Some 102 cultural assets taken illegally from conflict-torn Afghanistan have been returned to the South Asian country with the help of a Japanese nonprofit organization. The items include a piece of a mural removed from the Bamiyan Caves where giant Buddha statues were destroyed by Taliban militants in 2001, and the “Left Foot of Zeus,” a statue fragment unearthed from Ai Khanum in northern Afghanistan. Those items were protected and stored by an organization established in 2001 by the late Japanese painter Ikuo Hirayama after being pillaged from archaeological sites and museums in Afghanistan during times of conflict. Hirayama, a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, set up the Japan Committee for the Protection of Displaced Cultural Properties, to collect and protect cultural assets in cooperation with art dealers. “We greatly appreciate the efforts made by Mr. Hirayama and others,” Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, chief of the National Museum of Afghanistan, said. “This is the happiest occasion for me and for the museum.” The return of the items was once feared in jeopardy, given the difficulty Afghanistan faced in paying the $70,000 needed to make it happen. But Afghanistan’s cultural ministry managed to raise the funds. Some of the 102 items were displayed at exhibitions in Tokyo and Fukuoka this year. The National Museum of Afghanistan plans to exhibit the returned cultural properties in December.
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