July 13, 2012

UK to return 600 stolen artefacts to Kabul

Posted at 1:09 pm in Similar cases

More than 70% of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s collection was taken by looters during the civil war in the country during the 1990s, but less than 1% of the looted items have been recovered so far. The return of the 600 items recovered by UK customs will go some way to helping them rebuild their collection however.

One has to consider though – that many of the artefacts that sit in our national museums were acquired as the results of similar situations in the past – yet no effort is being made to return them & little consideration is even being given to clearly indicating their provenance to museum visitors.

Museums Association Journal

Stolen artefacts return to Afghanistan
Simon Stephens

About 600 artefacts stolen from Afghanistan that have been seized in Britain are to be returned to Kabul next week.

The transfer has been overseen by the British Museum, London, which has cared for the objects after UK customs officials and police confiscated them.

Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, the chief curator of the National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, was in London this week to meet curators from the British Museum. Rahimi was also in the UK to speak at a roundtable discussion on cultural development in his country organised by the British Council.

Rahimi says other countries such as Switzerland, US, Iran, Norway, Denmark and Germany have also returned looted objects to Afghanistan but he would like to see more items sent back. He is particularly keen for private collectors to return artefacts.

More than 70% of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s collection was stolen during the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, according to Rahimi. He says that less than 1% has been recovered.

But museum staff did manage to save many of the key objects and some of these can be seen in an exhibition of items on loan from the National Museum of Afghanistan that is touring the world and is currently at Norway’s Museum of Natural History and Archaeology in Trondheim.

The show was at the British Museum in 2011 and has also been to New York, Washington, Paris and Bonn.

“[With the exhibition], we want to show the people of the world that Afghanistan is not just a land of terror,” said Rahimi. “We want to show the beauty of our culture and history.”

As well as being looted during the civil war, the National Museum of Afghanistan was hit by a rocket in 1993 and partially destroyed. It was rebuilt in 2004 with funding from Greece, the US and Unesco.

There are now plans to build a new national museum at a cost of about $40m that will provide modern facilities and sufficient space for storage, display and conservation. The US has already pledged support and Rahimi said the museum is keen for other countries to contribute the development.

“We know how important culture is for strengthening peace in Afghanistan,” said Rahimi. “If people know their culture and identity it will help them to unify and to bring peace to Afghanistan.”

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