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US Supports World Cultural Heritage Preservation

United States Supports Cultural Heritage Preservation Worldwide

Restoration of mosques, artwork in Central Asia among U.S.-funded projects: A rare wooden mosque from the 1600s was brought back from oblivion in 2004, and now 1,000 Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan, are able to pray there.

But first it took more than 45 workers two months to remove 400 years of oil paint from the cedar pillars damaged by shrapnel and bullets at the Mullah Mahmood Mosque and to remove unexploded ordnance and human remains from the huge two-story building.

The mosque serves Kabul residents in a neighborhood still scarred by the factional conflict that tore the city apart in the mid-1990s, when doors, window frames and cedar paneling were used for firewood or blown away by gunfire.

The mosque, named for a 20th-century religious leader, is one of 379 projects supported by the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation. The fund was established by the U.S. Congress in 2001 with $1 million. Since then, the program has awarded grants for projects outside the United States totaling $9.5 million. The fund is administered by the Cultural Heritage Center in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Each year, U.S. ambassadors in less-developed countries submit cultural preservation project proposals, and often local communities become engaged in the ongoing effort to safeguard important places and structures. The competitive awards are based on the importance of the site, object or form of expression, the country's need and the impact of the U.S. contribution to the preservation effort.

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For example, a U.S.-funded grant in Pakistan enabled restoration of the Wazir Kahn Mosque built in 1645, a prime example of Mughal era architecture, in the old city of Lahore. In Cambodia, a public awareness campaign to stem looting of archaeological sites has made possible future excavation so that scholars can learn about Cambodia's ancient cultures.

Kyrgyzstan And Tajikistan

Although the stunning collection of jewelry and artifacts was discovered in 1958 and had been on exhibit in Europe and Japan, the funeral hoard of a Hun noblewoman who lived and died sometime between the first and fifth centuries never had been on display in Kyrgyzstan. Because the Kyrgyz State Museum had inadequate security and display facilities, the collection was sealed in a vault.

A 2006 grant from the Ambassador's Fund helped the museum purchase display cabinets and install security alarms so that the collection could be exhibited to the public.

In addition to the 156 objects from the Hun tomb, the museum's precious metals collection includes ancient Scythian artifacts and brooches of gold-plated bronze decorated with Buddha figures from the eighth and ninth centuries.

Possibly the most significant Buddha statue remaining in Central Asia is the 14-meter reclining Buddha of Ajina Teppa, dating from around the sixth century, which occupies a room of its own in Tajikistan's State Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe.

The statue was discovered in 1966 in southern Tajikistan. While murals and smaller statues from the site were shipped to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Buddha was considered too large to be moved such a long distance. Instead, it was cut into 100 pieces and stored in the museum's basement.

An Ambassador's Fund grant helped restore the statue, which was revealed to the public in 2001 during Tajikistan's 10th anniversary celebration of its independence.

Other projects supported by the Ambassador's Fund in Tajikistan include renovating the field museum, creating storage facilities at the Sarazm Archeological Museum and restoring the mausoleum and mosque that once were attached to the Khoja Mashhad Madrassa in Shahritus -- among the oldest Islamic sites in Tajikistan.

"We are not sure exactly when the complex was built, or who it was named after," said Rahmatjon Salomov, the architect in charge of the buildings' restoration. "But it was a very important site for the early spread of Islam." Salomov said the graves inside the mausoleum may belong to early Muslim missionaries in the region, and the mausoleum itself might date to the ninth century. The mosque dates to the 11th century.

Surveying Cultural Landscapes In Kazakhstan

The Silk Road was a network of routes across Central Asia that flourished during the first millennium. As much as it provided a link between China and Europe, the Silk Road also was used for trading among neighboring communities and the movement of ideas and technology along the route was as important as the trading of goods.

The focus on Silk Road documentation has been on the conservation of remains of the towns dotting the ancient trade network. But the success of the route depended equally on the cooperation of nomad tribes that populated the desert through which the Silk Road passed.

This is particularly true for Kazakhstan, according to Yelena Khorosh of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and today's mining, agriculture, housing and infrastructure projects being launched in booming Kazakhstan without an archeological survey are threatening to destroy evidence of nomadic cultures.

A grant helped Khorosh find evidence of houses, yurt platforms, burial mounds, wells and carvings, and the nomadic sites are being mapped to provide a basis for future protection and preservation.


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