Jon Swanson on AIYS

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View of Taiz

When I arrived in Yemen with my wife and two children in January of 1974, there were few researchers in the country save perhaps for Tomas Gerholm in Manakha.  On advice from Yemeni friends in the US, we settled in Taiz where we remained until the end of July 1975. In those days there was no AIYS so we were left to sort things out on our own. About a year after we returned to Detroit I got a call from Mac Gibson about a meeting at the University of Chicago to set up a research facility in Yemen. I thought this a fine idea and took the train to Chicago where I met with Mac, the late Manfred (Kurt) Wenner, Marvin Zonis, and perhaps one or two others whose names I can’t recollect.  We ended up meeting two or three times.

Under Mac’s leadership AIYS began to set up bylaws based on the bylaws of other research groups like the American Research Center in Egypt. It was orginally proposed that we might call AIYS the “American Research Center in Yemen” but this was rejected and we eventually settled on the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. I suggested that we include a rule in the bylaws barring anyone engaged on intelligence gathering from the institute on the grounds that researchers and research would be jeopardized if we were in any way perceived as government agents. This amendment found support and was adopted.

When I returned to Yemen in 1979, AIYS was in full swing with John Mandaville as the local director.  He and his family were welcoming and very supportive. Like many researchers I stayed there briefly before I found an apartment. Other researchers there at the time included Barbara Croken, Tom Stevenson, Susan Dorsky, and Steve Caton. Subsequently Leigh Douglas became director. Leigh later taught at the American University of Beirut where he was tragically kidnapped and later assassinated by a faction of Hizballah after Reagan ordered airstrikes on Libya which killed members of Muammar Qadafis family.

From 1981-83 my then wife, Lealan Swanson, served as director of AIYS and she is best able to relate that chapter of the AIYS saga. One memory of that period which will probably not make her part of the story is that while my daughter and walking in gulleys west of Sanaa near the international school my daughter pointed out a stone hand axe. I subsequently collected a number of these and left them at AIYS. They certainly confirmed the ancient human occupation of the Sanaa plateau and the possibility of productive archaeological research in the area.

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

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