By Jerome Starkey (Flickr: AINAK-6446.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Archaeologists working at Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a geographically and geopolitically strategic country with a rich and ancient cultural civilization that has played a major role in the cultural and ideological development of almost all major religions. Afghanistan has been ravaged by war and turmoil for nearly 40 years. The destruction of the statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban became a subject of increasing international concern in the early 2000s, but this example is a small part of a long and devastating history of war and destruction throughout the country. The long turmoil of conquerors, dynasties, and war have left major damage and destruction to most historical buildings and cultural heritage sites, and many historical artifacts have been smuggled out of the country.
The US Department of State Cultural Heritage Center, in collaboration with the National Park Service Archaeology Program (NPS), initiated a program to help address the need to protect Afghanistan's cultural heritage. This program, the Afghanistan Cultural Heritage Education Program (ACHEP), has evolved since its inception in 2007. Currently implemented by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Arizona and the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, Kabul University, this international outreach effort engages Afghanistan’s educators, students, and professionals in educational programs and activities. The hope is to support the preservation and protection of the country’s rich cultural heritage and to enhance Afghanistan’s capacity to protect heritage sites and better guard against looting and trafficking of antiquities.
Recently, ACHEP has focused on the development of online courses for students at Kabul University. In 2017, an introductory archaeology and anthropology course was co-delivered by instructors from the University of Arizona and Kabul University. Building on this model, a second course on illicit trafficking of antiquities and art was developed in 2018. This second course includes guest lecturers who are experts in the history of, documenting, and fighting trafficking and looting of cultural heritage.
ACHEP Team members, past and present: Principal Investigator, Dr Anne Betteridge (Director of CMES); Project Manager, Dr Julie Ellison-Speight (Assistant Director of CMES); Coordinator and Instructor, Dr Jodi Reeves Eyre; Kabul University Instructor, Jamaludin Shable; Kabul University Instructor, M. Hussain Ahmadzai; Graduate Assistant, Stephanie Martin; Video Editor, Sarah Azhar; Atifa Rawan; Dr Suzanne Bott; Dr R. Brooks Jeffery; Dr William P. O'Brien; and Dr Nancy N. Odegaard.