UNESCO recognizes 24 sites in Iran, more than almost any other country in the world, that are of such critical cultural and historical importance that they belong to all of humanity.
On Saturday U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a not so cryptic threat that he was planning to attack over 50 important Iranian cultural sites if Iran continued to threaten to retaliate for the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Solemani. “Let this serve as a WARNING” he wrote, that if Iran struck any American “assets” in retaliation for the assassination of its top General Qasem Soleimani, “we have targeted 52 Iranian sites” of historic and cultural importance, that will “BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” in his signature mix of upper and lower case text.
Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Iran is one of the cradles of civilization, where organized human society is believed to have first arisen, and possesses some of the most ancient cities and artifacts in the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes 24 sites in Iran (more than almost any other country in the world) that are of such critical cultural and historical importance that they belong to all of humanity. Among them are the ancient city of Persepolis and the citadel of Bam, both dating back to over 500 years before Christ, and the Sassanid archeological landscape of the Fars region. Today the large country is home to over 81 million citizens.
The threats to erase humanity’s history and culture evoked a distinctly fundamentalist tone that many people commented on. In 2001, the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan, enormous stone structures carved into sandstone 1,500 years ago, while in 2015 ISIS destroyed the Temple of Bei at Palmyra, Syria. Both were also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded that:
Targeting cultural sites is a war crime.
It should also go without saying that sites like Persepolis (& its PEOPLE) are not only treasures to Iranians, they are gifts to humanity.
They tell humanity’s story – that is why authoritarians target them. They want to erase history. https://t.co/C3tx6Wf8mZ
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 6, 2020
The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of UNESCO, owing $600 million to the organization after it admitted Palestine as a full member. On January 3, the U.S. military carried out a successful drone strike in Baghdad, killing Lt. General Qasem Soleimani, something it has been attempting to do for two years. Soleimani was a key figure in Iran, one of the country’s most capable, influential and popular leaders. Millions of Iranians came out to his funeral to demonstrate and show solidarity against the U.S. action.
Absolutely massive crowd, with millions of Iranians attending.
Truly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.pic.twitter.com/xfEuCSSNJ9
— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) January 5, 2020
The United States has a longstanding policy of regime change against Iran. However, the Trump administration has taken further aggressive steps towards that goal of late. The U.S. pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, effectively crippling negotiations. It also increased its sanctions against the country, causing economic dislocation inside Iran. And in response to the Iraqi government demanding that all U.S. military leave the country, the president vowed to place sanctions on that country. On Sunday the Iranian government announced that it too would stop abiding by the terms of the nuclear treaty.
The destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime.
How can this not be seen as a war on the Iranian people, not just the Iranian government? https://t.co/34Y2bt6VpC
— Going Underground on RT (@Underground_RT) January 5, 2020
Article 2 of the UN Charter, the bedrock of international law, states:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
Likewise, Trump’s statements are also in violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which states that any international agreement made under duress or threat of force is null and void. Targeting cultural sites is also specifically recognized as a major war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention. In response to ISIS’ actions in the Middle East, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in 2015 that, “The deliberate destruction of our common cultural heritage constitutes a war crime and represents an attack on humanity as a whole.” The destruction of cultural artifacts are illegal under U.S. law as well. Section 5.16.2 of the Department of Defense Law of War Manual prohibits threats to destroy cultural objects for the express purpose of deterring enemy operations, meaning Trump’s action directly contravene American codes of war.
However, it is unlikely that any action will be taken, just as it is unlikely that Trump will be removed from Twitter for breaking its terms of service on threatening or harassing behavior, despite many times threatening enemy states with nuclear annihilation. At the same time, antiwar voice, Daniel MacAdams of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity was permanently banned from the platform for describing Fox News’ Sean Hannity as “retarded.”
While speculating on others’ mental state is generally unadvisable, over 350 mental health professionals recently signed a letter stating that Trump’s is “deteriorating dangerously” due to the impeachment hearings, something that the psychiatrists warned could lead to potentially ‘catastrophic outcomes.”
This weekend, antiwar demonstrations were held across the United States in over 70 locations protesting Trump’s escalation of violence against Iran and Iraq. At a protest in Washington, D.C. journalist Max Blumenthal claimed that Soleimani was assassinated precisely because of his success in fighting back against ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the region, reducing these “moderate rebels” to spent forces. Thus, without Soleimani’s leadership, many of the Middle East’s most sacred religious and cultural sites may have already been destroyed before Trump’s most recent Twitter proclamations. Billionaire Republican backer Sheldon Adelson has already advised that the U.S. should drop an atomic bomb on the Iranian desert. Perhaps he will get his wish with Trump in the White House.
Feature photo | In this Saturday, May 18, 2019 photo, a couple takes photos with bas reliefs of ancient Persian soldiers in an old neighborhood in downtown Tehran, Iran. Vahid Salemi | AP
Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.