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Afghanistan: Cultural Heritage and the Forever War
In March 2001, the colossal Buddha statues of Bamyan Valley in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban in an act that reverberated around that world. Just a few months later, the tragic events of 9/11 set in motion a slew of domestic and foreign policy changes in the U.S. and sparked a devastating conflict in the Middle East. In the decades since, cultural heritage throughout the region has stood at the center of this turbulence, facing threats of targeted destruction, collateral damage due to armed conflict, abandonment, and neglect linked to the absence of maintenance.

In light of President Biden’s plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the annual Paul Mellon Lecture will explore the history and importance of cultural heritage in Afghanistan, critical preservation efforts over the past 20 years, and the impact the new political equilibrium may have on heritage sites. The event is part of a broader reflection throughout 2021 on the state of cultural heritage in the Middle East in the 20 years since 9/11.

Guests will hear from Rory Stewart, British diplomat, author, explorer, and politician whose 2002 journey walking solo across Afghanistan is recounted in The New York Times bestseller The Places In Between; and Dr. Omar Sharifi, Country Director at the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) and specialist of cultural anthropology. They will reflect on the relationship between culture, identity, and politics in Afghanistan today and will be joined by CEO of Turquoise Mountain Shoshana Stewart to discuss the restoration of the old city of Kabul, Murad Khani, and reviving its historic craft traditions. The event will be moderated by WMF President and CEO Bénédicte de Montlaur.

Inaugurated in 2003, the Paul Mellon Lecture is supported by the Paul Mellon Education Fund and enables audiences to learn about a critical issue in the field of cultural heritage.

May 6, 2021 12:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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