In 2001, Taliban fighters dynamited Afghanistan’s massive Bamiyan Buddha statues, carved into cliff faces, into rubble. Serb forces burned Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Sarajevo National Library in 1992 and ISIS extremists recently razed ancient temples in Palmyra, Syria. Such deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is so damaging to civilizations that the world recognizes it as a war crime. But the power of cultural heritage, so targeted in war, also can provide instruments to build peace. An October 24 symposium in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution used recent experience, notably in Afghanistan, to examine the often unrecognized power of cultural heritage. The discussion explored new ways that it might serve worldwide to prevent, or recover from, violent conflict.

two people wood working
Ustad Nasser Mansouri teaches wood carving to a student at the Turquoise Mountain Institute. Mansouri designed parts of the current exhibition at the Smithsonian. Photo Courtesy of Turquoise Mountain

Recent wars offer no greater example of cultural heritage turned to healing than the work in Afghanistan of the charity Turquoise Mountain, the subject of a stunning, 11-month exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution. “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan,” at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, shows how historians, artisans, young students and communities are preserving and renewing traditions, crafts, economic livelihoods and a historic district of Kabul. This symposium at the U.S. Institute of Peace gathered scholars, museum professionals and policymakers to explore what we have learned from recent wars about the role of cultural heritage. The daylong symposium aimed to improve our understanding of how cultural heritage initiatives, such as Turquoise Mountain, can contribute to peace. How can this work empower marginalized women and communities? How can it strengthen the reconciliation, civic engagement and economic bases needed to build peace in the shadow of violent conflicts? Discussions included the emerging role of new technologies and the ways in which Afghanistan’s lessons, with other case studies, apply elsewhere in the world. Funding for this symposium, and for the Smithsonian exhibition, was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Continue the conversation on Twitter with #CultureinConflict.

smithsonian logo      turquoise mountain logo

Agenda

The agenda is now available.

8:45 - Registration and Coffee in the atrium

9:15 - Welcome: Nancy Lindborg, President, USIP

9:20-9:25 - Hila Alam, Minister Counsellor, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Washington D.C.

9:25-9:35 - William Hammink, Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, USAID

9:35-9:45 - Mark Taplin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau Of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

9:45-10:45 Panel 1: What is Cultural Heritage and (Why) Does it Matter?

  • Dr. Julian Raby, Dame Jillian Sackler Director, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art
  • Dr. Derek Gillman, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Art History and Museum Leadership, Drexel University
  • Moderator: Molly Fannon, Director, Office of International Relations and Global Programs, Smithsonian Institution

10:45-11:00 Break

11:00-12:15 Panel 2: Looking Back: 15 Years of Cultural Heritage Initiatives in Afghanistan

  • Dr. Tommy Wide, Assistant Director of Special Projects, Freer and Sackler Galleries
  • Majeed Qarar, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Washington D.C.
  • Jolyon Leslie, Architect
  • Laura Tedesco, Cultural Heritage Program Manager, U.S. Department of State
  • Moderator: Barmak Pazhwak, Senior Program Officer, Asia Center, USIP

12:15-1:15 Lunch
Calligraphy demonstration in the atrium with Sughra Hussainy, visiting Turquoise Mountain artist
Portal Installation

1:15-2:30 Panel 3: Looking to the Future: New Generation, New Technology, New Approaches

  • Amar Bakshi, Founder and CEO, Shared_Studios
  • Adam Lowe, Director, Factum Arte
  • Dr. Bastien Varoutsikos, Research Fellow, Centre national de la recherché scientifique (CNRS), Paris
  • Lina Rozbih, Managing  Editor, Ashna TV, Voice of America
  • Moderator: Scott Liddle, Country Director, Turquoise Mountain Afghanistan

2:30-2:45 Tea and Coffee

2:45-4:15 Panel 4: Looking Out: Comparisons, Lessons, Inspiration

  • Harry Wardill, Director, Turquoise Mountain Myanmar
  • Corine Wegener, Cultural Heritage Preservation Office, Smithsonian Institution
  • Tess Davis, Executive Director, The Antiquities Coalition
  • Joanna Sherman, Founder and Artistic Director, Bond Street Theater
  • Moderator: Katherine Wood, Senior Arts Adviser, USIP

4:15 Closing remarks:  Richard Kurin, Acting Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research, Smithsonian Institution

4:30 Reception

Related Publications

Afghans Want the Right Peace Deal, Not Just an End to Violence

Afghans Want the Right Peace Deal, Not Just an End to Violence

Monday, August 19, 2019

By: Belquis Ahmadi

Afghans are hopeful that a peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S. will bring them a step closer to the end of the country’s four decades of conflict. This protracted state of war has resulted in the loss of countless lives; mass displacement; and the destruction of infrastructure and the education and justice systems. Afghans will feel the consequences for generations to come.

Peace Processes

Afghanistan Still Has a Chance to Improve This Election

Afghanistan Still Has a Chance to Improve This Election

Monday, August 5, 2019

By: Chelsea Dreher; Ezatullah Waqar

As the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban maneuver toward a peace process for the country, the strength of the current Afghan government and political system will be affected by the credibility, in Afghans’ eyes, of the presidential election set for September 28. Yet the credibility of Afghan elections is weakened by unresolved allegations of criminal fraud—especially against the nation’s former top election officials—in last year’s parliamentary balloting. With just 53 days remaining before the presidential vote, time is now short—but Afghan authorities still can take steps to improve the prospects for an election that citizens might see as credible and legitimate.

Democracy & Governance; Justice, Security & Rule of Law

Taliban Talks and Violence Loom Over Afghan Presidential Elections

Taliban Talks and Violence Loom Over Afghan Presidential Elections

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

By: Scott Worden; USIP Staff

Campaign season for Afghanistan’s twice-delayed presidential elections opened in grisly fashion on Sunday. An insurgent attack on the Kabul office of President Ashraf Ghani’s top running mate, Amrullah Saleh, killed more than 20 and wounded at least 50. As the attack demonstrates, security will be a top concern during the elections. But, the ongoing U.S.-Taliban talks and nascent intra-Afghan negotiations further complicate matters. And on top of all that, Afghanistan’s post-2001 elections have been characterized by deep challenges, many of which remain unaddressed with little time to fix. USIP’s Scott Worden surveys the scene two months ahead of the vote.

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications