CAORC-Kaplan Fellowships

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The Center for Manuscripts in Zabid houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts. Photo courtesy Center for Manuscripts, Zabid.

Many countries in the Middle East continue to be devastated by ongoing conflict and violence. Beyond the catastrophic suffering inflicted on the people of Yemen, Syria and Gaza, many of whom have had their homes, families, and livelihoods destroyed, the physical traces of their history and heritage are also being bombarded, pillaged, and even demolished.

Through its Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), supported by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, CAORC is committed to helping dedicated archaeologists and heritage professionals in these war-torn countries do everything possible to preserve and secure their country’s cultural heritage. This month, CAORC is awarding seven new projects under its RPI program, with the aim of providing critical assistance to organizations in Yemen, Syria, and Gaza that are working against the clock to preserve and safeguard important cultural heritage sites and collections that remain under threat. Led by local teams of trained experts, these projects have well-designed action plans that will allow them to rapidly and efficiently address areas of urgent need at some of the region’s most vulnerable and at-risk heritage sites, with a special focus on protecting museum and manuscript collections that remain under severe threat from bombardment, warfare, vandalism, and looting.

In Yemen, the main office of the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) will implement projects along with local archaeologists and universities to document and safeguard the artifact collections of the Saiyoun and Zafar Museums, two important but now threatened museums in Yemen’s beleaguered governorates of Hadhramawt and Ibb, respectively. At the Saiyoun Museum, housed in the beautiful Sultan Al Kathiri palace complex, militant Islamist groups whose presence in the area has grown have already vandalized the building and threatened to loot the collections. Similarly, at the small Zafar Museum, located amid the ruins of the capital city of the famed pre-Islamic kingdom of Himyar, GOAM, along with local institutions will work to ensure the collections are properly documented, preserved, and stored away in case the site is attacked or vandalized in the future, as the area itself is under constant threat of bombardment. So, too, trained specialists from the Center for Manuscripts in the ancient town of Zabid, which houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts, will seek to catalog and digitize hundreds of the center’s most fragile documents as the coastal Hudayda governorate becomes increasingly contested by coalition and Houthi forces.

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Before and after image of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, destroyed during a coalition airstrike in May 2015. Photos courtesy GOAM, Dhamar office.

The critical need for such preventive measures is highlighted by the case of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, located in Yemen’s archaeologically rich Dhamar governorate, which was completely destroyed during an aerial bombardment by coalition forces in May 2015. While local archaeologists and museum staff have been working to remove and preserve artifacts still buried under rubble, there remains much to be done. Through the support of the CAORC-Kaplan RPI program, archaeologists and staff from GOAM’s Dhamar office, along with local institutions will be able to continue recovering, restoring and registering damaged objects from the museum’s rubble and then relocate them to a safe, secure location. The same GOAM team along with locals from the Hada province will also work to document and preserve the collections of the Baynun Museum, located amid the ruins of one of Yemen’s great pre-Islamic fortresses but now threatened by encroaching Al Qaeda forces and the possible onset of aerial bombardment.

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