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Donny George and Kuwait

Professor Donny George, former Director-General of the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq has asked me to clarify his role in the evacuation of antiquities from Kuwait.

Here is his text:

Dear All,

since the first gulf war of 1991 everybody has been accusing the Iraqis of stealing Kuwait's antiquities, and no one has asked the Iraqis for their opinion about it. I was reserving this to be included in a book I started writing, but let me explain this Kuwaiti mater in some details.


Prior to the first gulf war we had done the preparations to evacuate the antiquities from the Iraq museum, since the war was coming no matter what was said in the daily news inside Iraq, then we got the orders from the ministry of culture, to go and insure the evacuation of the Kuwait museum, exactly as we did for the Iraq museum, we had no orders to check the private collections, that was not our job, and before we did so the director general of Iraqi antiquities informed the UNESCO, that according to Hague convention of 1954, Iraq was going to do its duties to evacuate the official Kuwait museums, because they were in an area of expected armed conflict, and for that we started the evacuation, before that I myself made a video film for the two museums, the Kuwait national museum, and Dar al-Athar Al- Ilamia, later on we sent a copy of that film to the Kuwaiti authorities through the UN representative, then we started packing and transporting all what we could to Baghdad, then distributing the material in Iraq for safe keeping.


After the end of the war, and the UN resolutions to return everything back to Kuwait, we had the first meeting with representative of the UN security council, he officially presented a list of (2500) items demanded by the Kuwaiti side to be returned to Kuwait, we all, the Iraqi side were surprised for that small number of the demanded items, we said what we have is much more than that, and I handed the UN representative two volumes for over (25 000) twenty five thousands items that we had, because every thing was completely documented in a professional manner before any thing left the Kuwait museums. The representative was surprised after he saw the complete lists, and aske to end the meeting that day, so that he will go back to the security council in order to have a special resolution for the antiquities to be handed over according to the Iraqi lists and not according to the Kuwaiti ones, and this was what happened.


The Iraq museum at that time was not on display and was closed, and of course no Kuwaiti antiquities were displayed there for sure, but the Kuwaiti material was finally collected there for handing over.
When the handing over started, it took place in some of the Iraq museum galleries, no Kuwaiti people were there, but the representatives of the UN, the Kuwaiti side was represented by a British lady, Ms.Marsh, an American gentleman , and an Indian gentleman, every item was handed over from the Iraqi representatives to the UN people, registered in lists by computers, then handed over to the Kuwaiti side then they handed things to the packing company, all done in the Iraq museum, all with the protection of the museum guards.


After everything was taken from Iraq, for several times we had some questions about some missing items from the Kuwaiti side through the UN, and when we would go back to our copy of the handing over lists, we would find what they were asking for, so we would tell them that that item is listed in Number so and so in the list number so and so, then there were no claims in this regard.


Special Notes:
1. we knew nothing about private collections in Kuwait, therefore we were not involved with them, our concentration was only on the official museums.
2. When the handing over was finished, the head of the Kuwaiti side, Ms. Marsh, invited the Iraqi side representatives for a dinner reception in a fine Baghdad restaurant, Khan Marjan, I asked Ms. Marsh whether that was her idea, but she told me that she could not do such a thing without the Kuwaiti approval, and also mentioned, that there will come a time the Kuwaitis will thank you all personally for what you have done for these antiquities.
3. Everybody should know that only the Kuwait National museum contained Kuwaiti antiquities, the other museum was dedicated for Islamic art, and all its material was purchased from the markets all over the world, including material from the site of Samarra in Iraq.
4. after all that we see from time to time articles, especially in the Guardian, going back to the same subject, where such kinds of claims are mentioned, while I am sure the Kuwaitis themselves know that this is not the whole truth, but it is used for political matters only, including an article that was interviewing Ms. Marsh herself, and was given the title of, the lioness of Baghdad, and again in the Guardian, were she was describing her struggle with Iraqis, to extract every single item from them under the weapons of solders !!!! (the museum guards).
5. this is my information about this subject, and it is my responsibility to tell it to the world, the museum, archaeological community all over the world, and it is my responsibility in front of my God, that this is the whole truth, and whatever is said about this subject that does not include these facts, is all lies and false accusations, these people should be ashamed of themselves.
Donny George



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Comments

Larry Rothfield said…
This account is a fuller version of what Donny George described to me when I interviewed him for my book, The Rape of Mesopotamia, and is corroborated in the following sources: Jonathan M. Bloom and Lark Ellen Gould, “Patient Restoration: The Kuwait National Museum,” Saudi Aramco World, September/October 2000, http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200005/patient.restoration-the.kuwait.national.museum.htm. Kirsty Norman, “The Invasion of Kuwait, and the Subsequent Recovery of its National Museum: A Conservator’s View,” Museum Management and Curatorship 16, no. 2 (1997): 180-191; Selma Al-Radi, “War and Cultural Heritage: Lessons from Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq” (lecture, Cultural Emergency Response, Prinsenhof Museum, Delft, The Netherlands, September 26, 2003), De Kracht Van Cultuur, October 2003, cached text of Web site retrieved by Google, July 25, 2007, http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:U9M2HK2MjlYJ:www.powerofculture.nl/nl/artikelen/war_and_cultural_heritage.html (accessed September 21, 2007); and, authoritatively, McGuire Gibson and Augusta McMahon, Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq's Regional Museums, fasc. 1 (Chicago: American Association for Research in Baghdad, 1992).
Larry Rothfield said…
When I interviewed him for my book, The Rape of Mesopotamia, Donny George Youkhanna provided essentially the same account. Those with a political axe to grind will of course dismiss his account as self-serving. But as I point out in the footnotes, George's version of what he and his colleagues at the Iraq Museum did is generally corroborated in the following sources: Jonathan M. Bloom and Lark Ellen Gould, “Patient Restoration: The Kuwait National Museum,” Saudi Aramco World, September/October 2000, http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200005/patient.restoration-the.kuwait.national.museum.htm. Kirsty Norman, “The Invasion of Kuwait, and the Subsequent Recovery of its National Museum: A Conservator’s View,” Museum Management and Curatorship 16, no. 2 (1997): 180-191; Selma Al-Radi, “War and Cultural Heritage: Lessons from Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq” (lecture, Cultural Emergency Response, Prinsenhof Museum, Delft, The Netherlands, September 26, 2003), De Kracht Van Cultuur, October 2003, cached text of Web site retrieved by Google, July 25, 2007, http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:U9M2HK2MjlYJ:www.powerofculture.nl/nl/artikelen/war_and_cultural_heritage.html (accessed September 21, 2007); and, authoritatively, McGuire Gibson and Augusta McMahon, Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq's Regional Museums, fasc. 1 (Chicago: American Association for Research in Baghdad, 1992), http://oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/lh.html. See also Gibson's 1991-92 Annual Report on the Nippur Expedition.

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