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- Who is the Historian ?

"All of us need to raise our voices so we can slow down this endangering of heritage."

My name is Nancy Hatch Dupree.


I am working with the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University. It is a collection of 60,000 documents related to Afghanistan. I don’t like to say how many years I’ve been working as it makes me very old!


I first came with the American Embassy many years ago. Then I married Louis Dupree, who was an archaeologist. We spent many years here going to various places in Kandahar, Balkh and also in Badakshan excavating prehistoric caves. 


I was working with Garzandoi (Afghan Tours). I went to Bamiyan when there were no paper guides, no two-legged guides. This is one of the wonders of the world, so I spoke to the president of Garzandoi. I said, "you know what? This is a scandal. You are trying to attract tourists but you don't have any information about the most important tourist site in Afghanistan."


He smiled and said, "Well, you do something about it." So I spent a good part of a month in Bamiyan going to all the caves and studying everything. Then I wrote the guide to Bamiyan. 


After that I became a guide writer. I wrote not only on Bamiyan but on Kabul and then Herat and the provinces in the north. And then finally, I published a general guide to all of Afghanistan.             


Much of the time I was traveling and collecting information for the guidebooks, and my husband was looking for pre-historic caves. It was a very nice, cooperative relationship. He also he was my photographer. It brought us closer together because we were working on things together.             


The preservation of information is very important because it's not very well developed here. That's one of the reasons for ACKU. The motto of ACKU is "sharing information for nation building," because you can take this information and build on the livelihoods of the people. Access to knowledge is very important. We try to collect all the reporting that is being generated by the NGOs, by the bilateral governments, by the UN agencies, anything that describes the situation here in Afghanistan. I am convinced that if you give the people of Afghanistan access to the information they need, that they themselves will do 80% of all this expensive development. 


The 60,000 documents at ACKU are all catalogued and about three-quarters of them are digitized for preservation. It's very nice to have them on the shelves. You can find what you want. In order to distribute more widely, we’ll put all of this digitized material on DVDs, and send them to Herat, Mazar, Kandahar, Khost, wherever there is a university and facilities to use it.


We also have a reading room in the library. We are expanding because we have very little space here.  I have about 23 people who are working with me: the digitizers, the cataloguers, finance and IT. All are Afghans, except me. I'm going to be replaced with a very superior Afghan who will be joining us soon. I'm very happy about that.


The Kabul Museum is very dear to my heart. To see it looted the way it was during the war was very disturbing. But the soil of Afghanistan is so rich. The Ghandaran pieces from Shodarak and Baidabaid in the Charikar area are very beautiful, but the pieces from Mes Aynak make your jaw drop. It’s very disturbing that this is being excavated as an emergency because of the copper mine. A thorough excavation should take over 20 years – but they now have to do it in two or three years


The exploitation of minerals is paramount for Afghanistan because it could be the base of the future economic prosperity. But there should be something in the contracts that says if you find something, you’ve got to stop. But there isn’t. The Chinese have stopped but only for a short time. They have signed contracts for the exploration of iron in the Hajigat, of gold in Baghlan, gas in Jowzjan. All of these companies are going to come in here to make money and they don’t care a bit about the heritage, which is dangerous.


In the 50’s people had a sense of responsibility. They were building a road near Pul-e Kumri and found a rock that looked funny. It was this inscription of the Kushan language similar to the Rosetta Stone. After they showed it to the archaeologists, the government changed the route of the road. If they had just said ‘no were gonna bulldoze this’, we still wouldn’t know about the Kushani language and this would be frightfully detrimental to the study of Kushan studies.


Now, everything is money, money, money, and people give speeches about preserving the culture of Afghanistan. But are they really? What can happen now is far worse than what they did during the war when they were plundering the archaeological sites. I have been trying to impress upon the Kushani professionals to raise their voices. 


It’s like Khair Khana. It produced three fantastic marble statues of the Hindu Zair period that we don’t know much about, but now it’s all cement. We will never know what Khair Kharna could have told us.


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