Hundreds of looted treasures have been returned to Afghanistan with the help of the British Museum and UK police and border forces.
The haul is just a fraction of what has been stolen from Afghanistan’s national museum and rich archeological sites in recent decades.
“The pieces, and their enormous range, bear testament to the incredibly rich cultural history of Afghanistan,” said Colin Crokin, UK consul general in Afghanistan, at the handover ceremony for the 843 meticulously catalogued items. “In a sense, they are symbols of Afghanistan’s struggle for national unity and peace — scattered by the civil war, recovered, and now passed back to their own people for safekeeping.”
Among the important recovered artifacts is a 2nd-century schist Buddha, who now gazes down from a niche on the museum’s main stairwell, unmoved by a 20-year odyssey to other corners of Asia.
The statue was part of the museum’s collection, but disappeared in the early 1990s, when the building was on the frontline between warring factions who repeatedly raided its storerooms.
The Buddha ended up with a Japanese collector, who refused to return it and could not be legally compelled to do so even though it had been looted. However, an anonymous British dealer stepped in, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to buy it for the museum.
“It’s very important for us to get these artifacts back, because they are part of our cultural heritage and history” Afghani Deputy Minister of Culture Sayed Masaddeq Khalili said.
About 9,000 looted artifacts have been returned from a number of countries since 2001, he added.