The following was published by WTTW News on January 6, 2020.
By Evan Garcia
An expert on Iranian culture says he was “appalled” by President Donald Trump’s threat to attack dozens of Iranian sites should Iran retaliate against a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday.
Beyond his years of research and teaching, professor emeritus Matthew Stolper of the University of Chicago’s Near Eastern Languages and Literatures and Oriental Institute has traveled to Iran numerous times to excavate Persepolis, an ancient city deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
“I don’t know what the sites are,” Stolper said. “But of course, all of us who work on cultural heritage are fairly appalled by this.”
Trump tweeted on Saturday that he’s identified 52 Iranian sites, “representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran” in 1979, to target in the event of an Iranian attack.
Without naming specific sites, Trump described some as “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
Iran’s cultural history spans millennia – contributions from the region’s earliest civilizations date as far back as 12,000 to 10,000 B.C.
“It’s a place that has produced, throughout centuries, scientists, poets, philosophers,” Stolper said. “And going back to the period of the Persian Empire, it was the largest political entity of its time – the largest that had ever been created until the Roman Empire.”
Attacking cultural and historical sites violates numerous international laws of war, including a post-WWII international treaty and a 2017 United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the “unlawful destruction of cultural heritage.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided specifics when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him Sunday whether “cultural centers are theoretically fair targets.”
“Jake, we’re going to do the things that are right and the things that are consistent with American law,” Pompeo said.
Stolper says the region’s history is important to not only the Iranian people, but the rest of the world.
“This is a country of people where everybody knows the classical poetry and everybody knows what it refers to,” Stolper said. “The destruction of a site like Persepolis would be, for them and I think for the rest of the world, something comparable to the burning of Notre Dame.”
Stolper joins “Chicago Tonight” on Monday to further discuss Iranian culture and history. Click the link to view Stolper's interview on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight."