Filmmaker trying to save ancient Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan

Mes Aynak, located just outside Kabul, is home to a sprawling ancient Buddhist monastery complex, filled with hundreds of historical artifacts. It’s also home to the second-largest copper deposit in the world, and the site could be dug up in just a few months. Teams of archaeologists have been frantically trying to salvage as much from the site as they can before excavation starts.

Filmmaker Brent Huffman has been documenting the archaeologists’ work, and he’s hoping he can use his film to raise awareness of Mes Aynak’s precarious situation and try to save the site. Below, Huffman talks about the footage of Mes Aynak that he’s collected so far, and explains why it’s important to save the site.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH) says that the site can preserved if the Chinese mining company that has the rights to the site and the Afghan government can balance cultural and environmental concerns with the mining operation. A petition urges Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ensure that the mining operation is conducted in a way that minimizes damage to the historical sites. You can view and sign the petition here.

Without cooperation from the mining company, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), owned by the Chinese government, is scheduled to start excavating copper at the beginning of 2013. The ancient temples at Mes Aynak, as well as six villages and a mountain range, will be destroyed to create a vast, open copper mine.

Proponents of the mining operation say it could bring much-needed money to Afghanistan, one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Huffman, along with ARCH, says this won’t happen, though — he says the country is corrupt and only a few people will see any profits from the mine, and MCC will probably bring in Chinese workers, employing Afghans only for low-level and poorly paid positions. ARCH points out that, if preserved, the Mes Aynak site could draw tourists to Afghanistan, which was once a popular destination because of its heritage sites.

MCC said they didn’t know about the historical site until after they won mining rights in 2007, and in 2009, the company offered archaeologists three years to excavate as much of the site as they could. The three teams of archaeologists at Mes Aynak have limited funds and only basic tools.They are also in danger as locals in Logar Province, upset about the loss of their villages, are partnering with the Taliban to attack the mining operation and the archaeological dig with landmines and rockets. You can read Huffman’s full op-ed piece here. For more information, visit the Facebook page for his film-in-progress.