What we might lose if Trump targets Iran's cultural monuments

2020-01-08 14:45 - Gabi Zietsman
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On Sunday, US President Donald Trump threatened sites "important to Iran and the Iranian culture".

Later that day, he reiterated his threat at a press conference. 

But on Tuesday, he suddenly backtracked, saying he'd like to "obey the law".


Because it is considered a war crime to target cultural sites during times of conflict - specifically enshrined in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage - and the US is a signatory of both international conventions, according to National Geographic.

READ: Emirates plane flies over Iran airspace as more airlines halt overflying Iran and Iraq 

However, Trump sees this as a double standard, according to CNNmaintaining a threat if Iran "does anything that it shouldn't be doing."

"They blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions."

"They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to maim our people. They're 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." 

"Erasing human identity"

As the National Geographic puts it, sites that signify the historical and cultural heritage of a group of people must be protected, because "destroying these monuments is an act of erasing human identity." 

And you know who else specifically targeted cultural monuments? The Islamic State.

In 2015 they destroyed important historical buildings in ancient Syrian city Palmyra, like the Temple of Baalshamin, and the Christian Mar Elian Monastery, all in the name of religion - but also to finance their operations through looting. The group also blew up Mosul's famous al-Nuri Mosque after losing control of the Iraqi city in an act of defiance. 

Monuments and sites like these are tangible expressions of human endeavour and ingenuity, and if not protected they will become like Atlantis - a myth in the imaginations of our descendants. 

They also offer a war-torn region a chance to recover economically after conflict has subsided as a tourism draw.

According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries to Europe (CBI), places like Vietnam and Sri Lanka are examples of countries that rebuilt their image through post-conflict tourism with a focus on their history.

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Why are Iran's sites important?

Iran is home to one of the world's oldest civilisations, born centuries before its Islamisation. It was once the seat of the great Persian empire, and because of this historical significance the country is home to 22 Unesco World Heritage Sites - the same number as in the US.

One is the historical city of Yazd - a Zoroastrian stalwart that has survived many wars over the centuries due to its remote location.

Another is the Golestan Palace, one of the oldest sites in Iran's capital Tehran, the culmination of 400 years of renovations and home to important cultural and craft collections.

The ruins of Persepolis is another ancient site - dating back to 515 BC - and all that remains of the first Persian rule - the Achaemenid Empire. 

These kind of sites are not only important to Iranians - but also forms part of the intricate history of humankind, and it's the job of the world to make sure their hatred for each other doesn't kill our fragile history - especially if they can't seem to learn from the mistakes of the past.

SEE: Unesco lists Iraq's Mesopotamian metropolis of Babylon as World Heritage Site

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