael Falser, a heritage expert at the Center for Transcultural Studies in Germany, as an attack by the Taliban against the globalising concept of “cultural heritage”. The director general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Koichiro Matsuura called the destruction a “…crime against culture. It is abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of the Afghan people, and, indeed, of the whole of humanity. After the destruction of the Buddhas, 50 caves were revealed. In 12 of the caves, wall paintings were discovered.