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Hope For Bamiyan Buddhas

Five years after their destruction by the Taleban, the twin giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, were honored at the place where they once stood. A documentary film, The Giant Buddhas, was projected onto a screen near the empty niche where the two statues stood overlooking the Bamiyan valley for over one-thousand-five-hundred years. Producer and director Christian Frei said he wanted the people of the Bamiyan valley to see his cinematic history of the statues.

More than two-thousand people waited for nearly four hours to watch the film. "I wanted to see what it [the film] says about the Buddha statues," said seventeen-year-old Amina. Amina and her brother fled Afghanistan after their father was killed by the Taleban. "We came back after the Taleban were defeated because I wanted to go to school," she said.

The audience reacted with emotion to the film's depiction of the demolition of the statues. Mirza Hussein, an eyewitness to the destruction, related on film how the Taleban blasted the Buddhas with tank shells, rockets, and finally explosives packed into the niche itself.

Zamir Moboraz said the film was a reminder of Taleban repression of Afghanistan's ethnic Hazara community. "They [the Taleban] threw people into the wells and suffocated those who were hiding in caves," he recalled.

Among those interviewed in the film is Edmund Melzl, of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. He says rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas is, "possible but very difficult." Pieces of the shattered statues, some weighing several tons, are being collected and preserved by Afghan laborers, supported by a grant from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

Rebuilding the statues will provide jobs for Bamiyan residents and, it is hoped, bring tourists back to the area. "We can change the local people's lives from being dominated by poverty if we rebuild one of the Buddha statues," says Bamiyan governor, Habiba Surabi. "Whenever UNESCO finishes its work, we will appeal to the international community to try to find the funds to rebuild at least one Buddha statue," she says.

President George W. Bush says America is committed to helping Afghans rebuild their country. "Our desire," says, Mr. Bush, "is to see this country flourish and set a great example not only to the neighborhood but around the world."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.