Remarks of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Five “Towers of Knowledge – An Exhibition of Afghanistan in Ancient Pictures (1747 – 1973)
I would like to thank the Permanent Mission of Germany for hosting this important Exhibition. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and Liechtenstein for co-sponsoring the event with us. Finally, I would like to thank and congratulate Professor Paul Bucherer-Dietschi for his tireless work and effort in putting together this wonderful exhibit.
Over the last few decades, the rise and fall of the Taliban, the fight against terrorism, and the hard work of reconstruction have led to a characterization of Afghanistan and its people as mired in perpetual conflict. This is a disfiguration of history. The five “Towers of Knowledge” that portray Afghanistan through pictures from 1747 – 1973 truly captures our rich history and stunning natural beauty, and introduces images of that serve as a reminder of many years of thriving culture.
The exhibition has been presented at a time in which Afghanistan’s history, culture and popular virtues, like its politics, have been the subject of misinterpretations by media, pundits, and numerous opportunistic “observers”. A stereotype of an Afghanistan that appears to have never advanced out of Old Testament times has been trumpeted loudly, reflecting incomprehension of the country’s past.
We must also look into two other factors that are essential for the idea of such an exhibition: firstly, a third generation of Afghan refugees is now entering society in the US and Europe. Our diaspora in the West is growing quickly. Meanwhile, we speak about the millions of Afghans in the region, particularly in Iran and Pakistan. And we have, in truth, become a dispersed nation.
Secondly, in Afghanistan, while after more than thirty years of war and struggle, and long years of disrupted education,almost all Afghan children have finally had the opportunityto go to school, a generation was raised without formal education; from which most of the Taliban emerged. This is how history was lost on millions of young Afghans, how our national identity was hurt, and how relations with the past were diluted.
But our hope remains strong and tonight’s exhibition is proof of that. Through such an exhibition we can introduce to the lost generation of today a visual confirmation of the magnitude of the past; a fruitful period in history; and untold stories of Afghanistan. I am very happy to see we are not alone in such an endeavor. Our enemies tried to destroy this history, as they did with the great statues of Buddha at the dawn of the century, but our friends – with blood, with money, and with creative efforts – are trying to help us. We recognize and appreciate these good intentions. I just came from an official visit of Germany, and no matter how Germans view their military presence in Afghanistan, it was hard to find anyone there who didn’t speak in solidarity with our pain, and better hope for our future. For that we are thankful.
These pictures begin with the reign of Ahmad Shah Abdali(Durani) who established an Afghanistan with its borders extending from Central Asia to Delhi, to the Arabian sea; one of the last greatest empires of the region. They depict the early 20th century, which marked an era of advancement in education, governance and development. Afghans decidedly entered the way of modernization. In the middle of last century, young people in the region saw Kabul as the Paris of the east. Tourists visited from all over the world. The UN staff during the India-Pakistan wars came to Afghanistan for their R and R (rest and recuperation); now UNAMA’s team escapes to five star resorts in Dubai and Kuwait city.
I’m not trying to glorify the past, but the exhibition portrays the rich history that should be a source of renewed pride in cultural and national identity that can help Afghansto stand with their heads high. Nostalgia of the past is not a useful emotion, but these pictures remind us of what we are capable of and that we are part of a region where the avant-gardes of literature, art, science and religious philosophy emerged long before extremism and intolerance pushed us into isolation and ignorance. We should prepare ourselves for the future through learning about the past. Nationalism can be constructive when it is forward looking. I’m certain Afghanistan will become again a peaceful, progressive country with the advancement of women, an expanding market and cultural innovation. These pictures help the new generation and perhaps all, not only to know our history, but to be inspired by it.
Thank you all for coming, I hope you enjoy the exhibit.