Donny George, the former head of Iraq’s National Museum and a leading figure in the recovery of antiquities looted from the country’s museums and archaeological sites following the 2003 U.S.- led invasion of Iraq, died in March after suffering a heart attack at the Toronto airport. He was 60 years old.
George, an Assyrian Christian born with the last name Youkhanna in the town of Habbaniya in central Iraq, helped lead the international campaign to recover the more than 15,000 objects stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War in March 2003.* Named the museum’s head later that year and then chairman of Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in 2005, George also traveled throughout the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. to increase awareness of the vulnerability of Iraq’s rich archaeological heritage to looters and other destructive forces in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
As a Christian and former member of Saddam’s Baath Party, however, George was targeted and threatened by extremist groups among Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority. He fled Iraq with his family in 2006 and eventually made his way to New York, where he was named a visiting professor of anthropology and Asian studies at Stony Brook University.