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Reconstruction Team Helps Restore Afghan Cultural Art Form

By Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

HERAT, Afghanistan, March 7, 2005 – In 1997, Taliban leaders drove a 600 year-old Afghan art form to near extinction when they fired 22 of the 30 craftsmen at the Blue Mosque Tile Factory.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Afghan boys lay tiles at the Blue Mosque Preservation Center to earn money for their families. The Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team recently funded a project to train 40 former combatants during a six-month period in cooperation with the Afghan New Beginnings Program. Photo by Sgt. Jeremy Clawson, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The eight remaining blue-tile artisans held in their hands the fate of this ancient craft.

After U.S. and coalition forces expelled the Taliban from power in 2001, the factory, now called the Blue Mosque Preservation Center, began to flourish. In the months ahead, the center will help former combatants lay down their weapons to become productive members of Afghan society.

The Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team recently funded a project to train 40 former combatants during a six-month period in cooperation with the Afghan New Beginnings Program. Representatives from the Blue Mosque Preservation Center, the Department of Social Affairs and Labor, and the Afghan New Beginnings Program will select the new workers based on their interests, aptitude and skills.

According to civil affairs team member Spc. Jennifer Raszynski, the tiles produced by the 40 new laborers will help restore cultural monuments in the Herat province, throughout the region and in other countries.

"Through projects such as this we hope to demonstrate to the citizens of Afghanistan that their central government is following through on its promises to create a strong civil society, as well as creating a demilitarized nation and providing cultural-restoration services to its people," she said.

"The transformation of 40 (participants in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs) through the training program to artists and craftsman of blue mosque tiles is a poetic statement of the transformation of the nation of Afghanistan," said Raszynski.

One of the initiative's objectives is to create sustainable capacity, helping the Afghan economy by giving former fighters a vocation and pouring the revenue back into the center. "Any revenue received from the production of the Blue Mosque tiles can be used to train additional personnel, purchase additional supplies, and expand the Blue Mosque Preservation Center," said Raszynski.

This project demonstrates a desire to help blue tile artistry regain a foothold in the Afghan landscape, the PRT also contracted with the Blue Mosque Preservation Center to have all PRT projects marked with blue tile plaques.

"The contract to produce 30 blue tile plaques was intended to do two things: one, to build the capacity of the center through funds, and two, to provide each school with a sense of Afghan cultural history," she said. "The plaques, placed at all PRT-funded school projects, will also demonstrate to students that the school belongs to them."

(Army Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson is assigned to the Regional Command West Afghanistan Public Affairs Office.)

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