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July 16, 2008

World Archaeological Congress: No War with Iran

Washington, DC – Last week the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) issued a resolution that discouraged the use of American force in Iran. The resolution also urged the archaeological community to resist US military requests to hand over a list of historical Iranian sites that should be avoided in the case of air strikes. What is unclear, however, is whether this pronouncement is in anticipation of requests for such information about Iran or if archaeologists have been approached by the US government already.

“The 6th World Archaeological Congress expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral and unprovoked, covert or overt military action (including air strikes) against Iran by the US government, or by any other government,” the resolution reads. “Any differences with Iran (as with any other country) should be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the WAC.

Following this appeal for peace, the WAC called on archaeologists not to cooperate with military agencies by cataloguing sites that should be avoided if bombs were to be dropped on Iran. The resolution stated that such lists would offer “cultural credibility and respectability to the military action.”

According to the resolution’s authors, this position was motivated by the community’s experience with Iraq in 2003. Although archaeologists were consulted as to which sites Coalition troops should avoid in Iraq, their advice seemed to have minimal benefit. “If these archaeologists had little impact in terms of saving even the few selected archaeological sites listed (in Iraq), what did they achieve?” Dr. Yannis Hamilakis, University of Southampton, UK, asked.

The resolution has provoked reaction from some voices in the academic community. University of Chicago English Professor Larry Rothsfield wrote in his blog, The Punching Bag, that the WAC’s position is “misguided and naïve.” “Had this policy been followed in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the loss of archaeological heritage would have been even worse than it has been,” said Rothsfield.

The WAC joins other groups that have issued statements opposing war with Iran. Late last year the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the world’s largest professional association of anthropologists, published a resolution declaring that it “opposes any covert or overt US military action against Iran.” The AAA argued that an attack on Iran “would create catastrophic tragedy for millions of people and foster a hostile climate for our academic work all over the planet.

The resolution passed by the delegates of the Sixth World Archaeological Congress is as follows:

“The 6th World Archaeological Congress expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral and unprovoked, covert or overt military action (including air strikes) against Iran by the US government, or by any other government. Such action will have catastrophic consequences for millions of people and will seriously endanger the cultural heritage of Iran and of the Middle East in general. Any differences with Iran (as with any other country) should be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means.

The Congress also urges its members, all archaeologists and heritage professionals to resist any attempts by the military and governments to be co-opted in any planned military operation, for example by providing advice and expertise to the military on archaeological and cultural heritage matters. Such advice would provide cultural credibility and respectability to the military action. Archaeologists should continue emphasizing instead the detrimental consequences of such actions for the people and the heritage of the area, for the past and the present alike. A universal refusal by archaeologists and others would send the message that such a plan is hugely unpopular amongst cultural professionals as well as the wider public”.

(Source: Dr. Yannis Hamilakis, University of Southampton and coordinator of WAC “Archaeologist and War Task Force”)

 

 

 

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