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Medieval Academy condemns US threat against Iranian cultural sites

The Medieval Academy of America has joined several other academic organizations in condemning the recent threat by US President Donald Trump to bomb cultural sites in Iran.

As tensions between the United States and Iran have risen considerably in the last few days, the US President apparently created a list of 52 sites within Iran that he would have destroyed. The number of sites is in retaliation for an event in 1979 during Iran’s Islamic Revolution when 52 American embassy personnel were held hostage for over a year.

President Trump did not specify what his targets were, but in conversations with reporters made it clear that he was including cultural sites.  “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people,” he was quoted as saying. “They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”

Since these comments many American politicians and military personnel have denied that this was the case, or that they would follow through on orders to attack such sites. The threat has also been widely condemned around the world, with many indicating that such actions would be a war crime under International law. The United States is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and has previously condemned attacks on cultural sites by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Those condemning the threats included the Medieval Academy of America, which issued a statement on their website, stating they that they joined “our sister learned societies in opposing President Trump’s threat against cultural heritage sites in Iran.” It links to another statement by the American Anthropological Association, which reads in part:

Cultural sites at risk of damage or destruction by military activity are irreplaceable and result in a loss to civilization, history, and human understanding. The US Department of Defense has gone to extraordinary lengths to coordinate with knowledgeable experts over the past two decades to protect cultural sites in the region. This apparent reversal of strategy is misguided, short-sighted, and will only serve to enrage the Iranian people, for whom the President himself has professed his personal admiration.

Destruction of cultural sites, like the targeting of civilians and noncombatants, must never be considered as a military objective. Please let the administration know how you feel about this issue…

Several other academic organizations have also signed up to this statement, including the Society for Biblical Literature and the Society for Classical Studies.

There are currently 29 sites in Iran that are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including several with strong connections to the medieval era. AMONG  Armenian churches, the Bam Citadel, and the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan. Iran is also home to many important ancient sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis.

Top Image: Iranian city of Bam. Photo by Diego Delso / Wikimedia Commons

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