Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

Obituary Dr. Bernt Glatzer (by AGA)

Thomas Ruttig 4 min

The following obituary of our late Advisory Board member Dr Bernt Glatzer was published by (German) Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Afghanistan (AGA) [Scientific Working Group on Afghanistan] whose chairman Bernt was from 2001 to 2007. It cointains a comprehensive professional biography, including Bernt’s major publications.

Dr. Bernt Glatzer
*22 December 1942    †8 December 2009

Like almost no one else, Bernt Glatzer symbolised research on Afghanistan in Germany and lived for this country. Amongst national and international researchers working on Afghanistan, Bernt Glatzer was the overall respected rish safid or spin giray (white beard) whose word always found open ears and was higly valued; in particular because he always presented himself extremely humble and well-intended. Almost no one was able to express criticism in such a respectful and amiable way as well as to listen like Bernt Glatzer.

Bernt Glatzer became well known in the scientific community for his extensive ethnological research in particular. Amongst his outstanding publications are the following: “Modern Afghanistan: Death of a Nation?”, „Paschtunwali als ethnisches Selbstportrait“, „Ethnizität im Afghanistankonflikt“ and “War and Boundaries in Afghanistan“. How he pinpointed political, religius and social aspects was not only extremely knowledgable but also reflected a high degree of empathy for Afghan culture.

Bernt Glatzer earned his doctorate in 1975 under Karl Jettmar at the Südasien-Institut (Institute for South Asian Studies) in Heidelberg. His 1977 dissertation „Nomads of Gharjistan“ is based on field research in Nordwestern Afghanistan in 1970 and 1971. From 1975 to 1977, Bernt Glatzer also conducted a scientific project – „Ecology and Pastoralism of Western Pashtun Nomads“ – in Western Afghanistan. Up to 1989, he worked at the Heidelberg Institute for South Asian Studies; between 1982 and 1984 he headed its branch office in Islamabad.

The war that broke out in Afghanistan in 1979 took away the opportunity from Bernt Glatzer to travel to his beloved Afghanistan for a long time. He suffered under the events in Afghanistan like almost no one else. The enormous losses, the destruction of cultural goods and the deep social change caused by the war never put in question his close relationship with the country, though. Bernt Glatzer became active in many associations and organisations to take care that Afghanistan was not forgotten in Germany.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, Bernt Glatzer immediately returned to Afghanistan. From 1990 to 1994 he worked as scientific advisor and project manager for the Danish aid organisation DACAAR in Western and Southeastern Afghanistan. In this way, Bernt Glatzer started dealing with approaches to development cooperation besides his ethnological research. Up to his demise, he also was an important advisor from German developmental organisations like GTZ or InWent.

From the mid-1990s – with the escalation of civil war in Afghanistan – Bernt Glatzer was drawn into scientific work again. From 1994 to 2000, he was a researcher at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. Hier he implemented his scientific research project on the „Dynamics of limiting structures: Social and local boundaries in the context of state and international influences amongst nomads and farmers in Afghanistan“. In this wake, Bernt Glatzer took upon himself the chairmanship of Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Afghanistan (AGA) [Scientific Working Group on Afghanistan] from 2001 to 2007. In this time, he established an extensive internet archive (check here). His professional newsletter „News from Afghanistan“ was published up to twice weekly; his well-founded research was a central source of information for those interested scientifically in Afghanistan.

His last station in his professional career was the Vorbereitungsstätte für Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (Preparatory Centre for Development Cooperation) of InWent in Bad Honnef. Here, Bernt Glatzer headed the Asia protfolio.

In 2006, Bernt Glatzer retired but only to fully devote his time to research on Afghanistan. In particular, he collected and reclaimed results of archeological work on the ruins of the 12th century Ghorid madrassa of Shah-i Mashhad in Badghis province. Extensive research had led Bernt Glatzer there already in the early 1970s shortly after he and colleagues had discovered it. He documented its rich epigraphic decorations as a highlight of Ghaznavid art and culture. During another visit there in 1993, he already documented significant damage in Shah-i Mashhad. Half of the buildings and decorations were gone. After that, Bernt Glatzer painstakingly worked at a visual reconstruct of Shah-i Mashhad. [He produced a DVD and a website with extensive visual material on it – see here; a short introduction see below.]

Furthermore, Bernt Glatzer was working on a book over the last years which was supposed to give an in-depth introduction into Afghanistan‘s histories and society – planned to be published in 2010. This book not only is an analysis of the development of Afghanistan as a state but also of its fragile economic structures, of political and social currents and on the influence of external powers. The book closes with the question whether Afghanistan will survive the war.

Unfortunately, it was was not granted to Bernt Glatzer to witness that peace and tranquility would return to his beloved Afghanistan.

The Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Afghanistan (AGA) mourns a valued colleague and beloved friend. Bernt Glatzer’s demise is a terrible loss for all of us.

22 December 2009

Ingeborg Baldauf
Siegmar Breckle
Conrad Schetter

The Shah-i Mashhad documentation. A website preserves a now-vanished (?) Afghan archaeological site: Photos by Bernt Glatzer (1970, 1971, 1993) and Michael Casimir (1970). Shah-i Mashhad is the local name of a site in the Afghan Province of Badghis, District Jawand where the ruins of a 12th century Ghurid madrasah were discovered in 1970 by Bayazid Atsak, Michael Casimir and Bernt Glatzer. One of its inscriptions reveals that the monument was endowed by a woman in 571 H. (1176 C.E.). Shah-i Mashhad is unique for its very rich epigraphic decoration that may serve almost as a catalogue of variations in Ghurid architectural calligraphy. Shah-i Mashhad stands at the zenith of Ghaznavid, Saljuk and Ghurid (11-12th Cent. AD) epigraphical development and refinement. When Bernt Glatzer revisited the site in autumn 1993 he found Shah-i Mashhad further demolished. Almost half of the building and decorations that we had documented in the 1970s had vanished. By now (2007) in all likelihood, virtually nothing is left at the site. Sadly this monument representing some of the finest examples of Muslim epigraphy survives only on photographs from the 1970s. (source: Afghanistan Research Newsletter, AREU, Number 15/16, October 2007/January 2008).


Bernt Glatzer Government