The Buddha’s before and after their destruction (courtesy of Wikipedia).
The Buddhas of Bamiyan were monumental sculptures that stood in Afghanistan for 1,500 years. In March of 2001, the Taliban of Afghanistan succeeded in their efforts to destroy the statues in spite of wide spread protest. The Taliban government used the Islamic ban on images as justification for the extirpation of the monuments. The Times quoted Mullah Mohammed Omar as stating, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.”
Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2003, archaeologists and art historians have surveyed the rubble of the Buddha’s to determine whether or not they could be repaired or reconstructed. The overall consensus was that the damage was too thorough and pervasive to allow effective reconstruction. However, a small group – most notably the German International Council on Monuments and Sites – have continued to argue and push for the statues to be rebuilt.
The decision remains controversial and likely will be debated for decades. To read more about the debate, see the article at BBC News.
Sites located in unstable regions of the world (especially those in active conflict) are perpetually in danger due to violence, lack of over-sight, and higher rates of criminal activity (such as looting). Afghanistan is a country with a rich history. Its endangered Buddhist sites first entered the news with the Bamiyan Buddhas, which the Taliban blew up in 2001.
Today, the country’s antiquities are in danger due to development and mining firms. The Buddhist site of Mes Aynak has recently come under threat by a Chinese mining company that wants to destroy the site in order to access the copper veins underneath. The country is especially vulnerable now due to the economic hardship compounding the civil unrest.
Dr. Massoudi, the Director of the National Museum (who has seen its coffers looted by the Taliban and later by insurgents), has stated publicly:
“In three decades of war, a lot of our cultural heritage has been destroyed, damaged and looted. These artefacts do not belong to the country, it’s human treasure that belongs to everybody.”
You can read more about this issue in this BBC Article.