In photos: Taliban's destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas remembered

By Salaam Times and AFP

Bearing lamps, local residents and activists during a 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony on March 9 stand at the base of the cliff where the Salsal Buddha once stood. The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A woman poses for a picture near the empty alcove where the Shahmama Buddha -- the smaller of the two statues -- once stood during a March 9 ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of its destruction by the Taliban. [Wakil Kohshar/AFP]

Visitors descending on March 4 from the alcove where one of the Buddhas of Bamiyan once stood give a sense of the massive scale of the statues, blasted out of the cliff by the Taliban. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Holding lamps to light their path, local residents and activists walk to the foot of the site where the Salsal Buddha once stood, during a March 9 ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of its destruction. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A dancer March 9 performs near the site where the Buddhas of Bamiyan once stood, during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of their destruction. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A policeman stands guard near the alcove where the Salsal statue -- the larger of the two Buddhas of Bamiyan -- stood before the Taliban destroyed it 20 years ago. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A photo taken March 5 shows a general view of the site where the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan once stood in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A Hazara woman checks her phone on March 3 inside a pathway at the site of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. In addition to the massive statues, the site includes a network of ancient caves, monasteries and shrines. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Bamiyan resident Ghulam Sakhi March 3 speaks on his phone near the site where the Buddha statues once stood. Twenty years ago, the Taliban snatched him from a market and forced him to help rig the site with explosives. Sakhi said he is still haunted by the role he was forced to play. 'It is not like a memory you could ever forget,' he said. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

BAMIYAN -- Two decades after the Taliban blasted Afghanistan's famed Buddhas of Bamiyan out of the alcoves in the rugged central highlands where they had stood for centuries, one of them made a brief virtual return.

A three-dimensional projection on Tuesday night (March 9) filled the now empty alcove in a Bamiyan valley cliff where the approximately 55-metre-high Salsal statue, the larger of the two, once towered over the landscape.

The projection, culminating a day of remembrance marking the 20th anniversary of the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's irreplaceable cultural heritage, enabled visitors to catch a brief glimpse of the way things used to be.

The Taliban demolished the statues in March 2001 on the orders of then-leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Carved into a cliff in the 4th and 5th centuries, the two were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world.


Visitors watch a three-dimensional projection of the Salsal statue on March 9 at the site where the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan stood before the Taliban destroyed them in March 2001. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

"We do not want people to forget what a horrific crime was committed here," said Zahra Hussaini, one of the organisers of the "A night with Buddha" event.

Hundreds took part in a lantern-lit procession to the site, gathering at the base of the cliff where the statues once stood, alongside a network of ancient caves, monasteries and shrines.

When darkness fell, a projection filled the alcove that once housed the Salsal statue, one of a pair that was considered one of the great wonders of antiquity.

"These moments also remind you of what a great treasure we lost," said Gulsoom Zahra, a 23-year-old Bamiyan resident who attended the ceremony.

A centuries-old presence erased

Afghanistan's giant Buddhas stood watch over the Bamiyan valley for centuries, surviving Mongol invasions and the harsh environment until the Taliban arrived.

The Taliban drew international rage when they blew up the statues during their brief, iron-handed rule, as they went on a rampage against Afghanistan's rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage.

With its snowy backdrop and clear blue skies, Bamiyan has been a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs keen to explore the country's archaeological heritage.

The 20th anniversary event also invoked concerns about the Taliban’s lack of commitment to the peace agreement.

"We also want to express our concern about the future, and what will happen to our historical heritage," Hussaini said of the decision to hold the event.

There are concerns that history will repeat itself and that "the remaining artefacts will once again be left to the mercy of extremist groups", she said.

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One of the biggest mistakes of the Taliban was the destruction of the Buddha statues. There were not enlightened people among them who made them understand that these statues were the treasures of Afghanistan, and this area was one of the historical areas that would turn it into an interesting attraction to the tourists. The Taliban's other mistake was that they recruited foreign nationals in their ranks and gave shelter to Osama. The other mistake of the Taliban was that they didn’t have any relations with the world, only with the Arab countries and Pakistan. Another mistake of the Taliban was that they did not accept the presence of women in society and deprived girls of going to school. Except the four mistakes that I mentioned above, the Taliban were much better than the governments before and after the Taliban regime. Or in other words, the regime of the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban, with the exception of the four major mistakes that were mentioned above, was the best system after the [1973] coup d’état of Daoud Khan, especially in terms of security and lack of administrative and moral corruption.