Omar Sultan: "I hope that Afghanistan will someday be a tourist centre again"

january 2008 -

The story of the evolution of the Hidden Afghanistan exposition in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk reads like a boy's adventure. Seven staff members of Kabul's National Museum risked their lives in 1998 to bring the collection to safety. They sneaked into the museum, packed the collection in crates and brought these to the national bank's safe under the presidential palace. The secured the treasure with seven locks.


In keeping with Afghan tradition, each staff member took one of the keys, so that no one could ever open the safe. Things went well for a while, until the Taliban discovered the safe but could not find a trace of the keys. Luckily, the safe proved to be resistant to the dynamite used by the cultural barbarians who had already destroyed thousands of works of art.

Deputy Minister of Culture Omar Sultan, who is an archaeologist, is filled with gratitude for these seven men. "Without their heroic action, this exposition would not exist. And this exposition can be used to show the rest of the world that Afghanistan does not solely consist of war, destruction and the Taliban, but that we have a rich past and a culture that we can be proud of. It is my dream that a day will come in which peace and tranquillity will rule Afghanistan, and tourists will flock to our country to admire our rich culture."

"Before the Soviets invaded our country in 1978, tourism was Afghanistan's second most important source of revenue. I hope that this exposition will generate the funds to someday erect a brand new museum in Kabul in which all of our artistic treasures can be shown to a large international audience. The exposition has already been shown in Paris and Turin, and this is beginning to bear fruit. We now have the funds, for example, to give the museum's archaeologists and conservators additional training, so that they can do their work even better, saving our artistic treasures for future generations."

Hidden Afghanistan can be seen in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk until 20 April 2008.

The exposition was established with support from organizations including the HGIS Culture Programme, NCDO and the Prince Bernhard Fund. The Prince Claus Fund had the catalogue translated into Dari and Pashto, so that the people of Afghanistan can also read about these extraordinary treasures.