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    RUSSIA PLEDGES HELP TO AFGHANISTAN IN CREATING ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM

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    MOSCOW, April 14 (RIA Novosti) - Russian scholars will help the Afghan people create an ethnographic museum in the province of Herat, an institution that is expected to become a major ingredient in Afghanistan's cultural landscape, Mikhail Shvydkoi, head of Russia's Federal Culture & Film Agency, told a press conference on the RIA premises Wednesday.

    According to Shvydkoi, since the overturn of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Russia has been developing programs to assist in the restoration and conservation of Afghan cultural heritage. Among other things, it has supplied copies of Afghan films as well as Russian and Soviet motion pictures, dubbed into Pashto and Dari. Projection equipment has been provided, as well.

    It was Mirwais Sadiq, the late Tourism & Civil Aviation Minister and a son to Herat Governor Ismail Khan, who came up with the idea to create an ethnographic museum in the province. Sadiq came to appreciate Moscow's museums as he was visiting the Russian capital in the spring of 2003, and he felt the desire to create something similar in his home country, Afghan Charge d'Affaires Gulam Sakhi Gairat told the press conference at RIA today.

    A group of research fellows from the Russian Ethnographic Museum and of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology & Ethnography (also known as the Kunstkamera), both based in St. Petersburg, made a fortnight trip to Herat to lay the groundwork for the future museum. Speaking at the RIA news conference, they said the Herat museum would be housed in a building erected circa 1680. Part of its collection will be displayed outdoors.

    Dmitri Baranov, of the Russian Ethnographic Museum, said the museum would let the Afghan people preserve their ethnic identity in the face of globalization. According to him, the project has prevented the demolition of an historic neighborhood in the city of Herat. Unfortunately, buildings of historical and cultural value are now being torn down all across Herat to vacate space for modern apartment blocks, he lamented.

    As St. Petersburg's ethnographers pointed out, it is hard for Afghanistan's modern-day inhabitants to appreciate the cultural and ethnographic value of Afghan artifacts and architectural monuments, which are part of their ordinary surroundings. But to an outsider with a professional interest in history and culture, Afghanistan presents a unique opportunity to travel back to the Middle Ages. This is why it is so important that the Herat museum be created in collaboration with foreign specialists.

    The museum will have to be built from scratch, with all of Afghanistan's ethnographic collections now missing. Another difficulty is that the country has no ethnographers or museum specialists of its own. Shvydkoi promised special training programs for Afghanis who would be working at the Herat museum.

    The Russian ethnographic community and Afghan culture authorities are hopeful that the Herat museum project will bring Afghanistan's cultural heritage to the attention of the world community and, specifically, to that of UNESCO.

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