Afghans Hopeful that Buddhas Will Be Rebuilt

August 6, 2006

Source: Houston Chronicle

On August 6, 2006 the Houston Chronicle reported, "Five years after the Taliban blew them up, Afghan laborers are picking up the pieces of two once-towering Buddha statues, hoping they will rise again and breathe new life into this dirt-poor province. While they wait for the Afghan government and international community to decide whether to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster - ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls - and sheltering them from the elements. Progress is slow in the central highland town of Bamiyan where the statues were chiseled more than 1,500 years ago into a cliff face about quarter of a mile apart. They were originally painted in gold and adorned with wooden faces and ornaments. Mural paintings of Buddha images covered cave rooftops flanking the niches from which the statues were hewn. Fragments of the murals are also being collected. Rebuilding the statues, one 174 feet tall and the other 115 feet, will be like assembling giant jigsaw puzzles. The town of Bamiyan, so poor that dozens of its people live in caves, has high hopes. 'We can change the local people's lives from being dominated by poverty if we rebuild one of the Buddha statues,' said Habiba Surabi, governor of Bamiyan province. She is Afghanistan's first female governor. The province, on the ancient Silk Road that linked Europe to East Asia, was once a center of Buddhism. Today most of its 400,000 people are Hazaras, a largely Shiite Muslim ethnic group that was persecuted by the Taliban during its 1997-2001 rule. The Taliban dynamited the Buddha statues in March 2001, deeming them idolatrous and anti-Muslim. It was one of the regime's most widely condemned acts. UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, has since placed the entire Bamiyan Valley region on its World Heritage in Danger list."