Following widespread public condemnation, President Trump has withdrawn apparent “threats” to target sites of cultural significance in Iran.
Earlier this week Trump made the controversial remarks to attack areas “important to Iran & the Iranian culture” in response to the escalating conflict with Iran after the killing of top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani.
But in a seeming change of stance on Tuesday, Trump made the following comments during an international meeting in the Oval Office. “They are allowed to blow up everything that we have, and there’s nothing that stops them. And we are, according to various laws, supposed to be very careful with their cultural heritage. And you know what, if that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law.”
Museum officials and cultural heritage experts across the world have fiercely criticised the President’s initial statement, which the state ignored “the laws of armed conflict”. Targeting cultural sites was deemed a war crime in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
Daniel Weiss, the president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said in a joint statement with Director Max Hollein that “the targeting of sites of global cultural heritage is abhorrent to the collective values of our society.”
In an open letter published by the Guardian, international researchers of Iranian history, archaeology, art and culture, united to deplore the what they considered to be inflammatory remarks: “We stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and state our support, at this time of great anxiety, for our friends and colleagues in Iran’s museums, universities and heritage organisations.”
Passionate Twitter users also protested against Trump’s threat using the hashtag #IranianCulturalSites. Writing on Twitter, the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Tristram Hunt warned “this is a worrying step towards the normalisation of cultural destruction as a war aim.”
In Iran there are hundreds of extraordinary historic and modern sites that represent the country’s religious, economic, architectural and social achievements. More than 20 of these sites enjoy Unesco World Heritage status, including the 2,500 year old capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis.
From Syria to Afghanistan, Mali to Yemen, heritage sites around the world still face very real threats despite the 1954 Hague Convention. The World Monuments Fund, based in New York, will welcome Trump’s further comments after they summarised the dismay felt by many critics this week: “We have all witnessed far too many intentional acts of destruction of irreplaceable treasures over the last decades. In each case we have seen how the obliteration of such important places of meaning irrevocably harms not only a country’s people, but humanity in general.”