Exclusive interview by Farlang with Dr. Massoudi, Director of the Afghan National Museum in Kabul who protected the Bactrian gold treasure with his life.
Interview was made possible thanks to Prince Claus Foundation, de "Nieuwe Kerk" and National Geographic
"When the Soviet forces were leaving, we knew change was coming," said Omara Khan Masoudi, current Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan. "But we didn't know what change".
Keeping a secret for 20 years....
Masoudi, head of the museum's Department of Prehistory at the time, joined a team of department heads and archeologists. Charged by President Mohammad Najibullah with the task of preserving Afghanistan's material history, Masoudi and the other team members sorted and then crated about 20% of the museum's artifacts, especially gold pieces.
... The idea, said Masoudi, was to preserve Afghanistan's treasures from the violence that was certain to follow the Soviet withdrawal. ... Masoudi estimated that 70% of the museum's collection--about 70,000 artifacts-was looted, much of it going to illegal art profiteers operating in Pakistan.
In 1996, the Taliban emerged victorious, bringing a modicum of order to Afghanistan. Although they certainly were no patrons of the arts, ironically, Taliban leaders initially protected the museum's vastly depleted collection.
Destruction of museum and looting:your help needed for reconstruction efforts:
"We knew the artifacts (we had hidden) were safe," said Masoudi, "but we didn't open the boxes." ... "We didn't know who gave the order," said Masoudi. "We still don't."
(Non-Afghan sources such as The International Council On Monuments and Sites credit Mullah Mohammad Omar with ordering the systematic destruction of all statues in the country.)
In 2001, the U.S.-backed Afghan Northern Alliance overthrew the Taliban. In October 2003, Masoudi and those few museum officials who still remained in Kabul, decided it was safe to retrieve the hidden treasures. With the assistance of the National Geographic Society, especially Silk Road archeology expert Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, Masoudi's team brought the unopened boxes out of hiding. ... "Mr. Masoudi said that if we (National Geographic) promised to do the inventory, he'd open up the boxes that were hidden in the vault in front of us," said Hiebert, who went to Kabul in 2003. ... I was holding my breath but Mr. Masoudi knew the Bactrian Gold had been stored inside those boxes.