Afghan palace emerges from ruins as centenary nears

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Above, the exterior of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the exterior renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the exterior renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on grounds of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
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Above, the exterior of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2019

Afghan palace emerges from ruins as centenary nears

  • Darulaman Palace, a hulking showpiece of Afghan architecture, came to symbolize the country’s turmoils during decades of war
  • Work at the famed palace must be completed by August 19, the date marking 100 years of Afghan independence from Britain

KABUL: Inside an imposing building in Kabul, a team of welders hastily fuse a sweeping metal bannister to a grand staircase. Outside, gardeners spray torrents of water over the parched earth, willing the grass to grow.
They have just days to finish a total renovation of the once-ruined Darulaman Palace, a hulking showpiece of Afghan architecture that came to symbolize the country’s turmoils during decades of war.
With questions looming over Afghanistan’s future and a possible deal between the US and the Taliban imminent, the war-torn nation is this month hoping to briefly celebrate its past — and Darulaman will be the centerpiece.
Work at the famed palace must be completed by August 19, the date marking 100 years of Afghan independence from Britain, when President Ashraf Ghani will inaugurate the newly renovated structure.
The final use for Darulaman — which means “Abode of Peace” — has not been finalized, but at least part will be turned into a museum.
Perched on a hill with an imposing view of Kabul, Darulaman was a total wreck until recently. Its roof was destroyed, its walls crumbling and pock-marked by bullet holes, and the once-magnificent neo-classical exterior covered in graffiti and appearing close to collapse.

But in 2016 Ghani ordered the palace’s renovation and, after finalizing design plans, construction work began in earnest in March 2018.
Project manager Javid Hammad said reconstructing Darulaman is vital to Afghanistan, as the work promises a new beginning after so much conflict.
“The message of the Darulaman Palace is a message of peace, security, brotherhood and coexistence,” Hammad said during a recent tour of the site, where about 500 workers are toiling round the clock to get the job done.
The $10.5-million renovation has been a boon to Kabul’s workforce. Cedar trimmings in high-ceilinged rooms that come from Kunar province in the west, and marble fittings from the western city of Herat mean businesses around the country have benefitted.
But not everyone is happy the palace is being returned to its former glory, wondering if the money could have been put to better use in one of the world’s poorest countries.
“It is a good thing to rebuild Darulaman Palace, but if this money would have been spent on solving people’s problems that would have been better,” local shopkeeper Ali said.
Another Kabul resident, Ghulam Mohammad, said the battered palace should have been left in its eerie, ruined condition as a testament to Afghan’s troubled past.
“It should have remained the same so people can remember how brutal the war was,” Mohammad said.
“Prior to the reconstruction, the palace was beautiful.”
On August 19, 1919, London and Kabul signed the Anglo-Afghan Treaty in which Britain recognized Afghan independence and vowed that British India would not extend west beyond the Khyber Pass.
Designed by German engineers for King Amanullah Khan in the early 1920s, Darulaman Palace was originally intended to be the location for Afghanistan’s new parliament.
But over the years, due to shifting political currents, it has also seen a string of other uses including as a home for various government ministries, a medical school and a museum.
It was gutted by fire in 1968, and since then has been repeatedly caught up in Afghanistan’s conflicts.
It was again set ablaze during a coup attempt in 1978, and was subsequently shelled during fighting in the 1990s.
Afghans today are nervously awaiting the outcome of a deal between the US and the Taliban.
The Pentagon is widely expected to cut its troop presence in return for various guarantees from its longtime foe, but many in Afghanistan do not trust the insurgents and worry they will try to seize power.


Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

Updated 19 August 2019

Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

  • Then Russian Navy Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko wrote the letter when he was a 36-year-old aboard the Sulak
ANCHORAGE, Alaska: A man discovered a 50-year-old letter in a bottle from the Russian Navy on the shores of western Alaska.
Tyler Ivanoff found the handwritten Russian letter early this month while gathering firewood near Shishmaref about 600 miles (966 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, television station KTUU reported.
“I was just looking for firewood when I found the bottle,” Tyler Ivanoff said. “When I found the bottle, I had to use a screwdriver to get the message out.”
Ivanoff shared his discovery on Facebook where Russian speakers translated the message to be a greeting from a Cold War Russian sailor dated June 20, 1969. The message included an address and a request for a response from the person who finds it.
Reporters from the state-owned Russian media network, Russia-1, tracked down the original writer, Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko, KTUU reported.
He was skeptical he wrote the note until he saw his signature on the bottom.
“There — exactly!” he exclaimed.
The message was sent while the then 36-year-old was aboard the Sulak, Botsanenko said. Botsanenko shed tears when the Russian television reporter told him the Sulak was sold for scrap in the 1990s.
Botsanenko also showed the reporter some souvenirs from his time on the ship, including the autograph of the wife of a famous Russian spy and Japanese liquor bottles, the latter kept over his wife’s protests.
Ivanoff’s discovery of the bottle was first reported by Nome radio station KNOM.