Omara Khan Masoudi
Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan
General director of the National Museum in Kabul. Mr Masoudi was part of a secret group cultural custodians who helped hide Afghanistan’s most precious artefacts - including the famed Bactrian Gold - in a vault in the presidential palace, before the museum was looted during the civil war which engulfed Kabul in the 1990s. The building took a direct hit from a rocket in May 1993, setting the top floor ablaze. The windows were blown out and the doors were ripped off by looters, who stole roughly 70% percent of the museum’s collection. What remained was badly damaged by floods from rain and snow. Then in 2001, Taleban thugs destroyed another 2,500 artefacts, mostly statues, claiming depictions of the human form were against Islam.
Afghanistan’s National Museum located in Kabul stays open seven days a week. Though museums all over the world have a weekly day off, this National Museum cannot afford any holidays, says museum director Omara Khan Masoudi. It has already lost too much time. The years of war and conflict in Afghanistan when the National Museum stood between the frontlines of opposing sides poised to take control of Kabul city, forced the closure of the museum many times – sometimes for days and at other times for weeks, and even months at a time. One, maybe two generations of Afghans have grown up without knowledge of their history and culture, and now, there is no time to lose, says Masoudi: “We want the museum to be open everyday so that people can come.”
As the director of the National Museum, he saw the museum building come under shelling and rocket attacks and being looted. In 1996, when Taliban regime took control in Kabul, Masoudi and his liberal vision were no longer acceptable and he fled to Pakistan. When he returned, the museum was in ruins, its roof missing and most of its treasures looted or lying shattered in the midst of the debris. After the initial phase of emergency repairs the museum reopened to the public in 2002. That year there were only 2000 visitors. Since then donor help has helped to restore the museum visitors has increased.
“We must have museums in different provinces, especially near the ancient sites. Everyone cannot travel to Kabul to visit this museum. People must have museums in their own provinces. If we have museums close to the sites of the excavation the local people can visit it and understand the importance of the artifacts. Once they understand the value they will safeguard it, they will prevent it from being stolen.”