In August, Taliban forces swept across Afghanistan and ultimately took over the capital city Kabul. In the weeks since the insurgency, international heritage and culture organizations have suspended most projects in Afghanistan while also closely following the dire status of the country’s ancient art, archaeology, and architecture. Concerns over the plunder and smuggling of relics—common throughout the Taliban’s previous regime—is high.
In response, 12 major art trade associations have launched a joint effort to stop looted artifacts and artworks from Afghanistan from becoming available for sale on the Western art market. The Art Newspaper first reported the news.
“Allowing such artifacts to enter the market compromises the legitimate art and antiquities market and goes against our trade associations’ professional and ethical standards,” reads an open letter co-signed by the associations. The letter was coordinated by Erika Bochereau, the director general of Secretary General of the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art (CINOA), and co-signeries include the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers and the U.K.-based Antiquities Dealers’ Association, among other leading trade organizations across Europe.
“Allowing such artefacts to enter the market compromises the legitimate art and antiquities market and goes against our trade associations’ professional and ethical standards,” it reads.
The letter continues: “The art trade must be prepared to do what it can to ensure that any illicit cultural property coming out of Afghanistan does not make its way on to the market. To that end, as trade associations we will continue to alert our members and others to the heightened risks involved. We will continue to support law enforcement in publicising news of stolen and trafficked items to prevent them from entering the market.”
Kabul’s National Museum of Afghanistan said in a statement shortly following the August 15 takeover that the looting of relics was already on the rise in the country and urged domestic security forces and the international art community to “not let opportunists use this situation as cause for deterioration and the smuggling of objects and goods out of this institution.” The museum’s collection of artifacts and goods has so far avoided damage or theft, however, but experts across the world are still fearing its safety.
The Taliban promised in a statement in February to “robustly protect, monitor and preserve” cultural treasures in Afghanistan; however, the group’s previous regime was marked by rampant looting and the targeted destruction of heritage sites. In 2001, the group drew international condemnation for demolishing the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan, a pair of towering carvings dating to the 6th century.