For half a century, through war, anarchy and upheaval, Afghanistan has been stripped of thousands of Buddhist and Hindu antiquities, some dating back more than 1,800 years.

Many of those items entered the Western market in the 1990s and early 2000s, St. John Simpson, a curator of the British Museum, told The New York Times last month. ''And all those,'' he said, ''were almost certainly illegally exported or stolen.''

Last week, 33 of those antiquities, valued at $1.8 million, were handed over to the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Roya Rahmani, by the Manhattan district attorney's office and the Department of Homeland Security, at a ceremony in New York.

The artifacts were part of a hoard of 2,500 objects valued at $143 million seized in a dozen of raids between 2012 and 2014 from Subhash Kapoor, a disgraced Manhattan art dealer currently jailed in India on smuggling and theft charges.

Upon receiving the items, many of them delicate heads made from stucco, clay and a soft stone known as schist, a grateful Ms. Rohmani nonetheless warned that ''the environment that allows for the plundering of Afghanistan's treasured antiquities, is the same environment that allows for the perpetuation of the conflict.''

''Traffickers are not just robbing Afghanistan of its history,'' she added. ''They are perpetuating a situation where peace does not manifest and the region does not stabilize. Looting Afghanistan's past is looting Afghanistan's future.''

The objects repatriated last week will be housed in the National Museum in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Afghan officials have said they are confident that they can now safeguard their museums and cultural institutions against the plunder and smuggling.

According to UNESCO, ''the Afghan authorities have taken important steps'' to prevent the theft, smuggling and destruction of cultural objects.

During the ceremony in New York, the Afghan ambassador praised the office of the district attorney, Ct Vance Jr, for arranging the return.

Mr. Vance's Antiquities Trafficking Unit, overseen by the Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, said that over the past decade, it has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $175 million, from more than a dozen nations.

Since August, the unit has overseen the return of 338 objects to seven nations, among them Nepal, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Pakistan, with more to be sent back once the countries involved resolve travel and transport issues related to the pandemic.

Crimes involving looted and stolen religious relics, Mr. Vance said, ''not only tear at the societal fabric of nations but also deprive millions of believers worldwide of the earliest sacred symbols of their faith.''

The World Students Society thanks author Tom Mashberg.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!