July 6, 2008


Restoring Past Glory in Old Kabul: Ambitious Project Pumps New Life Into Crumbling Historic District (Candace Rondeaux, 7/06/08, Washington Post)

Work to restore Murad Khane began in 2006 under the auspices of the Kabul-based Turquoise Mountain Foundation. The development organization was born of a meeting of minds between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Britain's Prince Charles when they met during a state visit in Britain in 2004.

Turquoise Mountain is run out of an old fort a few miles from Murad Khane by Rory Stewart, an Oxford-pedigreed Scottish writer and diplomat. Seed money for the group came from Prince Charles and proceeds from Stewart's book, "The Places in Between," a chronicle of his 600-mile walk across Afghanistan in 2002, three months after the fall of the Taliban.

In a country where aid workers like to talk of "capacity building" and "local empowerment," Turquoise Mountain stands out as one of the few groups that is actually transforming trash into treasure. Since the project started in August 2006, workers have hauled away an estimated 10,500 cubic yards of garbage. About 50 homes that were awash in refuse have been restored or received emergency repairs.

Once a nest of seedy entertainment halls, Murad Khane was known for years as one of Kabul's most notorious red-light districts. Located in the center of the city near the Kabul River, it was developed in the 18th century by Afghanistan's founding ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Durrani built several ornate structures to house members of his court from the Qizilbash tribe, an ethnic group that predominates in Murad Khane today. In the 1920s, dozens of buildings with elaborate wood carvings were erected in Murad Khane's 20-acre maze of stone-paved alleys and more modest mud-brick homes. Many of those buildings were demolished as part of a Soviet master plan to modernize Kabul; others were destroyed by decades of neglect and by the civil wars of the 1990s.

The hope is that using traditional Afghan techniques to rebuild the district in the heart of old Kabul will inspire other similar projects in the city and across Afghanistan, said John Elliott, a spokesman for Turquoise Mountain. "We believed that these things -- like culture, like traditional architecture, like history, like identity -- are really, really important for Afghanistan's future," Elliott said. "They're something that all Afghans can unite around, regardless of ethnicity."

...the Taliban hate history just as much as the Communist does.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2008 8:24 AM
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