- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

‘Hollow cavities’

The Afghan ambassador this week mourned the destruction of two gigantic statues of Buddha by the Taliban regime as a “testament to the suffering of our country” under the theocracy that sheltered Osama bin Laden until American troops ended their reign of terror five years ago.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of sandstone cliffs in central Afghanistan, stood as part of the country’s cultural heritage for 1,500 years until the Taliban used dynamite and tanks to turn the statues, one 175 feet tall and the other 120, into rubble in March 2001. The U.S.-led coalition liberated Afghanistan in October of that year.

“The hollow cavities where the giant Buddhas once stood in Bamiyan are a testament to the suffering of our country under the Taliban,” Ambassador Said T. Jawad said at a reception honoring new efforts to protect Afghanistan’s remaining archaeological treasures.

“Their absence speaks to the other voids that exist today in Afghanistan — the ruins of buildings and schools, the young men who were cut down too early in life, the children who were not permitted a childhood, the land-mine victims missing arms and legs.”

Mr. Jawad denounced the black market in Afghan antiquities, calling the theft and resale of the items “cultural terrorism.”

Omar Sultan, Afghanistan’s deputy minister of culture, called for a “culture of toleration.”

“Today we need the revival of the arts,” he said. “Our new generation has raised its heads from the flames.”

Nadia Tarzi, vice president of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology, spoke of her father’s quest for a rumored third statue, the so-called “Sleeping Buddha,” which is thought to be as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall, which would make it nearly 1,000 feet from end to end. Archaeologist Zemaryali Tarzi has already discovered clay figures and fragments of statues dating to the third century, she said.

“All is not lost,” she said. “Today, Afghanistan is picking up the pieces of 23 years of war. Join us in filling in the gaps, healing the wounds and opening a new window of opportunity.”

Greece rebounds

The Athens Olympics of 2004 sparked a surge in tourism that is bringing so many visitors to Greece every year that they outstrip the population, Greek Minister of Tourism Fanny Palli-Petralia boasted on her recent trip to Washington.

Greece, with 10.6 million people, is attracting an average of 13 million tourists a year, whose spending accounts for 18 percent of the gross domestic product and 10 percent of total employment, she told the World Travel and Tourism Conference last week.

“More than a major source of income, tourism is a pillar of our national economy, a national competitive advantage in the era of global markets,” Mrs. Palli-Petralia said.

“We want Americans to visit Greece to see firsthand the changes my country underwent in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games and how we combined our unique history and culture with a new array of tourism and leisure opportunities.”

Before she was appointed to her current position, Mrs. Palli-Petralia was responsible for planning for the Olympics as minister of culture.

“The Olympic Games were a 19-day advertisement for our competence, sophistication and security,” she said, noting that Greece invested billions of dollars in highway improvements, new subway lines, a sports stadium and airport for Athens.

Security was the biggest international concern for the Olympics in a country that, until recently, was considered weak on terrorism. The 2004 games changed that reputation.

“Essentially what happened in Greece prior to the Olympic Games was probably the most important rebranding exercise a European country has every undergone,” Mrs. Palli-Petralia said.

“The games repositioned Greece in the eyes of the world.”

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