President Trump threatens to destroy Iranian historical sites

Matthew L. Self , Review Editor in Chief

President Trump issued a threat on Twitter Jan. 4 directed toward Iranians that was visible to thousands on the social media platform.

The president’s threat was provoked by recent, escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the death of a U.S. contractor and the subsequent death of Iranian Major General Qassim Soleimani.

Soleimani was killed by a drone strike authorized by President Trump.

The escalation of tensions sent shockwaves through the world in early 2020, and many in the U.S. braced for a renewed conflict with Iran – and possibly even the onset of a third world war. The extreme scenario of a WWIII seems to have passed by as tensions have relaxed over the past few days.

The threats traded back and forth between the U.S. and Iran worried many historians and archaeologists as President Trump announced that historical and cultural sites in Iran would be targeted.

Damaging or destroying sites of cultural and historical significance in Iran brought much condemnation down on the President as people on social media and Iran responded.

Among the sites threatened is the ancient city of Persepolis which was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire 3,000 years ago. The site is famous for its architecture and is a historical location visited by the armies of Alexander the Great. Persepolis was also declared a World Heritage Site in 1979 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

A World Heritage Site is described as a landmark or area selected by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, which is legally protected by international treaties.

“When we lose works of art and architecture, we lose pieces of the past that we use as historians to understand who we are as humans,” said Associate Professor and Chair of the washburn art department Dr. Kelly Thor. “When these places are destroyed, they are lost forever. We need to stop thinking of them as national treasures, they are a part of our human past.”

The destruction of places like Persepolis is soundly condemned by many leading nations in the world for the irreparable damage it can inflict on artifacts contained at the site.

Intentionally causing damage to historical landmarks hearkens memories of terrorist groups such as ISIS or the Taliban as they are known to seek out landmarks with the aim to destroy whatever they cannot steal from the site.

Multiple locations of historical significance such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, another World Heritage Site, have been annihilated by terrorist organizations. Once standing over a hundred feet tall, these giant stone statues have been reduced to rubble since they were destroyed in 2001.

“I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to threaten the destruction of any cultural sites,” said Thor. “I see absolutely no rational reason to do so. It seems purely vindictive, emotional and petty in nature.”

With the calming of tensions between the U.S. and Iran it appears the danger posed to these sites has passed for the moment.

Edited by Wesley Tabor, Adam White