President Donald Trump has reversed his threats over the weekend to target cultural heritage sites in Iran. “According to various laws, we’re supposed to be very careful with their cultural heritage,” Trump said during a meeting today, January 7, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the White House. “If that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law.”
Trump’s threats to strike cultural sites in Iran has drawn condemnations from a number of leading art institutions and organizations including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Alliance of Museums, World Monuments Fund, and the Association of Art Museum Curators. Meanwhile, Iranians are responding to Trump’s threats by celebrating their nation’s historic sites on social media. Using the hashtag #iranculturalsites, hundreds of citizens have shared photos of their favorite archaeological sites in the country.
One after the other, directors of major museums and art organizations voiced their objection to Trump’s belligerent threats via social media. “Artistic and cultural heritage is rooted in the narrative of specific nations and peoples, but is a legacy for our entire world,” tweeted Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “It is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity, and any attack on cultural sites is an attack on all of us.”
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the organization representing 225 art museums in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, called for the protection of the cultural heritage of both Iran and Iraq. “AAMD deplores the tactic of targeting or demolishing cultural sites as part of any war or armed conflict,” the organizations said in a statement. “In this case, the region is home to unique and irreplaceable artifacts and archaeological sites, and AAMD strongly urges international engagement to protect and preserve our shared cultural heritage.”
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) added in a statement that strikes against cultural sites contradict treaties signed by the United States to protect the world’s cultural heritage. These treaties include the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2347, and the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. “We expect the United States Government to comply with international law and urge the US Government to reaffirm its commitment to its longstanding practice of not targeting cultural sites during peace or wartime,” the association said.
The Association of Art Museum Curators followed with a similar statement, calling the deliberate targeting of architectural, archaeological and cultural sites “deplorable.”
In a news briefing at the Pentagon on Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ruled out a strike on Iran’s cultural sites, acknowledging that such a move would constitute a war crime. “We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” the Defense Secretary said when asked if cultural sites in Iran would be targeted. According to the New York Times, when a reporter asked if that meant “no” because international law prohibits targeting cultural heritage sites, Esper agreed, saying, “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
Negar Mortazavi, a correspondent for the Independent, offered a sharp analysis of the situation on Twitter. “Fastest way to unify all political factions in Iran against you is to assassinate the general who led Iran’s fight against ISIS,” she wrote. “Fastest way to unify Iranians of all walks of life against you is to threaten to destroy their cultural heritage. Trump did both this week.”