Donny George: the Iraqi who led fight to recover antiquities
BAGHDAD - Iraq paid tribute on Tuesday to Donny George Youkhanna, a former director of the national museum who led a fight to recover looted Iraqi antiquities, and who died of a heart attack in Canada last week.
"Through his energy and his relationships with universities around the world, Donny George played a key role in recovering stolen items," Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage, said on the sidelines of an official tribute at Baghdad Museum.
About a third of the antiquities looted from the museum the month after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 had been recovered, according to Rashid.
George, a Christian and director of Iraq's National Museum from 2003 to 2005, said shortly after the invasion that US forces had committed the "crime of the century" for failing to protect looted Iraqi museums and archaeological sites.
Days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, 15,000 artifacts were stolen from Baghdad Museum as US forces looked on.
Born in 1950 in Iraq, George was first hired by Baghdad Museum in 1976.
"His death leaves a great void because he was one of the brightest experts on the history of Mesopotamia," former culture minister Mufid al-Jazairi said.
"He was from a generation that was impoverished of archaeologists," Jazairi added, explaining that Iraq had trained few specialists in ancient history between 1980 and 1990 because of wars and sanctions.
George, who assumed the presidency of the Council of Antiquities and Heritage in 2005, fled Iraq with his family the year after receiving death threats.
He left for the United States, where he taught at New York's Stony Brook University. He died on Friday in Toronto.
"Donny George was a symbol of this country. With these candles we say goodbye with tears in our eyes," said deputy culture minister, Jaber al-Jaber.