Virtual Repatriation of Afghan Cultural Treasures

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Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian, Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Bari Jahani, and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden display a box of hard drives that contain the documents digitized through the Afghanistan Project.

Carnegie Corporation and the Library of Congress present trove of digitized documents to Afghan government.

The Library of Congress has completed a three-year project to digitize its holdings relating to 600 years of Afghan history, for use by Afghanistan’s cultural and educational institutions.

Newly appointed Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, joined by Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian, presented two hard drives containing more than 163,000 pages of documents to the Afghan Minister of Information and Culture, Abdul Bari Jahani, and other officials, during a ceremony on September 21 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. A total of ten institutions will receive hard drives with complete collections, including bibliographic records about each entry. 

“One of my goals as Librarian is to open up the riches of the Library of Congress to all people, wherever in the world they might be,” Hayden said. “I am so thrilled we had these items to share with the people of Afghanistan. This project is an example of what can be accomplished when resources are paired with the Library's extraordinary treasure-chest of items from around the world. I want to thank the Carnegie Corporation for making this project possible.”

“You can conquer Afghanistan, but you cannot dominate Afghanistan. The spirit of independence, freedom, and self-respect is there,” commented Dr. Gregorian, an expert on Afghan history and the author of The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 18801946. “Why not have the entire history of Afghanistan repatriated? [These documents] are the repatriation of the Afghan legacy, the Afghan memory, and that is why we started this project.”

Minister Jahani responds in this excerpt of a news report by McClatchy DC:

“Abdul Bari Jahani only remembers one book from when he was growing up in Afghanistan: the Quoran. The religious text is sacred in the Muslim nation, but at his Kandahar high school he didn’t have access to many printed materials about his country, culture and language — core elements of national identity.

The next generation of Afghans will have a whole lot more than that at their fingertips, thanks in part to a major initiative from the U.S. Library of Congress. The Afghanistan Project has digitized the library’s collection of materials related to the country, including books, maps, photographs, newspapers, prints and manuscripts. Much of the material in the Library of Congress’ archive can’t be found in Afghanistan itself and some unique documents can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

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“I didn’t know other books more than our regular curriculum, so it’s very important for the Afghan generation of young scholars,” said Jahani, who is now Afghanistan’s minister of information and culture. “It is for the future generations. The future generations should be and must be thankful for this collection.”

Read the entire news report and find more details in the LOC media release