In this interview, conducted on May 25, 2008, by Rick Pettigrew of ALI shortly after the conclusion of TAC Festival 2008, Dr. Donny George, Keynote Speaker at the Festival, describes his experience in April 2003, when he and his colleagues in Baghdad tried in vain to protect the Iraq Museum and its contents from looting. Along the way, he explains how he became an archaeologist and how he functioned as a member of the Saddam Hussein government. He conveys the sense of helplessness and loss he and his co-workers felt during and after the looting and addresses the future of the Museum. He discusses losses by other Iraqi cultural heritage institutions, seldom mentioned in the world press, that also occurred during the American invasion as well as looting of Iraqi sites that continues today. He also considers the real significance of the 2003 events, not only to Iraq, but also to the rest of the world and to museums everywhere.
About Donny George:
Dr. Donny George's life is interwoven with some of the world's most famous antiquities and archaeological sites and with the international struggle to save the world's cultural patrimony. A native of Al-Anbar Province, Iraq, Dr. George received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in archaeology at the University of Baghdad and carried out archaeological fieldwork at such fabled sites as Babylon (where he was Field Director for site restoration) and Nineveh. Mr. George, a Christian, was a mid-level official in the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein's government, serving as Director-General of the Iraqi Museums from 2003 to 2005.
He was central to the recovery of some of humanity's most important antiquities following the looting of the Baghdad Museum. Dr. George became the international face of the plight of ancient sites and artifacts in Iraq, many of which have been stolen or destroyed since the war began in 2003. In 2005 he became Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, but in 2006 was forced by security concerns to flee with his family from his native country.
Having sought refuge in the US, he is currently Visiting Professor at the State University of New York at Stonybrook. Dr. George has been telling audiences about the destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage and is working to raise awareness about the threats to the human cultural legacy that exist worldwide in many places around the world. He has lectured overseas in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. In this country, he has appeared in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Taos. His Eugene appearance at TAC Festival 2008 was his first on the West Coast of the US.
Lost Treasures from Iraq (University of Chicago Oriental Institute)
National Museum of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Protecting Iraq’s Ancient Heritage (Archaeology Magazine)
Resources on Iraqi Museum Collections (International Council of Museums)