Minister of Culture
“Creating a culture is hard work… You cannot do this through force.”
My name is Omar Sultan.
I am the Cultural Deputy Minister of Ministry of Information and Culture.
I went to Greece in 1969 for the first time to study archaeology, history of art and philosophy. I have always been interested in culture and art since I was a child. Afghanistan is very rich in cultural heritage. That’s what motivated me to study in this field.
I left Afghanistan in the late 70s because of the communist coup and returned to Greece. I didn’t come back here until 2002, but travelled to many countries teaching. I never lost interest in Afghanistan.
When I returned I was really saddened to see how much of our cultural heritage we had lost.
Afghanistan had had so many historical artefacts that had been looted and sold during the civil wars. Luckily we had signed the convention with UNESCO and we have got back thousands of our pieces. I began using contacts I made while I was abroad and ex-classmates such as the Greek cultural minister to raise money to start to rebuild our cultural history. Greece was the first country to donate money to reconstruct our National Museum.
Unfortunately the Ministry of Culture and Information has a very small budget that I hope will increase, but we have had many achievements. In reconstructing the museum, in archaeology, in the preservation of historical sites, music, theatre, film. We have 10 museums in the country now.
We have two major archaeological projects in Ghazni and Mes Aynak. Our archaeologists have done the work that should take three or four years to complete in eight months. In Ghazni we have renovated 10 historical sites. We hope to fix 32 more by 2013. The work is ongoing; of course there are many administrative problems but no technical problems. When the money comes in we start our work. A Chinese company has a copper mine in Mes Aynak, and we need to work with them to preserve the historical site without stopping the work on mines which generates national income. We are excavating a lot there. It is going really well. We are holding seven seminars next year at the ministry. One of the most important is children’s literature and theatre. The other one is the music of Afghanistan. If we don’t work to preserve it, these things will slowly disappear, if a music master dies, nothing will be left after him.
The issue of smuggling cultural artefacts is a huge problem. We are trying to fight it. In 2003 a military unit was set up to tackle this. It has been prevented to some extent but not 100%.
We need to raise awareness among the Afghan nation about their cultural heritage. I personally think we have lost our national identity and cultural identity in the last 30 years. I think if this nation is to be reunited it is through culture; but creating a culture is hard work, it is not like building a building. You cannot do this through force. Guns and cannons are not the way. We must form an understanding with them. We can start with little children who will have an impact on their parents
I think that the most important thing in the country is education. It is about the young people, the future is in their hands, I try to leave some decisions for future generations to make. I am hopeful that things will improve day by day. I think you just need to give the children time. Once they are educated, I am hopeful that Afghanistan will be a very different country.