When the last U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan last month, it brought a turbulent end to a 20-year war. The Taliban quickly reinstated their power, and while the group has promised peace and a less repressive government than in the past, many Afghans are now fleeing the country, fearing for their safety.
There are also fears surrounding the protection of the country’s cultural heritage. “It was only two decades ago that the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a fatwa calling for the destruction of all pre-Islamic statues and sanctuaries in the land,” writes Jim Cuno, Getty president and CEO, in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal. The Taliban ultimately damaged thousands of works of art, and blew up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Cuno writes about the country’s current relationship with its cultural heritage, noting that the National Museum is now under the watch of Taliban guards, but that there are other museums and cultural sites in need of protection.
“Cultural heritage has and will continue to play a vital role, both in the lives of people who live with it as part of their religious practice, cultural identity and economic vitality, and as evidence of the long history and diversity of our common heritage,” he writes.
The need to protect cultural heritage extends beyond Afghanistan. Cuno and others are currently working on an international norm for the protection of cultural heritage, as well as a primer, “Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities.” Additionally, Getty has published a series of “Occasional Papers” that explore the risk faced by cultural heritage sites in conflict zones.
As Cuno writes in the Wall Street Journal, “the international community has a responsibility to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other means of collective action to reconcile opposing sides, reconstruct institutions, and repair the aspects of society that are ravaged by war.”