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National Archives deprived of historical documents

Govt fails to purchase manuscripts from citizens, foreigners

By Abdul Zuhoor Qayomi: National Archives is located in Deh-e-Afghanan area of Kabul City. Cultural and historical documents of Afghanistan are kept for public access. The internal conflicts brought destruction to many parts of the country and turned important structures into ruins but the National achieves remained safe and numerous documents which are quite unique in the world have been kept safe.

One could see dark and gold eras through the historical documents and pictures kept in the archives. The 500 years old golden and azure handwritten manuscripts attract the attention of every new visitor. Building of the National Archives which is counted as a historical place was built in Charmgari Garden in the era of Ameer Abdur Rahman Khan, the late king of Afghanistan. It was considered as one of the best gardens at that time.

The garden was designed and constructed by architectures brought from Tajikistan by the late king. Although is no exact information about timeframe for construction of the archives, but it is said that it was built in 1892. The king built the current day national archives as office for his son, Prince Habibullah Khan. However, the prince never went there after falling down from his horse on the way to his new office. Later it was used as state guesthouse. The archives was turned into a training center for the army officers, and gradually it was forgotten and the Ministry of Defense used it as a logistic depot. In 1973, it was changed into a library of the Ministry of Information and Culture. In the same period it was decided to reconstruct the building for keeping historical documents safe. The building was officially named as “National Archives of Afghanistan”. The library of the information ministry which was full of manuscripts was shifted to the National Archives as it was completed in 1980.

It is comprised of nine administrative and professional directorates. The handwritten manuscripts and historical documents are kept in two separate but parts of the building. Around 190,000 historical documents including decrees, newspapers, marriage certificates and photos are kept in the archives apart from other important documents. Nearly 9,000 handwritten manuscripts including the Holy Quran, brochures, literary work, historical and philosophy books as well as some letters have been kept safe there.

Chief of the national archives, Masuma Nazari, told Afghanistan Times that National Archives was officially inaugurated in 1977 with the aim to protect historical and cultural heritages and documents. Nazari said the documents are used by the university lecturers, students as well as researchers for research purpose and to enhance their understanding of the past.

Lack of interest of the state organizations to protect the historical documents is a dilemma ad the government is not handing over 40-year old or more documents to the archives. “There are thousands of historical documents that yet to be provided to National Archives for better protection according to the law. As many as 5,000 documents are available with the presidential palace but not provided to the archive despite several request calls,” she said.

Official letters, decrees, biographies and attendance sheets are the major documents in different state organizations including Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Office of the Administrative Affairs that had not been provided, she added. Replying to a query Ms Nazari said that these documents are neither classified nor would create difference among different groups living in the country.

Illegal transfer of thousands of important documents from the country is another serious issue that still to get attention of the government. Hundreds of important documents are in the possession of common people but the relevant authorities could not recover these manuscripts and other vital documents. Large number of such important documents had been sold in neighboring countries, but National Archives could not purchase these documents due to lack of sufficient budget for this particular purpose.

She blamed the officials in the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC) of negligence in this regard and said that she several times asked the ministry to purchase the manuscripts, but it did not pay attention.

Ms Nazri also lamented over lack of specific laboratory for identification of the microbes that are damaging manuscripts.

Director of Historical Documents Department at National Archive, Ahmad Siyar Behroz, said that there are around 50,422 historical documents and 53,140 pictures of the kings and others.

Daily over 100 universities and schools students as well as researchers visit the section. However, number of the visitors is shrunk in winter. International historical agreements, with a number of European and Asian countries including the neighbors are also kept in the section.

Business and transit agreements with Pakistan, Turkey, India, Russia, China and Germany signed in different eras are the major international accords kept in the archives. Banknotes from different eras are also among the historical documents, he said.

Director of Manuscript Department at National Archives, Abdul Rasheed Usman, said that 70 percent of the handwritten manuscripts are decorated with gold and azure that are unique and could not be found elsewhere in the world. He said that there are around 8,000 manuscripts, categorized based on the history. Some manuscripts of the Holy Quran of the third Caliph of Islam Hazrat Usman (R.A), written on the skin of deer in Kofi style is the oldest one. Most beautiful and simple miniature of the world are kept in the archives.

“There are some the most beautiful written pieces and poems of poets, scientists, and authors including Mirza Abdul Qader Bidel, Maulana Abdul Rahman Jami, Khawaja Muhammad Parsa,   Shahnama Ferdawsi, Hafiz Sahib, Sadi Shirazi, Rahman Baba, Mula Husain Kashefi, and Ghulam Muhammad Tarzai,” he said.

In an interview with Afghanistan Times, he said that 800 visitors visited the manuscript section in the past six months. Mostly the visitors were university teachers, students and members of the Science Academy.

According to officials over 180,000 historical documents are kept in the archives. The pictures of Buddha of Bamyan, before its destruction by the Taliban, can be seen in the archives. The bank notes of different eras and wooden couches of kings could also be found along with other historical items.

Director of the historical section, Khudadad Aaghar, said the national archives has been divided in two parts. He said that historical documents of rulers and political leaders are kept in the archives with great care. He said that historical documents dating back to the era of Sultan Husain Ba-Eqra are kept in the archives. “Almost all of the documents including decrees are handwritten. Some of the written pieces are unfamiliar for the new generation because these are written in Kofi writing,” he said.

Documents that are 50-year-old or more could not be sold as they are considered property of the national archives. However, the officials say that they do not have the budget to purchase these precious documents from individuals. Though they have fund but the amount is insufficient and National Archives could buy all historical documents.

He asked the citizens to return the precious documents to the national archives so researches could benefit from the documents and would attract tourists. “Here we have more than 7,000 pieces of manuscripts of the Holy Quran, different books and other valuable written pieces that are very important. Moreover, there are more than 150,000 historical documents including photos, portraits, kings’ decrees, agreements with the foreign countries and other legal documents. National Archives is also home to stamps used by rulers and judges of the different eras.”

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