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They have stood as sentinels over the scenic Bamiyan region of Afghanistan for over 1,700 years. Standing 125 and 176 feet tall respectively, the two statutes of Buddha carved out of solid rock in the cliffs that rise above the valley floor are two times larger than the faces at Mount Rushmore. They were carved out by hand before gunpowder, before TNT, carbide drill bits, pneumatic tools, or even simple safety gear. They have survived the elements, earthquakes, and an endless string of wars.
The statutes are badly scarred from civil war that has rocked the region over the last twenty years. They are culturally and historically significant, located on the old Silk Road, a mythical trade route of gold, spices, and silk that stretched from what is now modern Iran to China. Travelers through the region have included Marco Polo bringing back Asian enlightenment to a European society locked in the Dark Ages. The Buddhas bore influences from both Europe and Asia in the carving techniques as changes were made over time, and influenced trade and religion in the region for over a millennium.
In more modern times Afghanistan has been rocked by an endless string of wars. An aborted Soviet occupation and withdrawal plunged the country into civil war, with the religious extremist Taliban waging a war of terror now controlling 95% of the country. Today only three countries recognize the Taliban government, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan.
In 1997 the Taliban warned the world that if they ever captured the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan, they would destroy the Buddhas in their efforts to create the purist Islamic state in the world. Mainstream Muslims were horrified by the warnings. If was the Muslims that protected the studies and works of the ancient Greeks and Romans during the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Islamic beliefs are backed by religious tolerance, not destruction of idols. The planned destruction of the Buddhas for religious regions isn't justifiable to the teachings of Islam.
On March 1, 2001 the Taliban government of Afghanistan announced that they would destroy all of the Buddha statues in the country, including the fabled statutes at Bamiyan, living up to their 1997 threat. Despite an outcry from the world and even close allies to the isolated Taliban government like Pakistan, and offers to remove the statues from the country, even buying them from the government for $20 million, destruction started on March 2nd. After an assault of rockets, tank fire, and black powder explosions, reports from Afghanistan indicate that the giant Buddhas have been reduced to rubble. The taller of the two, was the largest statue of a Buddha in the world.
It seems almost impossible to believe that in the twenty-first century we as a people can witness destruction of irreplaceable historical icons on the same level as the sacking of the library at Alexandria. It truly is a sad day when we must report the destruction of a unique outdoor place.