HERAT CITY (Pajhwok): Pajhwok Afghan News findings show 30 percent houses in the old city of western Herat province have been destroyed to build high-rise buildings during the former government — a reason the city could not be registered with UNESCO.
Herat is one of ancient cities in western Afghanistan. The city has more than 700 ancient buildings, including the old city of the province.
Darb Kandahar area to Darb Malek areas and Mujtame Musla (prayer ground) are among old sites of the province. Other ancient sites of the city include Herat Grand Mosque, Chahar Sawq Pool, Qala-i-Ikhtiaruddin and Jewish synagogues.
Some of the buildings in the old city of Herat are seven meters high and some are 10 meters high, and their designs are similar to the arts which were common 80 to 100 years ago. However, the old city of Herat lost its previous shape due to destruction of its ancient buildings.
Some people undertook arbitrary and substandard construction of buildings around the ancient sites in the last two decades.
Many new buildings with two to four stories could be seen constructed around the old city and ancient buildings which changed site’s original shape, which was the reason the city is not registered with UNESCO.
How and where old monuments are registered?
For the protection of their cultural identity, governments reconstruct their historical sites, traditions and register them with credible organizations such as UNESCO and Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also known as ICESCO.
UNESCO is an agency of the UN that aims to contribute to the global peace and security process through international cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture to build respect for justice, rule of law and human rights.
Historical Sites Protection Department of Herat says that the old city of Herat did not make it UNESCO heritage list due to destruction of some of its ancient buildings.
New constructions in old Herat city have raised concerns among Herat cultural officials, who warn that the city may not be on the cultural heritage list if arbitrary buildings are not stopped.
Local officials say that over the last 20 years, a large part of the old city of Herat has been destroyed and about 30 percent new buildings have been constructed, most of which are arbitrary and substandard.
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, Zalmai Safa, head of Historical Sites Protection Office at the Department of Information and Culture of the province, said that arbitrary buildings were constructed in the old city due to negligence of former municipality officials and their inaction.
“The municipality under the previous government did not take action against construction of illegal buildings. Based on an agreement between the Department of Information and Culture, municipality, Department of Urban Development, the governor’s house, Historical Sites Protection Agency and UNESCO signed in 2005, no constructions should have been carried out in the old city of Herat,” he said.
He said that illegal constructions in the city had repeatedly reported to the officials of municipality of Herat, but no action was taken to prevent it.
Unfortunately no action was taken by the municipality to stop arbitrary constructions in the old city due to appointments in the organ based on favoritism, he added.
Safa said that 70 cases of arbitrary constructions in the old city of Herat had been shared with the governor’s house and attorney office during the former administration, but only two of them were referred to the court which remained unsolved due to political changes in the country.
He added that after the regime change in Afghanistan, it was unlikely to respond to these cases.
He added that there was still hope for registration of the old city with UNESCO, but warned that continuation of arbitrary constructions in historical sites of the city may lead to its ineligibility to the organization.
“I hope illegal constructions in Old Herat City would decrease and Islamic Emirate will take serious measures against offenders,” he added.
Herat Cultural Heritage Association says ancient buildings destroyed due to corruption in government organs
Herat Culture Heritage Association officials have also expressed concern about arbitrary constructions in the old city of Herat and called on officials in the province to stop the illegal process.
Abdul Qayyum Waziri, head of the association, told Pajhwok Afghan News that most of destruction of ancient buildings and their replacement with new high-rise buildings in the old city of Herat was due to corruption in the former government.
“It is very worrisome that arbitrary constructions have not been stopped in the old city of Herat, and high-rise buildings surrounded our historical sites, this should be stopped,” he added.
Corruption in the previous administration was the reason that allowed illegal constructions and the city would not have lost its original shape if illegal constructions had been sopped, he added.
Herat residents: Bribes paid to demolish old houses and build new ones.
Mohammad Ali, a resident of the Old city area of Herat who demolished his father’s house five months ago, told Pajhwok that their father’s old house was too small and he was forced to demolish it and build a three-storey building due to their growing family.
“Our house is south of the Iraqi market and the reason we destroyed our old house and built new one was that the increasing number of family members and it was difficult to live the small old house,” he said.
According to people, without paying a bribe, no one can demolish their house and build a new one.
However, the interviewers did not specify how much they paid the former municipal employees for demolishing old houses.
Meanwhile, Gul Mohammad, a resident of the Old city of Herat whose former house was demolished and rebuilt, said that without paying bribes to municipal employees in the former government, the old house would not have been allowed to be demolished.
“Our house was in the Old city and after my brothers married, we had to build a new house, so we demolished our old house earlier this year and now we have built new,” he said.
He said he paid 25,000 afghanis in bribe to former Herat municipal employees, saying that if he had not paid the money they would not have demolished the former house and built a new one.
Some residents criticized demolition of old houses and construction of new buildings.
Ghulam Hazrat, another resident, said destruction of old houses had changed the old city’s outlook. It was worrying that Herat city was not registered in UNESCO cultural heritage.
He considered the preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage as the duty of every person and said they should be diligent in preserving heritage.
He accused Herat municipal officials in the previous government of negligence in preventing the destruction of the old city.
“All our ancestors lived in the old city of Herat; “But now, with each passing day, new buildings are being built in the city. You see for yourself, the corridors and houses in the old city of Herat have been demolished and there is no obstacle to prevent the demolition.”
Mohammad Saber, another resident of Herat, called on the government to stop the demolition of old houses in the city.
Concerned about the demolition of Herat’s old buildings, Herat residents called on officials in Kabul and provinces to stop the demolition and construction of substandard buildings to pave the way for the city to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Despite repeated efforts, former officials of the Herat Municipality did not attend the interview.
Meanwhile, Mullah SharafuddinMukhlis, the new mayor of Herat, told Pajhwok that under the current regime, no one would be allowed to build high-rise buildings around Herat’s historic buildings.
“We are using all our strength to prevent arbitrary constructions,” he added. “And we will not allow monuments to be destroyed.”
The commission is consisted of the governo, who headed the commission, the heads of urban planning, information and culture, the provincial mayor, the council of experts and the Association for Support of Cultural Heritage are members of the commission.