Pakistan, Pyramids and Politics
Over the past two months, events in Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey have geographically framed the ongoing destruction of cultural property in Syria and looting in Afghanistan. The bust of a smuggling ring in Karachi, rhetoric of destroying pyramids in Egypt and Turkey’s claims of repatriation do not overshadow the bombing of historic buildings in Syria, but the events do illustrate the political and economic significance of cultural property outside of armed conflict.
Previous posts have recounted reports on calls by Muslim religious leaders to destroy, or conceal in wax, the pyramids at Giza (2012-07-14) and have described Turkey’s assertiveness in reclaiming antiquities from museums worldwide (2012-03-13). In July, an event in Pakistan involved looted relics with political, as well as financial, implications.
Police in Karachi seized a container truck of Buddhist relics from the Gandhara region, which stretches from Pakistan into Afghanistan (1). On the financial side, the region is targeted by looters, who provide relics to collectors worldwide. Vandalism and destruction of Buddhist artifacts also has a political side in that Taliban militants are suspected of removing the relics from Pakistan and hard-line Muslims, who view images of Buddha as false idols, destroy the cultural artifacts.
Destruction of fortresses and historic structures in Syria is tragic and irreversible. As related in a recent post (2012-08-03), targeting of the crusader-era castle of the Crac des Chevaliers illustrates the threat to cultural security during armed conflict. As exemplified by the tactics of Turkey, the rhetoric of Muslim religious leaders, and smugglers in Pakistan, the political economy of cultural property creates risk for antiquities and monuments in peacetime as well.
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