March 24, 2021
State Minister Khalid, Secretary Arafin, friends from the Ministry of Culture and Department of Archaeology, distinguished guests.
On behalf of the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Bangladesh on your 50th anniversary of independence and the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The United States joins you in this joyous celebration.
Allow me to extend my deepest sympathies to all Bangladeshis most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We remember and honor those we have lost, wish well those who are ill, and send our best wishes and thoughts to their families and loved ones.
It is an honor to join you today to celebrate the launch of the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation project to restore, preserve, and document the historic Hammam Khana at Lalbagh Fort. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee.
What a wonderful way for the United States to celebrate and honor the rich history of this land and remarkable accomplishments of the Bangladeshi people by partnering with the Ministry of Culture and Department of Archaeology to help preserve Bangladesh’s rich cultural heritage.
I remember the first time I visited Lalbagh Fort. I was struck by its grandeur and beauty and by the social value of such a marvelous public space for Bangladeshis to come together. The grounds were full of families picnicking and groups of people of all ages. There was a timeless peacefulness right in the heart of bustling Old Dhaka. It is no wonder it is among Bangladesh’s most popular attractions and such a point of national pride.
Honorable Minister, as I travelled throughout Bangladesh, visiting every division at least once, I had the privilege and pleasure to visit many architectural and natural treasures, listen to regional music, and taste local delicacies. Those sights, sounds, smells, and tastes shaped my admiration for the limitless diversity of Bangladesh’s cultural patrimony.
Fifty years ago, against all odds, Bangladesh embarked on a struggle for freedom based in part on preserving and honoring your unique linguistic and cultural identity under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – a giant of the twentieth century.
As U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy said during his 1972 visit to Dhaka, “The struggle of the people of Bangladesh evokes the greatest memories of our past.”
It is remarkable how far Bangladesh has come. It is remarkable how much the United States and Bangladesh worked together over the past five decades on everything from strengthening our economies and global health, including fighting the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases, to expanding educational ties and preserving this nation’s priceless cultural heritage.
I am confident the restored foundation and walls of the Hammam Khana will continue to be as strong and long-lasting as the U.S.-Bangladesh relationship.
The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is among the U.S. government’s most significant cultural initiatives abroad. Since 2001, the United States supported over 1,000 preservation projects in 130 countries. In the past 20 years, the United States partnered with Bangladesh to support 11 AFCP projects preserving the country’s treasured cultural heritage.
Not far from here – to show how sustainable architectural preservation can complement commercial development – we partnered with Urban Study Group, a local NGO, to restore a 17th-century building in Shakhari Bazaar, the oldest surviving traditional neighborhood in Old Dhaka. In Rajshahi, we cooperated with Varendra Research Museum to make its collection of ancient stone and wooden sculptures more accessible to the public. We’ve helped document and preserve Baul song and cultural traditions, Jamdani weaving methods, and a 2,000-year-old metal casting technique. Each project represents the fascinating breadth of Bangladesh’s unique diverse culture.
The Hammam Khana restoration project at the Lalbagh Fort complex is another testament to America’s partnership with the people of Bangladesh to protect their irreplaceable cultural birthright for future generations.
As Bangladesh approaches its Golden Jubilee of independence, there’s no better time for our countries to further strengthen our friendship rooted in mutual respect and shared values. There’s no better time to collaborate for an inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future for Bangladesh. And, there’s no better time for us to work together to build on the legacy of sacrifice and devotion to freedom and justice both our peoples have fought to defend.
Bangladesh has had no stronger more enduring partner than America. And America is invested in the future of Bangladesh.
In just a few of the countless examples, we continue to proudly work in partnership to encourage Bangladeshi women and girls to pursue careers in the sciences; provide scholarships and exchange opportunities to Bangladeshi students, educators, and researchers to study in the United States; support expanded trade between our two nations to ensure access to the highest quality goods and services; and ensure Bangladeshis have access to life-saving health assistance.
Happy Birthday, Bangladesh. America celebrates and rejoices with you. We salute the extraordinary journey of the Bangladeshi people. We send our best wishes for a bright prosperous future for all Bangladeshis that honors the sacrifices and democratic principles of your nation’s founding.
As Tagore wrote in one of my favorite poems, Closed Path, let “new melodies break forth from the heart” as every hopeful day for the next fifty years and beyond a “new country is revealed with its wonders.”
Onek dhonnobad. Thank you.