Bamyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan may be rebuilt by 2009

Xinhua News, Aug 9, 2006

Bamiyan, Afghanistan -- Some workers are clearing and sorting out the pieces of the two best-known disrupted Bamyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan's Bamyan province, and an official told Xinhua a possible project of rebuilding the statues may be wrapped up by the end of 2009 if everything goes smoothly.

At the site, hundreds of meters north of Bamyan city, capital of the province, some Afghan workers with yellow safety helmets were clearing and collecting the two statues' pieces with shovels and handcarts on Sunday.

The two Buddha statues, which used to be the highest ones in the standing style in the world, were exploded by the extremist Taliban regime in March 2001. The regime claimed they were idolatrous and anti-Islam.

Some stones, from the two destroyed statues, are lying below them and have been noted with sequence numbers.

A program of sorting out the debris is being carried out with a fund of about 1.3 million U.S. dollars sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

It is done so that the reconstruction of the two statues can be initiated as soon as it gets approval from the Afghan parliament.

At the statue scene, an official from Afghan Information and Culture Ministry, who only gave his name as Ramin, said the clearing and collecting job would be finished in about one year.

He said the reconstruction project could be completed by the end of 2009 if the parliament ratifies it in time and other things go forward favorably.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has promised to rebuild the two statues, but the project also has to get the green light from the parliament.

No date has been set for the parliament to examine and vote the project, which observers believe would be approved by it as many Afghans eager for the reconstruction.

Scientists say rebuilding each statue costs about 30 million U. S. dollars, while Ramin said the fees would mainly come from donation of international community or organizations.

The two statues, with one having a 53-meter height, the other a 35-meter height, were chiseled about 1,500 years ago in a cliff with a length of around 500 to 600 meters.

The cliff was also carved with thousands of caves, big or small, once with Buddha statues inside, which were all destroyed during the long years.

The about 150-km journey from Kabul, capital of the country, to Bamyan city, costs more than seven hours by vehicle as the road, most of which is of earth and cobble, is bumpy and in a bad shape.

Bamyan province stood on the ancient Silk Road, which linked Europe to East Asia.

Nowadays, most of its 400,000 people lives in poverty with some families still dwelling in caves. Bamyan city, with lots of bazaars along the streets, actually rather looks like a town.

Many local residents said they earnestly would like to see the two statues reconstructed.

A 53-year old man, who named himself as Merajan, told Xinhua, " The statues' disruption dealt a huge blow to both Afghan and the world's culture, and brought huge losses to local tourism."

He said seas of people used to visit the site and the city once had 20 fine hotels to accommodate foreign and internal visitors, but now only trickles of people come and about three or four hotels with the equivalent quality scatter in the city.

Some say continuing and rising turbulence in Afghanistan also cause the scarcity of visitors to Bamyan.

"Without doubt, reconstructing the statues would do good to local tourism," Merajan said. "I really hope the Buddha statues can be rebuilt as early as possible. They are part of the lives of Bamyan and Afghan people."