I was lucky to arrive in Yemen during the optimistic period that followed unification. By 1993, Ali Salem al-Baydh had already absconded in Aden and the expulsion of Yemeni laborers from Saudi Arabia took a toll on the economy, but there was still a euphoria for the new liberal era.
At the time, AIYS in Safiya Shimaliya hosted a score of prominent researchers headed by Sheila Carapico. Sheila was hard at work on Civil Society composed on a laptop with no screen—as I remember, someone had rigged a big dusty desktop monitor to make do. Iris Glosemeyer meticulously collected newspaper articles on every prominent Yemeni political family and could recite the names of the mothers of the Members of Parliament, as well as their sons and granddaughters, by heart. Anna Wuerth was a regular fixture in family court and the court of AIYS’s mafraj gatherings. Eng Seng Ho appeared occasionally in from the Hadhramawt to boil lobsters (it took a long time in Sanaa’s high altitude) or fix a laptop. Resident Director David Warburton somehow managed to keep the place running. These scholars’ guidance and support were critical to my research in Yemen, and my gratitude to them and to AIYS led me to later serve AIYS in the hopes of providing a new generation of researchers the same supportive experience in Yemen.
I took up residence in al-Hawta, Lahj, to observe the reestablishment of property rights in agricultural land. Though completely rudderless, the Yemeni Socialist Party still controlled the south. Those with foresight in Lahj at the time were the Islahi activists in the rebuilt Ministry of Religious Endowments who were well prepared for their post-war reign of terror in al-Hauta. For comic relief, I would join the resident Abdali clan members whose stories of the socialist years in al-Hawta resembled Garcia Marquez’s surrealism. One of the Sultan’s relatives spent four years locked inside his house before finally emerging to join the socialist experiment in progress. My days in al-Hauta were interrupted by the Seventy Days War of 1994. Though we all had hoped the daily peace demonstrations would prevail, deployment of forces along the former border foreshadowed a different outcome. I flew out of Yemen seated on the rear door of a C-130.
By the time I returned to Yemen in 2001, AIYS had grown significantly thanks to Sheila Carapico and Mac Gibson’s work in the early nineties. AIYS indeed had operated on a shoestring for its early history (see Steve Caton’s t-shirts), but tired of running AIYS with student help from her office at the University of Richmond, Sheila applied for new grants that allowed AIYS to hire professional staff. In 1996 AIYS under Mac Gibson hired its first executive director, Ria Ellis, who ran AIYS from her palatial home office in Ardmore, PA. Ria and her assistant, Joan Reilly, not only administered an expanded AIYS but also produced a spree of new publications, including much of the translations series by Lucine Taminian and Noha Sadek and Sam Leibhaber’s Diwan of Hajj Dakon. In the early 2000s under Tom Stevenson’s watch, AIYS landed a Middle East Partnership Initiative grant for a permanent residence. Hired as resident director in 2000, Chris Edens undertook the arduous task of finding a permanent building. Chris not only found a well located and suitable building, but also oversaw its substantial reconstruction and the relocation of AIYS from the Bayt al-Hashem location.
Luca Nevola has just published an article on the so-called Akhdam in Yemen at Open Democracy. Here is the first paragraph, but click here for the full article.
In 2013, Nu‘man al-Hudheyfi – a man of akhdam origin – participated at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) held in Sanaa as part of the crisis reconciliation efforts following the 2011 Yemeni Arab Spring. At the time, Hudheyfi was the President of the National Union for the Marginalised and a member of the General People’s Congress, the majority party in the country. In the past, he has defined the ‘marginalised’ as all “those people excluded from property and instruction, forced to live at the margins of society”. But during the conference, his focus was mainly his fellow people, the akhdam, as he condemned the NDC’s racism (‘unsuriyya) by pointing out that Yemen’s three million ‘black people’ had only one representative at the NDC.
Markazi, the exhibition, casts light on the conditions of mobility and immobility in Yemen and the Horn of Africa, through its focus on households and everyday life in Markazi. Photographs by Nadia Benchallal, taken over several extended visits between December 2016 and October 2017, depict camp residents navigating a state of increasingly permanent suspension. These household portraits attest to the diversity and dignity of Markazi’s – and Yemen’s – population. In addition to Nadia Benchallal’s black-and-white and color photographs, the exhibit features the work of nine Markazi residents who collaborated with Nadia Benchallal and Nathalie Peutz over the course of a year.
The traveler Stephen Gollan recently traveled to Yemen, despite the conflict there, and has provided a number of nice photographs about his trip. It is well worth perusing.
Here is how his article starts:
“What brings a traveler to places like this? Is it the desire to be so far from other travelers and achieve an authentic experience, or is it the thrill of stepping into the forbidden and unknown corners of the world?
When it comes to Yemen, I found my attraction drawn from its plethora of historical sights and its splendid natural beauty. But if I am to be one hundred percent honest with you the tremendous lure in coming to conflict areas like Yemen are the people. Yemen’s people are unlike anywhere I have ever been. Their hospitality is contagious, they smile even when there are airstrikes happening blocks away and no matter who you are, or what you believe in, they will be your lifelong friend.
This is what makes all the pain, all the danger, and all of the after effects worthwhile in venturing into finding the truth for yourself. This is Yemen, true Arabia.”
For the recent AIYS panel at MESA, I put together a list of recent resources on the conflict in Yemen. Here it is…
• Brandt, Marieke (2017) Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict. London: Hurst.
• Heinze, Marie-Christine (2018) Yemen and the Search for Stability: Power, Politics and Society after the Arab Spring. London: I. B. Tauris.
• Hill, Ginny (2017) Yemen Endures: Civil War, Saudi Adventurism and the Future of Arabia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Lackner, Helen (2018) Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State. London: Saqi Books.
• Lackner, Helen and Daniel Martin Varisco (2017) Yemen and the Gulf States: The Making of a Crisis. Berlin: Gerlach.
• Robinson, Eric et al. (2017) What Factors Cause Individuals to Reject Violent Extremism in Yemen? Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.
Professor Sheila Carapico, widely recognized as a leading expert on Yemen, spoke about the country’s current political crisis at the 9/11 Memorial Museum on Monday.
Engaging in a discussion with Clifford Chanin, executive vice president and deputy director for museum programs, Carapico explained the current drivers of Yemen’s ongoing civil war and the history of Saudi influence in Yemen.
In the clip below, Carapico locates the Yemeni Civil War within the broader Middle East:
“The kingdoms of the Arabian Peninsula, they were worried about the uprising in Tunisia. They were worried about Egypt, they were worried about Libya, they were worried about Syria… They were panicked about Yemen. It’s right there, it’s so close and it’s half the indigenous population of the whole region.”
Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mojahid is one of the most influential cartoonists and creative painters in Yemen. Al-Mojahid distinguished himself as a pioneering cartoonist and a professional painter. His original talent and professional training had significantly helped him to make his way in the caricature profession in Yemen. “Al-Mojahid had been one of the most important Yemeni cartoonists”, said the Yemeni Minister of Information, Mua’mar Al-Iryani, in a statement issued on his death.
The much-respected artist Abdullah Ahmed Al-Mojahid was born in Taiz in 1950 and died on September 1, 2017, in the capital Sanaa.
He has been a prolific artist, effectively contributing toward promoting the fine arts and caricature in Yemen. He produced dozens of artistic works through his professional career which spanned more than three decades. Due to his originality and ingenuity as a painter, Al-Mojahid established himself as a famous name both in Yemen and other parts of the Arab world. As a result, in 2013 he participated as a representative of Arab Painters in the International Exhibition for Paintings, organized by the Chinese Ministry of Culture for the Painters. His artistic works and paintings were displayed in various artistic and cultural venues and exhibitions. For example, he organized two exhibitions in Damascus, Syria, in 1980 and 1982.
Al-Mojahid studied Fine Arts in Damascus and started his artistic career as a professional cartoonist in Left-oriented Yemeni newspapers. He was well known in the caricature profession as Abu Suhail. His artistic works included dozens of paintings, drawings and portraits described as of the finest quality. His most famous caricature is entitled Qurūd Abū Suhayl (Abū Suhayl’s Monkeys), published in 1994 by Al-Thawri Newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP).
At the upcoming MESA meeting in Washington, D.C., Dr. Nathalie Peutz (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Arab Crossroads Studies Program, New York University Abu Dhabi) will be presenting a talk on her research among Yemeni refugees in Djibouti. This is entitled “Becoming Permanent Refugees: Yemenis in the Horn of Africa.” Her talk will be at the AIYS Business meeting, Sunday, November 19, 4-5pm, in Park Tower Suite 8216 (L). This talk is not on the official program, so please spread the word.
The conflict in Yemen has precipitated what many consider to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Yet, despite the raging cholera epidemic, widespread hunger, and unprecedented displacement within Yemen, there have been fewer than 100,000 registered arrivals of Yemeni citizens and foreign nationals in the Horn of Africa since the start of the war. Today, roughly 1,000 of these refugees reside in Djibouti’s Markazi camp, where they are now being treated as “permanent refugees.” Who lives in the camp? Why did these particular families and individuals leave Yemen, and what are their hopes for a durable solution? This informal talk will provide an overview of the current situation of Yemeni refugees in the Horn of Africa and of how various aid regimes are constructing their future.
23 April 2017. A boy in the ruins of his school in Sa‘da City, North Yemen. According to UNICEF, here are currently over 3 million + children in Yemen who unable to attend school as the war enters a third year of conflict.
The photographer Giles Clark has uploaded a series of superb photos taken in Yemen during a trip with the United Nations OCHA team in April/May, 2017. Here are two samples.