As the world watches foreign nationals and Afghans evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the repercussions for Greece are twofold. The Greek government hopes to circumvent a mass migration of Afghan refugees as well as preserve a legacy of treasures left in Afghanistan following the the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Fortunately, so far, only one Greek citizen required evacuation from Kabul to Islamabad, where he was greeted by embassy officials, according Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias late Tuesday night. The evacuation of Farhad Agajan, a naturalized Greek citizen of Afghani descent, was achieved with the help of other EU countries. Agajan himself was a child refugee of the country.
Agajan, an interpreter and photographer, will arrive in Greece on Friday afternoon. He first came to Greece in 2006 at the age of 16 as an unaccompanied minor, after eight years of wandering from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, following his parents’ arrest.
He loved Greece and initiated the procedures to obtain Greek citizenship, after completing Greek high school and obtaining a degree as a computer programmer.
Agajan also loved Kabul. He spoke via Skype with his mother, who still lived in Afghanistan, almost every day. After working as a translator in refugee camps in the Northeast Aegean islands, he was given the opportunity to return to Kabul a few years ago on behalf of the Greek-led NATO military peacekeeping mission in the Middle East.
Greece Fears New Wave of Refugees
At the frontline of the European border, Greece will no doubt face another humanitarian crisis as Afghans flee their country. Fearful of harsh Taliban rule and the very real threat to their lives, particularly if they are women — and even more specifically if they collaborated with the western forces that occupied the country for the better part of two decades — their only viable option is to leave their homeland.
Greece already hosts more than 2,200 Afghan refugees who have fled violence. And based on the UN’s recommendations this week, no Afghan refugees will be deported as they wait to plea their case for asylum in their host countries.
New waves of refugees will add to the 2.6 million Afghan refugees already displaced across the globe, amid years of war and violence at home. Fleeing Afghanistan with the Taliban in control will prove a dangerous endeavor. But for many the alternative is certain death. Thousands will leave, out of fear of the socially and politically restrictive rule of the Taliban.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will speak via phone Friday night to address the waves of migrants that are expected to attempt to reach the safety of Europe overland through Turkey and across the Aegean to Greece.
Greece has openly declared the importance of improving security conditions in Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism and economic progress. It also supports maintaining good neighborly relations with Iran and Pakistan, emphasizing the need for further strengthening trade and economic relations with those countries.
There is no Greek diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, so no diplomatic staff had to be evacuated from Afghanistan. Diplomatic relations were, however, established in 2004, with the Karzai government; the nearest Greek embassy is in Pakistan. In December 2017, Afghanistan opened an embassy in Athens, its first ever diplomatic mission in Greece.
Taliban Dominance Threatens Greek Treasures in Afghanistan
The museum was once considered among the best museums in the world, with Hellenistic artifacts and exhibits. Invaluable treasures from the time of Alexander the Great and his successors are evidence of a long-standing civilization that had been saved and kept in the National Archaeological Museum of the country.
Greece donated $750,000 in 2002, under the auspices of UNESCO, to the country as part of the International Conference On Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage. Greece made a major contribution in 2003 to restore the Kabul Archaeological Museum after it suffered severe damage during both the civil war and the 2001 US and NATO intervention against the Taliban.
The museum complex was severely damaged following the civil war in the 1990s, and a significant part of its collections had been looted and vandalized. After the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, the reconstruction of the museum was a priority of the Afghan Ministry of Culture, in order to save and highlight a significant part of its national cultural heritage.
During the civil war in Afghanistan, the Greek Ministry of Culture bought Afghan antiquities that had been sold abroad in order to preserve them and return them to their rightful owners.
The allocation was spent mainly on the reconstruction of the cultural infrastructure of Afghanistan, both on the restoration of the building of the National Archaeological Museum, as well as the National Gallery and the National Theater. The culmination of this effort was the reopening of the National Archaeological Museum at the end of 2005, by then-President Hamid Karzai.
The National Archaeological Museum of Kabul is the repository of many of the most impressive archaeological finds in the country. These include frescoes from Dilbertin, inscriptions, architectural sections, sculptures, metal objects and coins unearthed during the French excavations.
The museum’s collection includes items from the time of Alexander the Great, ivory from India, mirrors from China, glassware from the Roman Empire, marble heads from Handa, and Buddhist sculptures from Tepe Sardar and other monastic institutions in Afghanistan. A large collection of Islamic art from the Timurid Empire found in Gazni is also part of the collection.
The collection contains most of the antiquities ever found in Afghanistan.
Former Minister of Culture and former Ambassador to Greece Omar Sultan expressed his anxiety for the future of the antiquities of Afghanistan and the Archaeological Museum of Kabul when he spoke to Protothema recently.
Sultan is a Philhellene, a Greek scholar and a lover of Greek culture. He studied archeology alongside the late Manolis Andronikos. He served as Minister of Culture in Afghanistan, from 2005-2017. Sultan saved and promoted the archaeological wealth of the country, part of which dates back to the time of Alexander the Great.
The Taliban’s abuse of antiquities is undisputed. What is not sold in the international antiquities markets is destroyed by hatred and fanaticism. “Unfortunately, I am afraid for the fate of the antiquities in Afghanistan and the new Archaeological Museum that was built with money from Greece and the Greeks,” Sultan stated.
“We wanted to demonstrate that our country is not just wars, female oppression and Taliban guerillas. There is also the unique culture of our country. This whole heritage is in danger of extinction today,” he stated.
Last October in Athens, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Meerwais Nab met with the Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, to discuss the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Between the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the National Archaeological Museum of Kabul. The two countries had agreed to protect and preserve antiquities through the exchange of experts or through webinars. Now that memorandum — and the preservation of Hellenistic antiquities — may not be honored by the Taliban.
Greeks in Afghanistan Can Be Traced to Alexander the Great
Alexander and his army began a massive military campaign in 334 BC which resulted in Macedonians establishing many Greek cities across a wide swath of Southeast Asia. His rule, and that of his successors, would eventually reach all the way to the Indian subcontinent.
Modern day Kandahar was Alexandria in Arachosia — also known as Alexandropolis. It was one of more than 70 cities founded or renamed by Alexander the Great. It was founded around 330 BC, on the foundations of an earlier Achaemenid fortress. Arachosia is the Greek name of an ancient province of the Achaemenid, Seleucid and Parthian empires. The province of Arachosia was centered around the Argandab valley.
One of the lesser-known reasons for the overwhelming Greek cultural influence in the region was the mass deportations of Greeks to Bactria. During the reign of Darius I, every single one of the inhabitants of the Greek city of Barca, in Cyrenaica, were deported to Bactria for refusing to surrender suspected assassins to the authorities.
The Greco-Bactrians became very powerful militarily and succeeded in expanding their territory as far as present-day India.
The Greeks who had instigated the Bactrian revolt had become extremely wealthy, partially due to the great fertility of their country. Their great wealth enabled them to become masters not only of Bactria, but also of India.