Op 8 mei 2008 maakte het afghaanse ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken bekend dat 65 manuscripten uit de zogenaamde Schoyen-collectie teruggebracht gaan worden naar Afghanistan. Dat is inmiddels geëffectueerd.
De bijna 2000 eeuwenoude boeddhistische manuscripten waren in het bezit van de heer Martin Schoyen, een noorse zakenman. Ze werden in de loop van de twintigste eeuw gevonden in potten en kruiken op verschillende plaatsen in Afghanistan, vooral nabij de twee grote boeddhabeelden in de Bamiyan-vlakte.
Zeven van deze manuscripten werden in oktober 2007 al naar Afghanistan overgebracht, en 58 manuscripten volgden op 5 februari 2008.
Zoals blijkt uit onderstaande bijdrage van newsfinder.org hebben de beheerders van de Schoyen-collectie geprobeerd deze manuscripten in Noorwegen te houden, ze waren als een lot aangeboden aan de noorse overheid.
Gelukkig zijn er inmiddels vertalingen, kopieën en digitale opnamen van gemaakt, zodat latere generaties in ieder geval een idee kunnen krijgen van het belang, de omvang en de inhoud van deze manuscripten.
www.newsfinder.org, meer bepaald www.newsfinder.org/site/more/buddhist_scrolls_on_sale/ gaf op 8 mei 2008 onder de kop Buddhist Scrolls on Sale een chronologisch overzicht van de reis die de manuscripten uit de Schoyen-collectie hebben gemaakt.
Het verhaal werd verteld door Fotopoulou Sophia.
Some time after Taliban came into power a collection of
Buddhist manuscripts from Afghanistan were acquired by The
Schoyen Collection. The manuscripts are often referred to as
the "Dead Sea scrolls of Buddhism".
The Schoyen Collection is allegedly one of the largest private
collections of ancient manuscripts in the world. The single
largest group of manuscripts in the collection are thousands
of fragments of possibly 1400 Buddhist manuscripts taken out
of Afghanistan after Taliban came to power. The manuscripts
were found in a cave close to Bamiyan, and they might be part
of a library that was damaged in the late 7th or 8th century.
The manuscripts were made available for researchers after the
purchase, and an international research group, directed from
the University of Oslo, Norway, aims at investigating and
However, the owner of the collection, Mr. Martin Schoyen, has
announced that he wishes to sell his entire collection. The
proceeds are to be donated to a humanitarian fund named in his
honour. Officials in Norway have argued that the Norwegian
state should buy the entire collection at market price. The
crux of their argument is that the manuscripts in The Schoyen
Collection should be viewed as a "world heritage", and as such
the Norwegian authorities should take care of the collection.
Acquiring the collection would also offer a unique opportunity
of enhancing national prestige.
Thousands of ancient manuscripts smuggled out of Afghanistan
are now likely to be sold. Known as “Buddhism’s Dead Sea
Scrolls”, they belong to Martin Schoyen, a Norwegian
businessman who is regarded as the world’s greatest
20th-century collector of manuscripts. His library includes
important examples from virtually every major civilization
around the world. Mr Schoyen, aged 60, now wishes to sell his
entire collection to a public institution for ?70 million in
order to raise money for his human rights and development aid
Mystery surrounds the origin of Mr Schoyen’s Buddhist
manuscripts, but Professor Jens Braarvig of the University of
Oslo, who is heading the scholarly publication programme,
believes that the overwhelming majority comes from the Bamiyan
area. Reports suggest they were found by local people taking
refuge from the Taliban forces in a deep cave in the
cliffside, within a few kilometres of the two giant Buddhas.
Professor Braarvig says that this cache of manuscripts,
although obviously very different, is of “comparable
importance” to the Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the
It was in 1996 that the first group of manuscripts was
discovered. The finders set off towards Pakistan, and after
being chased by the Taliban in the Hindu Kush they managed to
cross the Khyber Pass, eventually reaching Islamabad. There
the manuscripts passed through dealers before being acquired
by London specialist Sam Fogg, who sold the 108 fragments to
Mr Schoyen. Further batches, which were considerably larger
and usually included hundreds of folios and the occasional
complete manuscript followed this. Mr Schoyen has acquired
altogether around 15 separate consignments of Bamiyan
The most recent batch of manuscripts reached Europe in July,
and again passed through Sam Fogg to the Schoyen Collection.
These texts are believed to have been purchased by a middleman
in Bamiyan earlier in the year, but they are all small
fragments and this has raised new concerns. Since the fall of
the Taliban, talismans have been produced for sale in Bamiyan,
which incorporate a fragment of ancient Buddhist text. This
new practice has not only pushed up market prices for
manuscripts, but it also appears that folios are now sometimes
cut up into small pieces in order to maximize profits for the
Altogether the Schoyen Library now has eight complete Buddhist
manuscripts, over 5,000 folios and sizable fragments from
1,400 different manuscripts, plus more than 8,000 small
fragments. These are on palm leaf, birch bark or vellum, and
some seem to have been damaged in antiquity. The majorities of
the texts are in Sanskrit, and most probably originated in
India and were brought to Bamiyan by pilgrims. They include
many previously unknown Buddhist texts, as well as some of the
oldest surviving scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The earliest
manuscripts have been dated to around 100 AD, and hence the
comparison with the Jewish scrolls found near the Dead Sea.
Professor Braarvig believes that nearly all of Mr Schoyen’s
Buddhist material comes from a monastic library near Bamiyan.
This may well have been the monastery of Mahasanghika, whose
existence was recorded by a Chinese traveller in around 633
AD. The texts come from a 600-year period (from around 100 to
700 AD) and much of the collection is in single folios, many
of them damaged. It has therefore been suggested that the
manuscript cache could have comprised damaged sheets which
were recopied for the main library. “When folios were copied,
the discarded ones may well have been ritually buried in the
cave,” suggests Professor Richard Salomon, of the University
of Washington, Seattle.
Mr Schoyen has recently indicated that he wishes to sell his
entire collection of 12,500 world manuscripts, ideally to the
Norwegian State, for the National Library. The bulk of the
Schoyen Library does not pose any special difficulties, but
the fact that the Buddhist manuscripts were smuggled out of
Afghanistan has sparked off an impassioned debate in Norway.
In a statement, the Schoyen Library points out that the
Buddhist manuscripts are the only ones that do not come from
old collections, “but were acquired to prevent destruction,
after requests from Buddhists and scholars.” The statement
goes on to address the question of whether these manuscripts
should be returned to Afghanistan, “after they have been
published, and if peace, order, religious tolerance and safe
conditions have been established in that country.” But after
analyzing the history of Afghanistan, the Schoyen Library
concludes that it is “not the right and safe home for these
manuscripts in the future.”
Bendik Rugaas, director of Norway’s National Library, has
already welcomed Mr Schoyen’s proposal to sell his entire
collection to the State. But even if the money is raised, and
the sale goes ahead, this does not resolve the question of
what should eventually happen to the Buddhist material.
Although Mr Rugaas would be happy for the manuscripts to
remain in Oslo, John Herstad, director of the National
Archives, is among those who support the return of the
manuscripts to Afghanistan when conditions are appropriate.
The story of the Buddhist manuscripts raises difficult issues.
Professor Braarvig points out that archaeologists have not
examined the Bamiyan cave. “From a scientific point of view
the fact that the exact find-spot is unknown and that proper
excavations have not been carried out is deplorable, since the
manuscripts are shorn of context,” he explained. Instead, it
has been left to local looters to take the material, keeping
the source of their treasure a secret.
But what would have happened if those fleeing the Taliban and
seeking refuge in the cave had not been able to sell their
find? Had the manuscripts not had a financial value, the
fragile items might simply have been discarded or allowed to
disintegrate. There was no Afghan government authority, which
could have stepped in to save the find. The Kabul Museum had
already suffered serious damage and looting during the civil
war, although this was to soon to be overshadowed by the
deliberate destruction, which took place under the Taliban
early last year.
When Mr Schoyen began to buy the Buddhist manuscripts, he was
purchasing items, which had been smuggled (although no legal
offence was being committed by dealers or collectors outside
Afghanistan). In retrospect, following the Taliban’s
destruction of the giant Buddhas, Mr Schoyen’s action may well
be applauded, but at the time Unesco was opposing the
acquisition of illegally exported antiquities. However, with
the defeat of the Taliban, the situation is rather different
and the purchase of manuscripts which have been illegally
exported from Afghanistan this year is much more questionable.
The Schoyen case is unusual, because a single collector
appears to have acquired the bulk of the material from a major
find, despite the fact that it was separated into numerous
separate consignments. It would obviously have been very
unfortunate if the folios and fragments had been dispersed to
dozens of private collectors, making it virtually impossible
for scholars to study the material as a coherent group.
One fact, however, is indisputable, and that is that Schoyen
has been generous in allowing scholarly access to the material
and encouraging its prompt publication. This is now well under
way: the first volume on the Buddhist manuscripts was
published in Oslo by Hermes in 2000 and the second volume will
be out later this month. Eight further volumes are scheduled
within the next few years.
And as for the future, Professor Braarvig hopes that ownership
of the Buddhist manuscripts will be very carefully considered.
He personally believes that the Norwegian State should
consider giving them back to Afghanistan, but only after
conditions there are entirely suitable, and this could be many
years away. Professor Braarvig’s overriding concern is that
“Buddhism’s Dead Sea Scrolls” must be accessible, both to
scholars and the public.
De overdracht aan Afghanistan was in mei 2008 een feit. Een nederlandstalig verhaaltje vindt u op de Gandhara-pagina, onder het hoofd "de Senior-rollen".