2009 Candlelight Vigil

Friday April 10, 2009 – Sunday April 12, 2009


Six years after the tragic event, SAFE once again called on individuals and institutions around the globe to remember the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. This year, even before we announced it, organizations had begun to use our “Host a Vigil” page to post their vigil events on our Web site. The third SAFE Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum was hosted by the Alaska Peace center, the Assyrian Cultural Center, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, the Archeological Institute of America-Minnesota Society, the Archaeological legacy Institute of Eugene (Oregon), and the New York University Museum Studies Student Organization. Together, we showed solidarity and support not only for Iraq’s cultural heritage, but the world’s shared cultural heritage.

Read an account of how the Vigil in New York was observed below, written by SAFE Members Cherkea Howery and Sarah Pickman:

On April 11, 2009 as the storm clouds parted and the evening sun came out, a small group gathered in Washington Square Park to observe the anniversary of a heart-breaking event. April 10-12 marked the sixth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum. Like many groups across the world, we met this anniversary with resolve and reflection. In New York City this included the gathering of students, scholars, and interested parties to listen to the words and advice of Dr. Donny George and Dr. Chuck Jones. These eminent archaeologists spoke to participants about looting and rebuilding. As with all SAFE events, this Candlelight Vigil was organized with the hopes of introducing the subject to more people to create awareness about protecting our cultural heritage.

Dr. George, the former director of the Iraq Museum who is currently a professor at Stony Brook University, provided a means for reflection as well as a look to the future with the recent re-opening of the Museum. Like others, he believes that the Museum is not ready to handle visitors, in regards to the facility and the security. As reported in Archaeology Magazine, the Iraq Museum is not without its problems, but it is still only accessible by a limited few. Dr. George also discussed his belief that the destruction of cultural heritage should also be considered a violation of human rights and should be prosecuted as such. People who loot archaeological sites are destroying our history and thus destroying the knowledge about our ancestors.

Dr. Chuck Jones, an eminent archaeologist and Head of Library Programs at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, was also kind enough to say a few words, particularly about the protection of archives and museums worldwide. He reminded those gathered that not just objects, but years of invaluable research into the origin of human civilization were lost during the looting of the Iraq Museum. Even though we think of American and European museums as “safe,” Dr. Jones commented, we need to remember to protect the artifacts and research stored inside institutions as a precaution against events such as those that happened in April of 2003.

After comments from SAFE Founder Cindy Ho and Advisor Lucille Roussin, we proceeded to have a moment of silence and light our flashlights with the hope that the light of knowledge was spreading. It is important to get the message of preservation out to everyone who will listen. As passersby stopped to listen in, flyers, postcards, and buttons were handed out with the hope that another person would join the cause.

A special thank you to Dr. Donny George, Dr. Chuck Jones, and everyone else who patiently waited for the rain to pass in order to join our sunset vigil.