Category Archives: Development

MESA Round Table of Yemen’s Cultural Heritage

destructionYemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in the UNESCO-listed heritage site in the old city of Yemeni capital Sanaa, on June 12, 2015.

There will be a MESA round-table titled, “Challenges facing Yemen’s Millennia-Long Cultural Heritage” in San Antonio this coming November.

Session Description: UNESCO world heritage sites from the Old City of Sana’a to the Island of Socotra are under critical threat as a consequence of the ongoing conflict. Monuments and museums have been damaged in aerial bombardments. Archaeological sites are being looted and Yemen’s antiquities have appeared on the international black market. Also under duress is Yemen’s rich heritage of handicrafts, jewellery production, and rare Arabic manuscripts. Long before the current conflict, external political influences disrupted Yemen’s rich and diverse heritage of dancing, music, and storytelling commonly referred to as “intangible” heritage. Due to its location at a pivotal point along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade and pilgrimage routes, Yemen has long had extensive contacts with Egypt, the East African coast, the Persian Gulf, India, Indonesia, and even as far as China. In addition to exploring the richness of Yemen’s heritage and the challenges facing it, the roundtable will discuss existing local and international preservation efforts. Speakers will explore the concept of “living heritage,” a critical component for the sustainable development of Yemeni society after the current conflict ends. In addition to the speakers, the roundtable will draw on the collective experience of those in attendance.

Presenters:
1) Dr Najwa Adra (Intangible Heritage that includes poetry, music and dance in Yemen).
2) Professor Nathalie Peutz (Environmental heritage, Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen)
3) Dr Sabine Schmidtke: (Islam’s Rationalist Heritage and the Preservation of Yemeni Religious Manuscripts).
4) Dr Alexander Nagel ( “Saving Cultural Heritage” as a method of exploitation during the war).
5) Sama’a Al-Hamdani (The shifting of Yemen’s political landscape and its effect on Yemen’s heritage).

Dan Varisco on AIYS

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Dan Varisco in al-Ahjur, 1978

by Daniel Martin Varisco

In early 1978 I arrived in Yemen to conduct ethnographic fieldwork on water allocation and springfed irrigation in the Yemen Arab Republic. Najwa Adra, my wife, would also be carrying out her dissertation research on the semiotics of Yemeni dance. I had a Fulbright-Hayes dissertation grant and Najwa had a National Science Foundation grant, so between the two of us we managed to support ourselves for a year and a half in the field. On the way to Yemen we had an unintended stop over in Egypt when our connecting Yemenia flight decided to leave three hours early from Cairo.  When we finally arrived in Sanaa, we were met at the airport by a family friend who had an apartment overlooking Tahrir Square. Soon we found a temporary place to stay with a Yemeni family, while waiting for clearance and looking for an appropriate field site.

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Najwa and Dan in al-Ahjur

This was before AIYS had officially started, but the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Marjorie Ransom helped us through the process of getting permission to do our research and we were put under the umbrella of the Yemen Center for Studies and Research. On the way to Yemen we had stopped over in London and had a chance to visit Prof. R. B. Serjeant at Cambridge, where we also saw Martha Mundy at work on her thesis about irrigation in Wadi Dhahr. In Sanaa we were privileged to meet Qadi Ismail al-Akwa‘, one of Yemen’s most prolific modern scholars. One of our dearest friends was Père Etienne Renaud, who had a great love for Yemen and contributed to the study of Zaydi law.

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Dan and Etienne Renaud in Rome in 1983

In a couple of months we found our site, the breathtakingly beautiful valley of al-Ahjur, a headwater of Wadi Surdud. This had a spring line with allocation from cisterns into an extensive terrace network of agricultural plots. We settled in a room in the country house of our host, Abdullah ‘Abd al-Qadir, and were within easy walking distance of several villages. I spent many afternoons in Abdullah’s afternoon qat chew, where local matters were discussed, an anthropologist dream time. Najwa and I can never repay the kindness of the people we met in al-Ahjur; they treated us as guests and were very patient with our questions.

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al-Ahjur panorama

We met Jon Mandaville and his family when he started as the first resident director of AIYS in Sanaa. Jon invited Najwa and myself on a vacation trip to the Tihāma, where I have vivid memories of a night spent on the beach under the palms, hearing the gently lapping waves, at Khawkha. In the 1980s I returned to Yemen many times as a development consultant and to do manuscript research in the Western Library of the Great Mosque. The small library room (the manuscripts were kept elsewhere) was run by two elderly gentleman, one of whom was almost deaf. His conversations on the telephone were at times quite hilarious. It was here that I first met the Yemeni historian Muhammad Jazm and we soon became close friends.

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Dan and Muhammad Jazm

On my trips to Yemen I always stopped by AIYS, which changed buildings regularly, and was pleased to meet each new director and wave of researchers. In 1983, while I was starting an ARCE Fellowship in Cairo, I came to Yemen to write up the final draft of the USAID Social and Institutional Profile of Yemen. The AIYS President at the time, Manfred “Kurt” Wenner, had solicited articles from a number of scholars, but these had to be merged and edited into the kind of document that USAID needed. The anthropologist Barbara Pillsbury joined me for a marathon writing session and the result was a thorough analysis of the development context of Yemen as of 1983.

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AIYS director Jeff Meissner and Dan in 1987

Even after I started full-time teaching in 1992, I would return at times for consulting. In 1990 I took over the newsletter of AIYS and created a bulletin called Yemen Update, with some of its articles and book reviews archived online. With funding assistance from Hunt Oil we were able to distribute hard copies. In 2014 I became President of AIYS, having served in the past as a secretary and board member. I created a blog called Yemen Webdate, for posts on Yemeni history and culture, and a Yemen Expert Guide to list the names and contacts of individuals with expertise in Yemeni Studies. I also have promoted a Scholar-to-Scholar Program to put Yemeni and foreign scholars into contact with each other for joint research and mentoring. I encourage colleagues to send in material for our AIYS Facebook Page, where news items on the current conflict, etc are posted.

As I write these reflections, Yemen remains in a precarious humanitarian crisis with little end in sight. All of us who have worked in Yemen desire a peaceful settlement so that Yemen’s people can build up their own lives with freedom and security. America’s political choices have greatly angered many of Yemen’s people, but as an educational institute AIYS remains committed to promoting knowledge of all aspects of Yemen’s rich heritage and cultural diversity.

This post is part of the anniversary of AIYS at 40. Click here for other reflections.

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Yemen’s Akhdam

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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.

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Pomegranate seller, Yemen. Rod Waddington/flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Delores Walters on AIYS

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Delores Walters in Wadi Dhabab, 1994

Delores M. Walters, Ph.D.

I first went to Yemen in the summer of 1981 on a FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) Fellowship to study spoken Arabic, having minored in Modern Standard Newspaper Arabic at NYU. My Arabic language study was in preparation for a doctoral dissertation fellowship in cultural anthropology funded by SSRC and Fulbright between 1982-84. Steven Caton, who was director of the Peace Corps in Sanaa, headed the language-training program, which included several Yemeni teachers. Peace Corps residents in Sanaa that year included American, Dutch, British and German volunteers.  Steve introduced me to Leigh Douglas who was resident director of AIYS at the time.

It was quite a shock to learn later that Leigh Douglas was one of three men, including two British citizens killed in Beirut in 1986 in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya.  Leigh had taken genuine interest in my research and was particularly helpful in insuring that Lee Maher, my partner at the time, would be able to accompany me when I returned to Yemen in 1982 to begin my field research. He had made the introductions at the Yemen Center for Research & Studies (YCRS) to begin the process of obtaining residency and research clearance.  AIYS and the resident directors were chiefly responsible for connecting Americans to the Yemeni research center and were especially helpful in that regard. Once introduced, the staff and director of YCRS, Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Maqalih, (also a literary scholar and poet) were remarkably helpful, kind and attentive. Lealan Swanson became resident director of AIYS early during our stay. Occasionally, Lee filled in for Lealan when the latter was away for short periods.

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Delores and Lee Maher, 1982

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Markazi Exhibition

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MARKAZI

NYU Abu Dhabi, The Project Space  February 4th – February 27th

NYU New York , 19 Washington Square North    February 4 – May 30, 2018

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.

Yemeni Refugees in Djibouti

The Gate Of Tears Yemeni refugees, camp of Markazi. Obock, Djibouti, Decembre, 2016 http://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/research/faculty-research/akkasah.html
The Gate Of Tears: Yemeni refugees, camp of Markazi. Obock, Djibouti, December, 2016; photograph by Nadia Benchallal

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.

AIYS Yemeni Fellowships 2017

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Some of the 2017 AIYS Yemeni Fellowship Recipients

Despite the continuing crisis, AIYS has been able to offer fellowship research grants to Yemeni scholars. This year, with limited funding, a total of 15 proposals out of 47 were awarded. Seven researchers out of fifteen who received AIYS Fellowship grants for 2017 gathered on Friday May 26, 2017 in the AIYS premises. Each researcher gave a brief presentation about his/her own research. The Resident Director of AIYS welcomed the scholars and congratulated them on winning the fellowship grant, wishing them success in their studies.

The researchers belonging to different academic specialties, including history, medicine, agriculture, science and literature.

Those present included:
1- Dr. Amat Al-Maliq Al-Thawr, Professor of History at Sanaa University, whose research is aimed to study the cultural relation between Yemen and Mecca during the reign of the Al-Qasimi Imamate State. She discussed the main objective of her research, highlighted the importance of such study and explained her methodological approach. Dr. Al-Thawr suggested that the Yemeni Imams paid great attention to the relation between Yemen and Mecca so that they had the final word on the religious and cultural activities in the Holy Mecca. She stated that her research is designed to provide a detailed study about Yemen’s relations with Mecca during that period.

2- Dr. Ebtisam Shamasan, a professor at Sanaa University College of Science, will study the nutritive value of the Indian mackerel fish species. She explained her research’s objectives, methods and importance. The researcher suggested that her study is mainly intended to explore to what extent freezing may affect the nutritive value of Indian mackerel fish.

3- Arif Al-Afeef, a Master degree student at the College of Medicine, Sanaa University, gave an overview about his research on the liver disease Cirrhosis.

4- Dr. Nabilah Al-Wasi’aee talked briefly about her research topic which focuses on a poetry collection entitled “Sanaa” by Yemen’s great poet Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh. The researcher said that her study aims to shed light on one of the most distinguished poetical works by Dr. Al-Maqaleh, who is one of the most celebrated and influential figures in Arab literature and culture in the temporary history of the Arab world. Al-Wasi’aee argues that this book “Sanaa” can be described as one of Al-Maqaleh’s most impressive poetical works. “It is filled with poetical images, symbols, rhythm and metaphors,” she said.

5- Dr. Monirah Jamel, head of the Psychology Department at Sanaa University, dedicated her research to study psychological impacts upon the teenagers of Internally Displaced People (IDP). She explained the objectives of her research that aims to explore the negative impacts of displacement upon the internally displaced students.  “My research is intended to study to what extent displacement can undermine ‘self-esteem and achievement impetus’ among IDP students in the secondary schools,” Jamel said.

6- Dr. Amirah Qasim, a professor at Sanaa University’s College of Agriculture, gave a brief presentation about her research on “Livestock Food Substitution.” She gave details about her research’s objectives, approach and importance. Her research aims to study how leaves of the Prickly Pear plant can be used as a food to feed animals, mainly sheep.

7- Saleh Al-Faqeeh, a doctoral degree student in the Antiquities Department, Dhamar University, will study “Ottoman Facilities in Yemen.” The scholar gave a detailed presentation about his research that aims to document the Ottoman civil facilities in the city of Sanaa.

At the end of the gathering, the researchers received the grant funds. As usual every researcher received 80% ($1000) of the total amount. The remaining 20% is held back and will be paid as soon as researchers get their studies accomplished and have submitted a copy of it. The researchers expressed their pleasure to get the Yemeni Researcher Fellowship, highly appreciating AIYS assistance at this critical moment. Some Yemeni Students who study abroad for master and doctoral degrees also received the fellowship. They made presentation about their researches via the Internet, so their funding was transferred to them.

Here we have to express our deep thanks to Mrs Heidi Wiederkehr of CAORC for her continuous contacts and tireless efforts she made to get the money allocated to the Sanaa AIYS office amid very difficult conditions.

Dr. Salwa Dammaj
Resident Director
American Institute for Yemeni Studies
Sanaa Yemen

International Women’s Day 2017

drivingIn celebration of International Women’s Day 2017, the Middle East Program, the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center collected essays from 33 women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the United States, and elsewhere to mark the occasion. We bring together their responses—which cover a wide geographic region and a wide range of views—in this publication. The full publication is available here.

Amatalalim Alsoswa, former Yemeni Minister For Human Rights, and founder of Yemeni Women National Committee (Yemen)

Unfortunately, the United Nation’s attempts to establish a ceasefire in Yemen to stop the war that began on March 26, 2015 have been unsuccessful, because of the intransigence of the involved parties.

According to the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan, in 2017, 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, and 10.3 million people are in “acute” need of humanitarian aid. Health care, educational services, and the public treasury are collapsing, and famine has become widespread. Many people are unable to send their children to school because so many people have stopped working, there is a shortage of textbooks, and the costs of studying in government and private schools are high.

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Yemen Exchange in Beirut

April 12-16, 2017
Application Deadline I March 15/Deadline II April 1, 2017
35 slots only/Rolling acceptanceThe First Yemen Exchange (convened in Beirut, Lebanon) is co-hosted by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies (SCSS) and Mideastwire.com. During the five day program, participants from around the world will listen and engage Yemeni politicians, civil society figures and analysts in order to provide direct and intensive insight into Yemen, from several differing perspectives. As such, the Exchange is a fundamental part of SCSS’s attempt to increase the content, space and conversations on Yemen with the hope that increased dialogue and understanding will ultimately help to create the conditions for sustainable peace-building. The five day Yemen Exchange rests on two tracks:

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