Category Archives: Politics

Yemeni film at MESA

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Thanks to the efforts of Tom Stevenson, the new film Yemen: Kids and War, by Khadija al-Salami, will be shown in the MESA film festival on Friday from 2-2:55.

Below is a synopsis of the film:
It is an exceptional documentary, filmed in a country no camera can penetrate – a world exclusive. In a context in which the biggest international networks are unable to present images of this forgotten war, the Yemeni director Khadija Al Salami has entrusted her camera to 3 children who become war correspondents for this documentary in Yemen. Ahmed is 11, Rima is 8 and Youssef is 9. It is them who will recount the daily life of the Yemeni people under Saudi airstrikes. They meet other kids, collecting the testimonies of wounded children in hospital and those who lost their parents in the airstrikes. With the innocence of children, they also interview adults – a painter, a rapper, a model who has become ‘Miss War’ on social media – and ask them to send a message to those who they believe are the only ones who can stop the war – the EuropeanUnion. Constructed like a story tale, with no images of violence, this deeply moving documentary shows the cruel reality of war through the eyes of children, and the incredible hope that they place in Europe to put an end to the conflict.#Edith Paris

Digging through the Dhamar Museum Ruins

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On May 21, 2015, near the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign over Yemen, the Dhamar Archaeological Museum, housing precious artifacts from the local area, was bombed and destroyed. As can be seen from the picture above, it was a complete leveling, resulting in the irretrievable loss of Yemen’s heritage in the region. The museum was clearly not a military target, and was not the only heritage site damaged or destroyed by deliberate Saudi bombing.

This year a CAORC Kaplan grant was given to Yemen’s Ministry of Antiquities to sift through the ruins and salvage what could be found. This is a new kind of salvage archaeology, excavating for material that had already been excavated and stored in what was thought to be a safe spot for preservation. Work has already begun on the difficult task of removing concrete and fallen walls in the hopes of finding relics that have not perished in the destruction. This is not a free-for-all, but an undertaking with scientific methods.

Pictures of the ongoing work are provided below.

dhamar6The team working on the museum site.

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Yemen at MESA 2018

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The annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in San Antonio, Texas, is only a little over a month away. Yemen will be well represented this year, both in AIYS sponsored panels and individual papers. The AIYS General Information meeting, to which all are invited, will be Friday, November 16, 4-5 in room Mission B (2).

Here are the panels and papers on Yemen:
Friday, November 16, 11-1, AIYS Panel
(5224) Anthropology in War-Torn Yemen: Challenges, Dilemmas, and Alternative Methodologies.
Organizers: Susanne Dahlgren and Marina de Regt
Chair: Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart & William Smith Colls.
Marina de Regt, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam-Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship
Susanne Dahlgren, U of Tampere/National U of Singapore-Securitized Yemen: Studying a Popular Revolution in the Shadow of War, Drones and Terrorism
Nathalie Peutz, NYU-Abu Dhabi-Fieldwork in a Yemeni “Village” Displaced and Constituted by War

Saturday, November 17, 8:30-10:30
(5307) Unorthodoxies Shi’ism, Sufism, Feminism
Michael Dann, U of Illinois-Zaydi and Imami Appropriations of Early Shi’i Hadith Narrators

Saturday, November 17, 11-1 AIYS Panel
(5057) The Birth of Modern Yemen: Internal Views of the 1960s Civil War
Organizer: Marieke Brandt
Chair: J. E. Peterson, Tucson, Arizona
Marieke Brandt, Austrian Academy of Sciences-A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited
Joshua Rogers, SOAS, U of London-Aid and Taxes: A Political Economy Analysis of the Civil War in North Yemen 1962-1970
Gabriele Vom Bruck, SOAS, U of London-Domestic Photography and Memories of Loss in Northern Yemen
Zaid Alwazir, Yemen Heritage & Research Center-The Third Force’s Role in Yemen’s Peacemaking and Achieving National Reconciliation (1964-1970)

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5118) Challenges Facing Yemen’s Millennia-Long Cultural Heritage (Roundtable)
Organizer: Mac Skelton, Johns Hopkins U
Chair: Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts
Alexander Nagel, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
Najwa Adra, American Institute for Yemeni Studies and Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Nathalie Peutz, NYU Abu Dhabi
Sabine Schmidtke, Institute for Advanced Study

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5059) Beyond the Written Word: Unity and Diversity across Transmission and Transformation of Medieval Textual Traditions in the Arabian Peninsula
Anne Regourd, CNRS, UMR 7192-Questioning the Birth of a Tradition
Corrado la Martire, U of Cologne-How to Conceal the Tradition into the Text: Tayyibi Isma’ili “Codes of Conduct” (adab al-du’at) between Yemen and India

Sunday, November 18, 1:30-3:30
(5105) The Indian Ocean without Boundaries: A Historical Perspective
Organizer: Daniel Martin Varisco
Chair: Roxani Margariti, MESAS Department, Emory U
Craig Perry, U of Cincinnati-The Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean before 1500: Evidence and Interpretive Challenges
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences-Local Knowledge in Pre-Colonial Maritime Interactions
Marina Tolmacheva, Washington State U-Managing Monsoons: Mamluk-Era Voyaging East
Daniel Martin Varisco, American Institute for Yemeni Studies-Sailing with and against the Winds: Navigation in the Red Sea Indian Ocean Network in the Ayyubid, Rasulid and Mamluk Eras

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5279) Composing a Community of Words in the Islamic World: From Medieval to Modern
Emily Sumner, U of Minnesota-“In Our Sea Their Sins Must Drive Them”: The Righteousness of the Huthi Zamil

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5061) Medical Mobilities and Transformations in the Global Middle East
Shireen Hamza, Harvard U-Stretching the Body: Preparing to Travel in the Indian Ocean World

“Muhammashin” in Yemen

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A girl from the Akhdam community stands outside her family`s house in a slum area in Sanaa March 4, 2012.

An article by  Bogumila Hall entitled “’This is our homeland’: Yemen’s marginalized and the quest for rights and recognition” is available online at Arabian Humanities.

Here is the abstract:

Reflecting on the muhammashīn’s distance towards the 2011 popular revolution, this article sets out to explore the complicated relationship between the Yemeni marginalized and the nation, and politics of the marginalized more broadly. I discuss how the rough boundaries of belonging and exclusion are drawn, and how they are negotiated in complex ways by the muhammashīn, who seek better lives, rights and recognition as worthy human beings. Going beyond the dominant focus on subaltern oppositional subjectivities, this article points to the more nuanced acts of negotiations, whereby the dehumanized muhammashīn choose to declare themselves as loyal Yemenis and ideal citizens yearning to be incorporated into the body of the nation. Our reading of the revolutionary period from the perspective of its most vulnerable actors aims to contribute to the recent literature on the Arab uprisings, and to unearth the voices and meanings of the Yemeni marginalized, whose projects and aspirations remain largely invisible.

No Longer Terra Incognita

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The war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen has sparked a series of recent publications on the situation there, a situation which seems to change daily and yet remain the same quagmire. Given the relative lack of reporting earlier in the war, the more books on the Yemen crisis the better. In 2017 there was Marieke Brandt’s Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict (London: Hurst), Ginny Hill’s Yemen Endures: Civil War, Saudi Adventurism and the Future of Arabia (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Sarah Phillips’ Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis (NY: Routledge), and Helen Lackner and Daniel Martin Varisco’s edited Yemen and the Gulf States: The Making of a Crisis. Berlin: Gerlach. Among the recent entries in 2018 are Helen Lackner’s Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State (London: Saqi Books), Laurent Bonnefoy’s Yemen and the World: Beyond Insecurity (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Isa Blumis’ Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World (Berkeley: University of California Press), and Marie-Christine Heinze’s edited Yemen and the Search for Stability: Power, Politics and Society after the Arab Spring (London: I. B. Tauris).

Marie Christine Heinze’s edited volume has 13 articles in addition to an Introduction by the editor. The articles were originally written for a conference at the University of Bonn in 2014 with a focus on the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Events since the start of the Saudi-led war are not covered, but the volume is important for analysis of this transition period. Among the topics covered are the role of intellectuals in Yemen after the Arab Spring, feminist resistance and gender dynamics, the mobilization of tribes in Mahra, Southern views of the Yemeni state, the governance of the reform process, women’s empowerment in the NDC, the competing roles of the Huthis, Islah and the Salafis, the impact of youth, fashion and theater, the threats to Yemen’s heritage and the future role of federalism.

AIYS members Charles Schmitz and Sheila Carapico have written positive endorsements of the volume on the back cover.

This volume can be ordered here.

Yemen’s Heritage and the War

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FoxNews has published an article on the destruction of Yemen’s archaeological heritage due to the current war, especially the Saudi-led coalition bombing. I was asked to comment by the journalist and two of my comments made it into the article.  Bravo to FoxNews for drawing attention to the damage.

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Here are my two quotes in the article:

“There are more archaeological sites in Yemen than anywhere else on the Arabian Peninsula,” stressed Daniel Varisco, Senior Postdoctoral Scholar for the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. “Especially important are the thousands of inscriptions in ancient South Arabic languages and dialects. These give details on the rulers, battles, religious rituals, economy and private letters.”

“First and foremost, it is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that needs to be resolved by an immediate end to the war,” added Varisco. “Yet it is also important that the rich and unique cultural heritage of Yemen not be destroyed.”

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The Battle for Hodeidah in 1924

The current battle for Hodeidah is not the first time it has been the target of foreign intervention.  In October, 1924 the young Idrissi ruler took over Hodeidah, much to the chagrin of Imam Yahya, who was forging his kingdom after the departure of the Ottoman Turks. It was short-lived. Below is an account given by the U.S. Consul in Aden in an official dispatch.

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McGuire Gibson on AIYS

Some random memories about the founding of AIYS and subsequent times in Yemen.

McGuire Gibson, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

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The American Institute for Yemeni Studies came into being because the late Selma al-Radi had taken a job as an advisor to the Department of Antiquities, as part of Dutch aid.  In 1977, I was in Riyadh, working on some finds from the survey that the Oriental Institute had done in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. All the foreigners I met insisted that, since I was so close, I should go to visit Yemen, which was “marvelous.”  Finishing my work a couple of weeks early, I sent a wire to Selma, asking if it would be possible to visit.  A week later, I arrived at the Sanaa airport, paid $12 for a visa, and was driven into the city by Selma in her Suzuki, Flosi.  Within two hours, we were having lunch at the top of the American ambassador’s house, one of the finest tall houses in the city.  Tom Scotes, the ambassador, and his wife had also invited Dr. Abdul Karim el-Eryani and Marjorie Ransom, the Public Affairs officer of the embassy.   Much of the conversation was an attempt to convince me to start archaeological work in Yemen.  Being already fully engaged in Iraq, with a small remaining commitment to the Saudi project, it looked unrealistic to begin research on a country I knew nothing about, except for the snippets learned in Arabian Seminar meetings in Britain.  (Although there were serious academic talks based on inscriptions, real archaeology had barely begun at that time, and the presentations were more often than not: “When I was leading the X rifles in Aden, we chanced on a dam and some buildings in Y valley.”)

Dr. Abdul Karim stated that he had previously been the Minister of Planning, but had decided that you could not plan anything without basic data, and therefore he had become Minister of Education and had pushed for the admission of foreign researchers to help in the gathering of information on which to develop the country. I had already been told by Selma about the dozens of American researchers in Yemen, studying development projects, doing medical research, and carrying out dissertation projects in anthropology.  I told the group at the table that what was really needed was an American Institute, similar to the one in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, which would foster more research, make it easier for scholars to find cheaper housing and a library, and would become a center for the exchange of ideas.  By the time we got up from the table, the ambassador, Dr. Abdul Karim, and I had signed a note of intent to form an institute, and the ambassador promised $40,000 as a seed grant while Dr. Abdul Karim promised either a house or land at the new University of Sana’a, on which to build.  And I promised that I would try to mount an archaeological project, even if I did not carry it out myself.

Continue reading McGuire Gibson on AIYS

Yemen Papers at MESA 2018

The following papers relating to Yemen will be presented at the upcoming MESA meeting in San Antonio in November. Details are available at: https://mesana.org/mymesa/meeting_program.php?program_bookyr=2012

  1. [P5057-21163] A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited by Marieke Brandt (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  2. [P5285-21167] Adding to the Controversy? Civil Society’s Evaluation of the National Dialogue Conference (2013) in Yemen by Moosa Elayah (Sunday, 11/18/18 11:00am)
  3. [P5057-21194] Aid and Taxes: A political economy analysis of the civil war in North Yemen 1962-1970 by Joshua Rogers (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  4. [P5288-21975] Dhimma Space: The Protection Relationship as a Socio-Political ‘Field’ by Kerstin Hunefeld (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  5. [P5057-21165] Domestic photography and memories of loss in northern Yemen by Gabriele Vom Bruck (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  6. [P5148-21662] Double Displacement: Structural Barriers to Diaspora Advocacy for Yemeni Refugees by Stacey Philbrick Yadav (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  7. [P5224-21620] Fieldwork in a Yemeni “Village” Displaced and Constituted by War by Nathalie Peutz (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  8. [P5224-21612] Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship by Marina de Regt (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  9. [P5315-21370] Geographical and Genre Boundaries: On Qasimi’s Curious Use of Jishumi’s Tafsir by Shuaib Ally (Friday, 11/16/18 8:30am)
  10. [P5297-22221] Hamid al-Din Yemen & The United States in the Early Postwar Period: Diplomacy, Modernity and Challenges, 1946 – 1954 by Richard Harrod (Sunday, 11/18/18 1:30pm)
  11. [P5059-21377] How to conceal the tradition into the text: Tayyibi Isma’ili “codes of conduct” (adab al-du’at) between Yemen and India by Corrado la Martire (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  12. [P5258-22336] Imam al-Mansurr bi-llah Abdullah b. Hamza: A Zaydi ruler and author by Hassan Farhang Ansari (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  13. [P5071-21180] Ottoman Exploration in Yemen, 1849 by Sahar Bazzaz (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  14. [P5059-21855] Questioning the birth of a tradition by Anne Regourd (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  15. [P5290-21408] Reclaiming Yemen: What Role for the Yemeni Diaspora? by Noha Aboueldahab (Saturday, 11/17/18 5:30pm)
  16. [P5258-21918] Reflections on Metaphysics in 7th/13th-century Zaydi kalam works by Jan Thiele (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  17. [P5057-21339] The Third Force’s Role in Yemen’s Peacemaking and Achieving National Reconciliation (1964-1970) by Zaid Alwazir (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  18. [P5279-22205] “In our sea their sins must drive them”: The Righteousness of the Huthi Zamil by Emily Sumner (Sunday, 11/18/18 8:30am)

Charles Schmitz on AIYS

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Charles Schmitz in Sanaa

by Charles Schmitz

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.

Continue reading Charles Schmitz on AIYS