This report on The Independent states that one of Afghanistan’s, “Richest archeological treasures sits on top of vast copper reserves now sold to Chinese.”
According to the report written by Freddie McConnell:
South east of Kabul lies Logar, the latest province to backslide into the clutches of insurgency and Taliban rule. Upon the region’s barren landscape sits a cluster of rocky foothills known collectively as Mes Aynak. To the Afghan and Chinese governments, Mes Aynak is the site of massive copper reserves, the world’s second largest, with an estimated worth exceeding $100bn (£66bn). To others, it is a site of enormous historical importance, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which includes a 100-acre ancient monastery complex, and a mere 10 per cent of which has been excavated. Its destruction would see Afghan society robbed of a unique link to its rich heritage.
Decades of conflict mean Afghans have already lost countless historical artefacts from heritage sites and museums. In 2012, a single consignment handed over by the British Armed Forces to the National Museum of Afghanistan saw the return of more than 800 items that were carried illegally into the UK. This slow leak compounds catastrophic losses such as the Taliban’s demolition of the 35- and 53-metre tall Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.
Mes Aynak is the latest piece of heritage facing an existential threat, only this time the threat is government sponsored. The Ministry of Mines sold rights to the copper reserves directly below and around the archaeological site to the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group (MCC) roughly four years ago. This despite international experts repeatedly describing it, since its rediscovery in the 1960s, as a hugely important cradle of Bronze Age, Buddhist and Islamic heritage.
American documentary filmmaker Brent Huffman, “Is one of those fighting desparately to raise awareness of Mes Aynak’s historical significance before the bulldozers roll in,” McConnell writes.
Huffman’s campaigning film, The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, is almost ready for release. He does not think a film alone can save Mes Aynak, but seeing the site close up changed everything for him, and he hopes if enough people are shown what is at stake, the momentum behind this issue might shift in favour of the preservation campaign. “What the film is doing is getting people to fall in love, to see why it’s important and the incredible things that are found there.”
Then, in a momentary capitulation to the enormity of the battle conservationists face, he admits to a humbler motivation, “at least if Mes Aynak is destroyed, I can capture it on film and provide some kind of visual record of what happened. To tell the story of Mes Aynak and the people who fought hard to try to save it.”
The lack of a local champion and the overwhelming dearth of international awareness are just two of many factors fuelling Huffman’s greatest fear. Namely, that Afghans themselves will never realise what they stand to lose at Mes Aynak. He says: “It’s almost that Afghanistan doesn’t have its own history because so much of it has been destroyed. Afghanistan could really take ownership of its history and its importance through protecting sites like Mes Aynak. It could become a point of pride for Afghans. This is how they influenced the world. That history has not been told.”
The author quotes from a, “2012 report by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH), a US non-profit group, in collaboration with international experts.”
From the report about the Mes Aynak site:
The site is, “one of the most intriguing ancient mining sites in Central Asia, if not the world”. It goes on: “While the Buddhist aspect is important, what makes the site special is this continuity of habitation across millennia … Over 5,000 years old, this is a site where early technology and society unfolded.”
The Arch report does acknowledge the need for economic development in the region, saying: “Mes Aynak can become a model case with a win-win outcome, pioneering methods for the extraction of resources in a way that is ecologically, culturally and historically responsible while meeting the needs of social development and the global economy.” This approach would necessarily be slow and carefully managed by parties with motivations other than profit.