The US embassy in Kabul is going to contribute $5 million to the construction of a new building for Kabul Museum. This probably is one of the best news coming out of that embassy, this year so far. The very idea of having a museum which could justly represent the long and turbulent history of the country is pretty exciting, but what worries me is that, the museum may be built like so many other government buildings in recent years funded by the US and other international donors in the country.
This is a museum after all; the architecture and building for a museum is as important as the things you exhibit in it. I am sure the US officials and some of the people in the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture know that. With $5 million you can’t built a national museum, you are not building a ministry or a police office. I hope there is more money to invest in the proper design, construction, security equipment, preservation and exhibition methods for the new museum. I really don’t want to see a gaudy police office tomorrow, with blue glasses and a “National Museum of Afghanistan” sign hanging from top of its door. After almost a century of being cruel and unjust to this neglected institution, it is the time to do justice to this museum and build a world class building for it which could symbolize both the darks and delights of our history.
The history of Kabul Museum is as tragic and painful as the history of Afghanistan itself. The museum was opened in a modest building in 1918 on Bagh Bala hill (where Hotel Intercontinental is located now) as Ajayeb-Khanah (literally, “house of wonders”, which is probably a misunderstood translation of the word “museum”, in Latin sense of the term). The collection was mainly historic manuesscripts of Quran, divans of poetry, items from the Anglo-Afghan wars and local handicrafts. In 1924, King Amanulla Khan moved the museum to the Arg, the royal palace where it was more enriched by the private donations of some Kabuli antique collectors. The museum remained there until 1931 when king Nadir moved it to the current building in south-west of Kabul, which then, was the Kabul Municipality.
Several times the collections in the museum were looted or destroyed, the worst one was between 1992-1995 when the mujaheddin groups used the building as a bunker. I am looking forward to read the book, which according to Guardian, Joanie Meharry an American scholar is writing about the history of Kabul museum. The tragedies of Kabul museum is a national embarrassment for all Afghan people who had a sense of belonging to it, documenting the history of atrocities committed against it, is a good way to remind us all of our responsibility in protecting the nation’s cultural heritage.
But “responsibility”? such a foreign word for Afghans!