Mes Aynak means “little copper mine”. Maybe it was little once. As it turns out, though, with today’s technology and mapping, it’s one of the world’s largest copper deposits. And also one of Central Asia’s most important archaeological sites.
In 2012, we had a project to discuss options for Bamiyan, where the giant Buddhas had been blown up by the Taliban. Some Afghan friends asked why we were focusing on a place that was already destroyed, instead of prioritizing one that still might be saved? Why weren’t we DOING SOMETHING about Mes Aynak? The truth was: We had never ever heard of Mes Aynak.
Mes Aynak is a 5000-year old Buddhist city, one of the most important archeological finds in all of Central Asia. A sprawling complex of stupas, temples, residential areas, markets and a fortress, it sits on top of even older remains of ancient mining and trading villages.
An enormous copper deposit is also located here. When we first got involved, a Chinese mining company was planning to blow the whole thing up. Their contract has since lapsed, but meanwhile and for no good reason, workers and ...
Mes Aynak is in Afghanistan’s Logar Province, 40km outside of Kabul, a way-station on the former Silk Road.
We want this pointless plunder archaeology to stop right now. We believe the World Bank is violating its own regulations for heritage preservation, and we’re filing a legal complaint. Our Kabul team is ...
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We always start with fact-checking, so that’s what we did. And the facts were impressive. We discovered that this was a massive buried Buddhist city, with multiple stupas and temples, a military fort, a market area where coins and jewelry had already been found by archaeologists, residential areas and administrative buildings. We went there to see for ourselves. The ruins sprawled across the valley and onto two hillsides. Standing on one of them, the tips of temple buildings and other structures were visible almost as far as the eye could see.Was this as amazing as it seemed to us? We consulted Deborah Klimburg-Salter, a Harvard graduate, professor at the University of Vienna, and one of the leading experts on Afghanistan, and she unhesitatingly confirmed the premier significance of this site.
Now we had some facts. And we had some big blank spaces where more facts should have been.
WHY was there no proper map of the site – something that nowadays can be done with ground penetrating radar, not requiring excavation? Instead, one one archaeologist had literally been sent out with a tape measure and a pencil to sketch the site – a joke, for a place of this importance.
WHY was no one even trying to find a compromise – a plan that would preserve at least parts of this amazing site while still mining the copper and bringing in the revenue Afghanistan was desperate for?
WHY was the mining contract being kept secret, when the law requires these to be made public?
WHY was there no environmental impact study, considering that Mes Aynak lies above two of the country’s principal aquifers.
In 2012, ARCH published a White Paper on the situation. We were in touch with Philippe Marquis, head of DAFA’s Archeological Mission working on the site and with various Afghan governmental officials. We were concerned that the mining contract had not been made public and we were extremely concerned about the lack of an environmental impact plan – all of which is contrary to international practice.
Also, we noticed that no one had explored the possibility of a compromise solution.
We conducted intensive research and realized that what was missing was a plan for a compromise. There are new less destructive mining technologies. Also, the site had never been mapped. Everyone was just assuming that the site had to be destroyed for mining to take place.
ARCH identified technical experts: archaeologists working on Mes Aynak; archaeologists working on comparable sites, mining engineers, and many more.
In July 2012, we organized an expert conference in conjunction with SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. We made the report available in print and on our website for everyone to download for free.
ARCH also began to work on legal action: We submitted an amendment to the Afghan mining law. We filed a comprehensive complaint with the Inspection Panel of the World Bank which was financing and overseeing the management of the mining project Eligibility Report and Inspection Panel .
We also made sure to provide information to civil society groups internationally and local to Logar Province who undertook activities to protect Mes Aynak. We published in international media outlets.