7 August 2012 - Over 800 artifacts looted from the National Museum were returned to their home Kabul yesterday, courtesy of the British Museum. For the most part the artifacts were looted during Afghanistan's civil war period and sold on black markets. Many of the artifacts were apprehended at customs inspections at London's Heathrow airport. At a ceremony in Kabul, the British Embassy representatives formally handed over the artifacts to the Ministry of Information and Culture.
"The pieces and their enormous range, bear testament to the incredibly rich cultural history of Afghanistan," said Colin Crokin, UK consul general in Afghanistan, at a handover for the 843 items. "In a sense they are symbols of Afghanistan's struggle for national unity and peace -- scattered by the civil war, recovered, and now passed back to their own people for safekeeping."
Out of the returned artifacts, 20 pieces were registered artifacts of the National Museum of Afghanistan while 821 other pieces, which were excavated illegally, are unregistered artifacts that had been illegally smuggled to England and were seized by the British Border Force.
Another important recovered artifact is a Buddha statue that now sits at the base of the museum's main stairwell. The statue, once part of the museum's collection, was originally unearthed near Sara-e-Khwaja near Kabul. The statue had been bought by a British citizen who decided to return the piece to its home.
"For me the artefacts which were already registered at the national museum - the ivory piecs, the Buddha statue, and also some bronze pieces which are very old and have really very beautiful designs - they are particularly important," said Omara Khan Masoudi, General Director of the National Museum.“We are planning to organize an exhibition of the recovered artifacts in near future as a token of thanks to the international community, particularly British Museum for their generous support and cooperation."
From 2007 up to date, with the cooperation of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and Interpol Police, the Afghan Government has succeeded in obtaining about 9,000 pieces of looted treasure.
“It is an obligation on Afghan side to return back 70 of the collection of National Museum of Afghanistan, which were looted during civil war. This is a constant and time consuming process but wherever in the world we notice the presence of our national artifacts, we have the right under UNESCO’s conventions to request their return,” said Mr. Masoudi.
Besides progress on recovery of national treasure, concerns exist over the capacity of National Museum of Afghanistan to preserve the collections. The country is going through conflict and the excavation and looting of historical artifacts continues.
The Ministry of Information and Culture is planning build a new building adjacent to the current museum.
“We hope to be able to apply all professional norms and principles in the new museum building to preserve our national treasure,” said Mr. Masoudi