Bactria and the Loss of Freedom

June 17, 2009

The history never seems to change nor do people. Incidents of war and other terrible occurrences never seem to disappear from our planet and humans continue to suffer from injustice, loss of freedom, aggression and hate. Times of peace and calmness, relative silence and living in rather secure conditions seem to rotate with times of uproar and protest, provoked by the voracity and greed for power of a few, insane rulers which history breeds anew again and again. As we can see in current events in Iran.

When will this end? When will humans learn to live in peace with one another without destroying the rights of any individual being, learn to live in tolerance and wisdom that life is not about fighting the own species but to live.


40″ x 13″, silk

This silk painting I created a while ago, sadly enough is current as ever before. The painting depicts motifs from a region that suffers from militant conflicts since decades and there is no hope in sight that this will change in the near future, a region which is incredibly beautiful but full of pain and agony: Afghanistan (which was part of Bactria in history).

“Bactria is a historical region of Greater Iran which includes Afghanistan. Known by the ancient Greeks as “Bactriana”, the region is located between the range of the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus); in later times, the region became known as Tokharistan. The name of the region has survived to present time in the name of the Afghan province “Balkh”.

Bactria is basically what is now northern Afghanistan, south-eastern Uzbekistan and southern Tajikistan, although its extent, depending on the political fortunes of its rulers, varied from time to time. It is a mountainous region with a moderate climate. Water is abundant and the land is very fertile. Bactria was the home of one of the Iranian tribes…” (Wikipedia)

Bactria has been a region whose inhabitants and political circumstances changed a lot. It was the homeland of Indo-European tribes, later it became a province of the Persian Empire. Bactria became even a province of the Macedonian empire after Alexander had conquered Darius of Persia. So it is not astonishing that Bactria has been surrounded by many myths also. It is assumed that Zarathushtra, the prophet or rather teacher, has been born in this region (if you want to know more check this link or this link). He was wise enough to recognize that all the motives of human beings are based on action and reaction.

The Macedonians established the Seleucid Empire, and founded many Greek towns in eastern Iran, the Greek language even becoming dominant for some time there. The Greek-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India. So it is no wonder that the whole region was incredibly wealthy.

When the Greco-Bactrian empire weakened it was overthrown first by the Sakas (Skythians), later by the Kushians. But Bactria, now called Daxia emerged again. The influences of the former Greco-Bactrian cultures were not completely undone, artistic styles mixing western and eastern elements became known as the Gandhara culture and survived the empire for hundreds of years.


And now we are where this silk painting also is inspired by: the golden treasures of Tillia-tepe, an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan near Sheberghan, surveyed in 1979 by a Soviet-Afghan mission of archaeologists led by Victor Sarianidi, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The famous necropolis of Tillia-tepe contained a collection of about 20,000 gold ornaments with extremely rich jewelry, dated to around the 1st century BCE. Altogether several thousand pieces of fine jewelry were recovered, usually made of gold, turquoise and/or lapis-lazuli. The ornaments include coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns.

The whole treasure reveals a craftmanship that can undoubtably be compared with the finds of Tutanchamun. German TV brought a documentary in 2004 and you can read about the discovery here.

But different from today’s islamic culture representations of gods, humans and animals were not forbidden. The period was shaped by a tolerance of various beliefs such as Greek, Iranian (f.e. Zoroastrianism) and Buddhist religious communities. One of the most important Kushan rulers himself was buddhist (think of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan which have been destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban). This leads to the conclusion that the time was quite tolerant and permitted great freedom in comparison with today’s situation of repression and dictatorship.


Here we are now at the additional meaning of this silk painting – the circumstances which are predominant in Afghanistan today and not only there, circumstances which are controlled by violence, dictatorship through islamic fundamentalists and groups and which consequently lead to total elimination of freedom.


The closed doors in front of these veiled women in this silk painting are meant symbolically of course. They are standing there, without a face, without real identity, excluded from all public life, prisoners of a culture which is dominated by men, without the prospect of ever being able to escape from their prisons because the spirit has been poisoned entirely already.


It is heartbreaking to see that formerly prospering high cultures and their people with magnificent capabilites and rich traditions are turned to dust and sacrificed in fervor of questionable ideologies. Once more where politics has failed entirely.


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