EAA statement on threats against heritage

January 8th, 2020

Adopted by the Executive Board of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), on behalf of the Association

download the document in pdf

The recent announcement by the President of the United States that the US military has established a list of 52 potential targets for retaliation in Iran, including among them several cultural sites, disregards both The Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions. These are international agreements that represent the latest efforts in a long legal and political history of rejecting such acts. A history in which The United States have been a major contributor. Deliberately destroying the cultural heritage of Iran, or any other country, is a war crime – and the public threat of doing it is wrong, both legally and morally. The need to protect cultural heritage applies whether it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list or not. Heritage does not need to be spectacular or internationally recognized in order to be important to people and their communities. It is, accordingly, worthy of protection including during times of war.

The threat to destroy Iran’s heritage is grossly disrespectful to the Iranian people, their culture, their dignity and their rights. It seeks and means to cause harm that will endure for generations. This threat specifically targets the central importance of culture in human life at many scales from local to global – and, in this case, the wide-ranging contributions made in the past and the present by the cultures of the Persian region.

Peoples’ safety and lives are more important than their cultural heritage – but culture and heritage are surely part of what gives meaning and purpose to their lives. As an organization working with heritage, the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) is gravely concerned that such a threat of deliberate heritage destruction could be made by the United States. Such actions are internationally considered unlawful and immoral. The threat that such acts might be normalized – let alone implemented – by the government of the United States is an affront to all civil society.

No one can ignore the importance of cultural heritage to our lives today. Cultures differ but are interwoven. Every culture contributes elements that are adopted, transformed and internalized by other cultures. The different cultures that developed and interacted in Persia over millennia have made an immense contribution across epochs and continents to literature, art, agriculture, science, engineering, architecture, and gardening, and they are integral to the Iranian people’s notions of who they are.

Culture in all its diversity connects us all and should continue to do so, in spite of current political conflicts. Culture and cultural heritage need protection, so that all can continue to use them to enrich lives and build bridges across borders, whether they are physical or mental.

The EAA appeals to the leaders of the United States, to their allies, and to international organizations to do everything in their power to avoid the threatened descent into violence and the targeting and abuse of heritage as part of that conflict, and to ensure that international conventions are respected.