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Dr. Donny George Youkhanna (1950-2011)

by Wikipedia and other sources, March 14, 2011.

Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 at 08:29 PM CT

SAFE / Saving Antiquities for Everyone
Iraq Museum Database - the Oriental Institute Iraq Museum Database project is a worldwide effort to document and recover the items looted from the museum in April, 2003.

Donny George Youkhanna (Syriac: ܕܘܢܝ ܓܘܪܓ ܝܘܚܢܢ), (October 23, 1950 – March 11, 2011)[1] was an Iraqi Assyrian[1][2][3][4] archaeologist, anthropologist, author, curator, and scholar, who was a visiting Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University[5] in New York. He was internationally known as “the man who saved the Iraq National Museum."[3][6] Dr. George became the international face of the plight of ancient sites and artefacts in Iraq, many of which were stolen or destroyed since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War.[7] He was instrumental in recovering over half of the 15,000 Mesopotamian artifacts[8][9][10] looted from the National Museum in Baghdad during the American-led invasion of Iraq. A majority of the artefacts date back to 6,000 years from the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia.[4]

Due to escalating threats from Islamic extremists[11] and lack of international financial support, Youkhanna was forced to flee Iraq with his family to the United States. The deciding factor that led to his departure from Iraq were death threats targeting his family specifically his son Martin, who was falsely accused of cursing Islam and teasing Muslim girls.[12] They threatened to decapitate his son which resulted in Youkhanna’s immediate departure to Damascus for protection from Islamic fundamentalists.[12]

Youkhana was the Director General of Baghdad’s National Museum.[4] Additionally, Youkhanna was the Chairman of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and the President of the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. He had excavated the ancient cities of Bekhma Dam area, Nineveh, and Um Al-Agareb as well as working on many restoration projects in Babylon, Nimrud, Nineveh, Ur and Baghdad.[13]

Youkhanna was a native of Iraq’s Al Anbar province[5] and was fluent in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Arabic, and English. Youkhanna authored two books on the structural design and stone industries of Tell Es-Sawaan, and he was given several presentations on the current museum conditions and historical archaeological sites of Iraq. In December 2008, Youkhanna was decisive in preventing the sale of royal Neo-Assyrian[14] earrings from the world famous Nimrud treasures at Christie's art auction in New York.[15]

He died on 11 March 2011 as a result of a heart attack while he was travelling via Toronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Education and Positions

  • Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology, University of Baghdad, 1974
  • Master of Arts in Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Baghdad, 1986
  • Ph.D. in Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Baghdad, 1995
  • Member Staff in the Iraq Museum, 1976
  • Director of Documentation Center, 1980
  • Field Director for the Restoration Project in Babylon, 1986-87
  • Archaeological Investigation in the Eastern Wall of Nineveh, 1988
  • Scientific Super Advisor for Bakhma Dam Archaeological Recue Project, 1989
  • Director of Relations, 1990
  • Director of Documentation Center, 1992
  • Assistant Director General of Antiquities for Technical Affairs, 1995
  • Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Baghdad
  • Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Babylon for Theology and Philosophy
  • Director of Excavation Team in the site of Um AL-Agareb, 1999-2000
  • Head of the Technical Committee, 1999-2000
  • Director General of Research and Studies, 2000-03
  • Director General of the Iraqi Museums, 2003-05
  • Member of the International Regional Committee of Interpol, 2003
  • Member of the Iraqi National Committee for Education, Science, and Culture, Iraqi UNESCO, 2004
  • Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, 2005
  • Member of the Iraqi Science Academy, Department of the Syriac Language, 2005
  • Board of Advisors, Assyrian Academic Society


  • Co-Author of Photography: The Graves of the Assyrian Queens in Nimrud, 2000
  • Co-Author of Pots and Pans
  • Co-Author of The Looting of the Iraq Museum, 2005
  • Co-Author of The Destruction of the Cultural Heritage in Iraq, 2008[16]
  • Co-Author of Antiquities under Siege, Cultural Heritage in Iraq, 2008
  • Co-Author of Catastrophe, The Looting and Destructions of Iraq's Past, 2008
  • Author of Architecture of the Sixth Millennium B.C. in Tell Es-Sawwan
  • Author of The Stone Industries in Tell Es-Sawwan, 'Book in Process'


  • Stores in Ancient Mesopotamia, 1985.
  • A New Acheulian hand Axe from the Iraqi Western Desert in the Iraq Museum, 1993
  • Proverbs in Ancient Mesopotamia, 1994
  • The Architecture of the Sixth Millennium BC in Tell Esswwan, 1997
  • Precision Craftsmanship of the Nimrud Gold Material, 2002
  • Full Account on the Iraqi Museums and Archaeological sites, 2004


  • Recontre Assyriologic, Heidelberg, Germany, 1992
  • Recontre Assyriologic, London, UK, 2004
  • International Conference on the Excavations at the Ancient city of Nimrud, London, 2004
  • International Conference for the Protection of the Iraqi Antiquities, Istanbul, Turkey, 2004
  • Interpol International Regional Conference for the Protection of the Iraq Antiquities, Amman, Jordan. 2004
  • International Council of Museums ICOM Conference, Seoul, South Korea, 2004
  • Archaeological Institute of America, Boston, USA, 2004
  • International Conference for the Protection of Iraqi Antiquities, Washington DC, USA, 2005
  • Iraq Cultural Committee at UNESCO, Paris, France
  • U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington DC, 2008

Lectures given Worldwide

  • Belgium: Brussels National Museum
  • Britain: University of London, the British Museum
  • Denmark: National Museum in Copenhagen
  • Germany: University of Berlin, Pergamum Museum, University of Heidelberg, University of Frankfurt, University of Munich, Mainz Museum
  • Jordan: Department of Antiquities, German Archaeological Institute in Amman
  • Italy: University of Rome
  • Japan: University of Kukushikan, Japanese Society for the Antiquities of the Middle East
  • Spain: University Autónoma de Madrid
  • Sweden: University of Gothenburg, Museum of World Culture, Museum of Mediterranean and the Middle East
  • USA: University of Chicago, Harvard University, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Museums of Fine Art in Boston, Pennsylvania Museum, Iraqi Embassy in Washington DC, Yeshiva University, State University of Arizona, South Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Bowers Museum of Art in Santa Ana, Denver Museum of Science and Nature, South Methodist University in Taos, New Mexico and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, CSU Stanislaus, Turlock, Gustavus Adolphus College


I am an Assyrian Christian, and all my ancestors had lived in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, from the ancient times of the Assyrians, more than five thousands years ago, I have dedicated all my life to work and serve my people and country with honor and loyalty, because this is my country.

-Statement of Dr. Donny George for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom [1][2]

Before the War of 2003, we were unofficially considered second class citizens, simply because we were Christians and Assyrians. Saddam went through large efforts to omit our identity as Christians and as Assyrians. He started a campaign of rewriting the history of Iraq in the way he envisioned it to be. He started calling the ancient Assyrians as Arabs, no more Assyrians; he also set up orders that newborn Christian babies should not be named Christian or Assyrian names but Arab Muslim names. All of us had really big troubles about that, because our names are an important part of our identity.

-Statement of Dr. Donny George for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom [1][2]

I used to live in a place called Dora; it is just five minutes driving distance from the Green Zone.... The situation is deteriorating; no one feels safe; there are no projects; and unemployment rates are huge.... I heard that there was talk of doing to the Christians what they did to the Jewish in the 1940s.

Soldiers and Citizens: An Oral History of Operation Iraqi Freedom [17]

I am 100 percent sure they are from the same tombs from Nimrud,” says Donny George, the former director of the Iraq Museum and now a professor of archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York. “Nothing of this nature has been excavated from it before – I witnessed the excavation. I would say it is 100 percent from there.

-Statement on Neo-Assyrian Royal Earings[14][15]

My appointment at Stony Brook University is another step in my life that was made possible by the generosity of the President of the University and the support of the Department of Anthropology,” said Dr. George, who will begin teaching three courses – Archeology of Mesopotamia and the Cultural Heritage of Iraq – and conducting archaeological research next semester. “This will enable me to serve the cultural heritage that we – all of mankind – have in Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq, with my experience, as well as the great international efforts that are being led by Stony Brook to restore Iraqi education.

-Statement on being appointed Professor at Stony Brook University[18]

The museum is a soft target and at the moment if we wanted to hold an exhibition we would need the whole Iraqi army to protect it.

- Statement on the Iraq National Museum[19]

Hundreds of artifacts, looted in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq, have been returned to the country, but many more remain missing, stolen from Iraq's ancient sites.  Al Jazeera's Owen Fay, reporting from Baghdad, looks at the efforts to safeguard Iraq's cultural heritage.

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