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Chairman's report, AGM 22 June 2006
The Society has had another active year at a time when there are some signs that our government is putting more effort into developing bilateral links. This has been noticeable in the business field, where a small government-backed scoping mission, organised by the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, visited Yemen in the Spring to look at the prospects, particularly in the engineering field. I hope that before long it will be possible to mount a larger trade mission to Yemen.
Another promising sector that ought to be developed is tourism to Yemen. Like all of you, I would wish that the FCO Travel Advice for Yemen were more positive than it is. But, at least I can say that it is better than it was, and all those involved in the promotion of tourism in both countries have a job to do. There have been some positive articles about Yemen in the British press in recent months – I can think of a couple on Soqotra and another on Rada’a. We need more of them to whet the appetites of people who are looking for somewhere new to spend their holidays – and perhaps we should lobby for an outward tourism mission. Your committee will explore the possibilities.
Of course, the Society makes its own contribution to the development of tourism. In November last year Alan D’Arcy, to whom I take my figurative hat off, led another successful tour to Yemen. This was the eighth tour organised by the Society, and the ninth tour is being planned for later this year.
In October we enjoyed an illustrated lecture by Carl Phillips entitled ‘Big Birds, Bees and Trees in South Arabia past and present’. His talk was derived primarily from results of archaeological excavations in Tihama where he has worked for several seasons and has been supported by the Society.
Saadat, renowned lute (‘ud ) player and
singer from Tihama, at the Horniman Museum,
London, on 5 July.
Photograph: Paul Hughes-Smith
Your committee is all too aware that most of our meetings take place in London and that many members find it difficult to travel from far away places. We were therefore delighted that two of our members, Nick and Jill Hammans, gave a talk describing their travels in Yemen entitled ‘Frankincense, Amazement and Myrrh’, to the Exeter branch of the Royal Geographical Society in December. We need more such initiatives, and your committee would welcome suggestions from members of the Society.
In January this year we were grateful to the Middle East Association (MEA) for the invitation to a discussion group meeting led by Captain Roy Facey, the Aden Port Development Adviser, and Abdulrab al-Khulaqi, the Marketing Director, entitled ‘Aden in a Changing Region’. Roy Facey’s presentations have become a permanent feature of the MEA’s calendar and are always informative and entertaining. In March, Frank Gardner OBE, the BBC Security Correspondent was invited to give an illustrated lecture on his ‘Impressions of Yemen’. It was particularly striking that Frank’s affection for the Arab World and for Arabs in general survived, absolutely intact, his dreadful experience in Riyadh a couple of years ago, which so transformed his life.
The Islamic Art Circle at the School of Oriental and African Studies invited the Society to attend a lecture by Dr Salma Samar al-Damluji, a long-standing member of our Society. Her subject was ‘The Yemen Architecture Project from Yafa’ to Hadramaut’.
In May, Pat Aithie was to have launched her new book The Burning Ashes of Time in London with the support of the Society. Unfortunately she was taken into hospital just before the meeting and an alternative programme had to be devised. We are grateful to Bill Heber Percy for coming to the rescue with an account of last year’s Soqotra visit and a report on the Society’s support for the Hadibu Training Centre. John Mason, our Hon. Treasurer, could not be present but kindly provided a selection of his excellent photographs of the Island to accompany the talk. We are also very grateful to Bill for his untiring and fruitful work on behalf of other Soqotran NGOs.
Looking forward, and returning to the subject of tourism, we hope that members will be able to visit the Soqotra exhibition in Edinburgh this summer. Under the title ‘Soqotra, Land of the Dragon’s Blood Tree’, this will be formally launched at the Royal Botanic Garden on 30 June – next week – and will be open to the public from 1 July until 29 October. If you know of any tour operators specialising in eco-tours, I hope you will do your best to persuade them to visit Edinburgh to see what a golden opportunity awaits them!
Our first meeting after the AGM will be the launch of Peter Hinchcliffe’s account, with co-authors John Ducker and Maria Holt, of the last days of British rule in South Arabia, entitled
Without Glory in Arabia: The British Retreat from Aden. This will take place at the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 2 Belgrave Square, on 20 September.
At long last the exhibition of Nigel Groom’s photographs, displayed here at last year’s AGM, was opened in Sana’a in late May. The Society was represented by our Vice-Chairman, Julian Lush, and Alan D’Arcy, and the event was presided over by Michael Gifford, the British Ambassador, and Dr Elizabeth White, Director of the British Council in Sana’a. Our thanks are due to the Government of Yemen and Sharif Haider al-Habili for their support for this exhibition which is later intended for permanent display in Bayhan.
Over the year the Society has continued to support a number of projects, which are gradually coming to fruition. Details of the grants made by the Society are included in the accounts presented by our Hon. Treasurer, John Mason, whom I warmly thank for looking after our funds. Thanks are also due to the other societies and individuals who have supported us, in particular Ann Thomson at the MEA for arranging the meetings that we have held there, but we are also greatly indebted to our host today, the Ambassador of Yemen, and to the staff of the Embassy for the hospitality extended to us once again on the occasion of our AGM. As the new Chairman of the Society I am delighted to have been able to welcome HE Mohamed Taha Mustafa as the new ambassador of Yemen. He arrived in Britain after ‘Id al-Fitr last year and presented his letters of credence in February this year. May I also mention that Khalid al-Yamani
has now replaced Faisal al-Abdali as the Embassy’s representative on your committee.
I take the opportunity here to thank Julian Paxton for soldiering on as Hon. Secretary of the Society for an additional year, which is way beyond the call of constitutional duty. We urgently need to find a successor for him.
I am sad to record the deaths of Dr Derek Harvey OBE, who will be remembered for his knowledge of the birds of Yemen and for his keen interest in wild life conservation; of John Hewitt MBE, who wrote a fascinating account for the Journal in 2004 of his ‘First Footsteps in Yemen – 1947’; and of Philip Allfree, whose vivid and entertaining memoir of his time as a political officer in the former Eastern Aden Protectorate,
Hawks of the Hadhramaut (1967), is a modern classic of Arabian travel literature.
But to end on a happier note: I am sure you were as delighted as I was to learn of Sultana al-Qu’aiti’s appointment as MBE in HM The Queen’s Birthday Honours List – a richly deserved award for her charitable work in Yemen.
Chairman's report, AGM 8 June
I am pleased to report
that travel to
has been made easier by both the British and
Yemeni governments. Foreign Office travel advice is now less
restrictive, and with
declaring 2005 as ‘The Year of Tourism’, it
is now easier to obtain visas; and, apart from travel to certain
areas, it is no longer necessary for tourists to have a military
The Society’s seventh
at the end of last year, with sixteen
participants, was once again led by Alan D’Arcy and proved as
successful as previous tours. The Society’s next tour is planned
to take place in November. In January this year eight members of the
Society, led by Bill Heber Percy, visited Soqotra. The tour was well
received on the Island, and it is perhaps worth mentioning that
photographs taken by two members of the group, Charles Aithie and
John Mason, were published in the May issue of the Geographical
Magazine in an article on Soqotra by Dr Sue Christie.
One of the objectives of
the Society is to have more contact with Yemeni communities in the
. It was therefore appropriate that the first
lecture of the year was given by Dr Abdul Jalil Shaif, Chief
Executive of the Yemeni Community Association in
, and by kind permission of the Ambassador this
was held in the Embassy. Dr Abdul Jalil outlined what the
Association had achieved and hoped to achieve in its efforts to
respond to the educational and social needs of the Yemeni community
. The meeting was very well attended, and we were
delighted that representatives of the Yemeni Community in
were able to be present.
We were grateful to the
Society for Arabian Studies for allowing us to join them for two
lectures on the archaeology of
. The first was given by Dr Tony Wilkinson, who
spoke about ‘Archaeology in the Highlands of Yemen’, and the
second by Dr Nadia Durrani who gave a presentation on ‘The
Pre-Islamic Archaeology of the Red Sea Coastal Plain of Yemen’.
In March members of our
Society were kindly invited by the Middle East Association to attend
Captain Roy Facey’s annual update on the development of the
. The Middle East Association was also the venue
for Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s lecture to the Society in April on
‘Ibn Battuta in
’. Tim addressed a full house, and we are
particularly grateful to him for finding the time to speak to us
despite many other commitments.
This year we had been
looking forward to a major event in
, namely the exhibition on Soqotra which is to be
held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, but this has been postponed until
On the subject of
finances, I would like to thank John Mason for managing the arduous
task of the subscription increase announced last year, and for
putting the Society’s funds on a firmer footing. Meanwhile, we are
extremely grateful to Shaikh Ahmad Farid al-Aulaqi for the donation
which he has recently made in support of our Society, and also to
Dirham Abdo Sa’id whose generosity has made possible the
exhibition of Nigel Groom’s photographs on display downstairs. I
am delighted that Nigel, who only yesterday returned from a visit to
, is able to be with us this evening and that he
has agreed to say a few words to introduce the exhibition.
Last December we hosted a
small lunch in
for the Yemeni artist, Abdullah al-Amin,
following his study visit to
arranged by the British Council. Abdullah left
in our safe-keeping the Arabic text of a children’s story written
by his wife and illustrated by himself. We have had the story
translated into English, and, thanks to Pat Aithie’s untiring
efforts, are hopeful of finding a publisher.
The Society has helped to
launch a major appeal for funds to support the Soqotra Training
Centre which was visited by members of the Society earlier this
year. The Centre is an NGO providing English language and computer
courses for male and female students but lacks sufficient funds to
maintain its present level of activity. The immediate aim is to
raise enough money to cover one teacher’s expenses for a full
academic year, and I should like to ask Bill Heber Percy, who has
been a prime mover behind the appeal, to give us a progress report
before this meeting ends.*
As many of you will know,
last July Michael Gifford succeeded Frances Guy as British
Ambassador to the
and thus succeeds her as Co-President of the
Society. A few weeks later the Yemeni President paid an official
– his first since 1997. Much to our
disappointment President Salih had to leave a day earlier than
anticipated, so our planned courtesy call on him was cancelled.
We congratulate our
Vice-President, Dr Abdullah Abdul Wali Nasher on his appointment
last year as
’s Ambassador to
, and we welcome the appointment of Dr Elizabeth
White as the new Director of the British Council in Sana’a.
I am sad to record the
death last October of St John Armitage, former soldier and diplomat,
who was a long-standing member of this Society and first visited
while serving with the Desert Locust Survey. I
should also mention the recent death in early May of Brian Doe whose
name will be familiar to all those with an interest in the
. Brian Doe served as an architect with the
Public Works Department of Aden from the early 1950s until his
’s first Director of Antiquities in 1962. His
book The Monuments of South Arabia published in 1983 was the first
detailed survey of the
’s major pre-Islamic sites.
We also mourn the
tragically sudden and early death of Dominic Simpson who died last
Autumn. His family have established a trust, the Dominic Simpson
Memorial Trust, with the aim of supporting educational projects in
in his memory.
It seems no time at all
since I was elevated from the position of Vice-Chairman to be
Chairman of the Society following the resignation of Stephen Day in
September 1999. I am very pleased to announce that Vic Henderson has
agreed to take over from me with effect from this meeting. In
accordance with the Constitution, the Honorary Officers of the
Society, that is to say the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Hon. Secretary
and Hon. Treasurer, should not hold office for more than six years
at a time. This means that both the Vice-Chairman and the Hon.
Secretary, having taken over their positions when I became Chairman
are due to retire shortly, but in order to ensure continuity are
willing to remain in the short term but would like to be replaced in
Finally, I must thank His
Excellency the Ambassador for his unfailing support both to me
personally and to the Society. We are also grateful for the
cooperation and support which we have received from the Embassy
staff, particularly with the arrangement of meetings such as this
proposed Douglas Gordon’s nomination as an honorary vice-president
of the Society, which was agreed unanimously, Bill Heber Percy
briefed the meeting on progress of the Soqotra Appeal. More than £10,000
had been raised since the appeal was launched in March this year.
Half this sum had been donated by the Muhammad bin Issa (MBI)
Foundation, for whose generous assistance he wished to record the
special gratitude of the Appeal sponsors.
Chairman's report, AGM 9 June 2004
The highlight of last year’s Autumn programme was the Society’s Tenth Anniversary Luncheon held at the Royal Garden Hotel on Monday 8 December. This was attended by over a hundred members and their guests. We are most grateful to Dr Abdul Karim Al-Iryani, Adviser to the President and Secretary-General of the ruling General People’s Conference Party, for accepting the Society’s invitation to attend this event as principal guest and speaker.
I am glad to report that the photographs taken by Freya Stark during her visits to southern Arabia in the 1930s – which were exhibited in Oxford in 2002 and in Exeter at the beginning of 2003 – were delivered to the Seiyun Museum last September for permanent display there. Thanks to the co-operation of ‘Friends of Hadhramaut’ we were able to airfreight the pictures out to Yemen at a very reasonable rate. The Society also hopes to find a suitable home in Yemen for Nigel Groom’s photographs which date from the late 1940s, and many of which were reproduced in his book Sheba Revisited (2002).
Looking ahead a little, I am sure that those of you who recall the successful performances given by the Seiyun Popular Arts Group in Britain two summers ago will be glad to know that the Society is once again supporting the International Music Village Festival. This year a group from Mukalla, comprising seven musicians led by Ahmad Al-Ahmady, will be performing in Cardiff and Regent’s Park from 23 June until 3 July. On 2 July beginning at 7.30pm they will be giving a special performance at Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, for the Yemeni Community in London and ‘Friends of Hadhramaut’, and I hope that many of you will find the time to attend that event. Paul Hughes-Smith has been very closely involved in arranging this visit, as he was, of course, in the previous visit by Yemeni musicians; and once again he deserves our warmest thanks for his sterling efforts. I should also like to thank Pat Aithie and Leila Ingrams for the support which they have given in arranging aspects of the Al-Ahmady Group’s programme; and both Paul and Leila may wish to say a few words about the programme a little later.
In my report last year I mentioned that Alan D’Arcy was unable to lead the Society’s seventh annual tour to Yemen due to ill health. With the feeling generated by the war in Iraq and its unfortunate aftermath, Foreign Office Travel Advice would probably have prevented such a visit taking place in any case. Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that Alan, who recently resigned as Hon. Treasurer of the Society, is feeling fit enough to plan two tours with twelve persons participating in each. The first in November this year, and the second in January next year. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Alan for all he has done and continues to do for the Society. We are delighted that he has agreed to remain on our Committee.
In his place as Hon. Treasurer I warmly welcome John Mason who will present the 2002 and 2003 accounts to this Meeting. Your Committee once again apologises for being unable to present a full set of accounts for 2002 at last year’s AGM.
We remain convinced that, with sensible planning, travel to Yemen poses no greater threat than travel to other destinations not subject to similar restrictions but where foreign tourists have been manifestly at risk. As individuals we have always received a most warm and hospitable welcome on our visits to Yemen, despite recurrent political tensions. We are therefore optimistic that the Society’s seventh tour to Yemen planned for this autumn will prove as successful as our previous tours. We welcome the recent change of emphasis in Foreign Office Travel Advice, but look forward to a substantive relaxation of current restrictions, in the light of the strenuous efforts which the Yemeni authorities have made to contain and counter the threat of political violence. So far as I know, there have been no serious security incidents during the past eighteen months. Recent revelations of the deplorable behaviour of the coalition forces in Iraq have done nothing to improve relations between the Arab World and this country. It is therefore all the more important that the Society continues to pursue its objectives as a charitable organisation devoted to propagating a positive message to a wider audience about the history and culture of Yemen; it is a message which we hope may help to counter negative publicity and alarmist reporting in the media. In this context we were delighted to see such a large number of people at the Yemen Day reception hosted in the House of Commons on 26 May by Keith Vaz. The principal guest and speaker was Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Dr Abubakr Al-Qirbi. The crowd of between two and three hundred present included Baroness Symons, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, MPs and Arab Ambassadors.
Turning to our lecture programme, the first of our autumn lectures was given in October by Aidan Hartley on ‘The life and death of Peter Davey’, the subject of an article by Aidan Hartley in last year’s issue of the Journal. A review of Aidan’s acclaimed book The Zanzibar Chest will appear in the next issue. In November Mrs Khadija al-Salami, Press Counsellor at the Yemen Embassy in Paris showed a documentary film entitled ‘Yemen’s Thousand Faces’ which she herself had scripted and directed. The film looked at the lives of the few remaining Jews in Yemen, and at another little known community in the remote mountainous north: the ‘flower men’ of al-Munaibah. The film is a fascinating record of a way of life which is fast disappearing. A review of Mrs al-Salami’s autobiography, The Tears of Sheba, will also appear in the Journal.
In February this year we were indebted to the Middle East Association for inviting Society members to attend a presentation on the Port of Aden by Captain Roy Facey, and in March we joined the Society for Arabian Studies for a fascinating lecture by Clara Semple on the Maria Theresa Dollar, the subject of her forthcoming book. The programme for the rest of the year will be distributed with the next issue of the Journal in August.
On an historical note, I would like to mention that this year is the fiftieth anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen’s visit to Aden in 1954 when she opened ‘The Queen Elizabeth Hospital’, whose name was changed to the ‘Jumhouriya’ or Republic Hospital after independence. And 1954 also saw the completion of the Aden Refinery which, like the Jumhouriya Hospital, is still in service.
The British Ambassador in Yemen, Frances Guy, will be leaving Sana’a in July. Her successor is Michael Gifford who is expected to take up his appointment later that month. We extend our best wishes to them both, and we hope that there will be an opportunity later in the year for Frances Guy to give members of the Society her valedictory impressions.
Many of you will have heard the sad news of the death in April of Christine Heber Percy who played an active part in organising the exhibition of paintings by Yemeni artists, which the Society sponsored in 2000; we extend our heartfelt condolences to Bill and his family on their tragic loss.
The famous explorer and travel writer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who died last August at the age of 93, visited Yemen several times during his journeys in southern Arabia. His Excellency Dr Mutahar Alsaeede represented Yemen at the Memorial Service for Sir Wilfred held at Eton College Chapel last October. This was in the middle of Ramadhan, so the Ambassador’s presence at the Service was particularly appreciated.
I am very glad to welcome to our AGM today Professor Roderic Dutton from the University of Durham. He is present in two capacities: as a member of the Society and as Chairman of ‘Friends of Soqotra’. Before I invite him to say a few words about the major exhibition on Soqotra which is planned to be held in Edinburgh next year, I would like to thank His Excellency the Ambassador and his staff for welcoming the Society once again to the Embassy this evening and for their generous hospitality.
Chairman's report, AGM 12 June
The Society was formed in February 1993, so this year marks its
tenth anniversary Cultural highlights of the past decade have
included the Yemen Festival of 1997, and the British Museum’s
Queen of Sheba exhibition last year. Running concurrently with the
exhibition were various events to which our Society contributed in
no small way; among the most enjoyable were the concerts given by
the Seiyun Popular Arts Group in June and July, eight of whose
musicians and singers visited Britain from Yemen to take part in the
international Music Village Festival. They gave a lively concert in
Kew Gardens with exuberant audience participation, winning several
encores! Equally successful but on a smaller scale were the concerts
which the group gave elsewhere during their busy programme. A
performance in Goodenough College raised money for the ‘Friends of
Hadhramaut’ charity, and two evenings were devoted to the
entertainment of the Yemeni community in Cardiff. The Society also
supported the visit to Britain of two other Yemeni vocalist
musicians, Dr Nizar Chanem (a member of the Society) and Hassan
al-Amri, who were invited to play during the Arabian Seminar held at
the British Museum in July. They also performed at the Kensington
and Chelsea Town Hall for members of the Yemeni Community. Paul
Hughes-Smith deserves our warmest thanks and congratulations for the
active part he played in arranging the visits of both teams of
Meanwhile, an exhibition of photographs by Freya Stark, chosen
from the collection in the archive of St Antony’s College, Oxford,
opened in Magdalen College. This exhibition, which, as I mentioned
in my report last year, was sponsored jointly by the Society and Dr
Abdul Aziz Al-Qu’aiti, ran from June until October, and we are
greatly indebted to Caroline Singer for organising it. We are also
most grateful to Dr Eugene Rogan, Director of St Antony’s Middle
East Centre, for making the photographs available to the Society.
These were again exhibited earlier this year at the Institute of
Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter; both the
Vice-Chancellor and the Yemeni Ambassador, Dr Mutahar al-Saeede,
attended the January opening. We are hoping to arrange for the
collection to be sent to Yemen for permanent display in the Seiyun
The Society also sponsored a display of photographs taken by
Shelagh Weir entitled ‘Portraits of Yemen’ at the Clore
Education Centre of the British Museum during September and October.
These exceptionally fine colour photographs now form an educational
resource which will be used in Arab World Education projects
organised by the Museum.
In October, Alan D’Arcy led the Society’s sixth annual tour
of Yemen which lasted three weeks and was thoroughly enjoyed by the
sixteen members who participated. The Foreign Office Travel Advice,
which had prevented a tour taking place in 2001, had been eased
slightly. Needless to say no problems were encountered by our
members who were extremely well received by the many Yemenis who met
and entertained them.
After the success of the summer events in promoting the richness
of Yemen’s history and culture and the warmth of its people, it
was unfortunate that the attack in October on a French tanker and
subsequent security alert generated a spate of negative publicity
and alarmist reporting in the media. But worse was to follow at the
end of December with the killing of American missionaries in Jibla
by a gunman. Casualties of the travel ban reimposed by the Foreign
Office included a trade mission to Yemen organised by the Middle
East Association, and several package tours. It goes without saying
that the absence of visitors is a bitter blow to Yemeni tour
companies and to people who make a living from tourism. Since then
the situation has been further complicated by the US/British
invasion of Iraq, which caused predictable hostility throughout the
Arab and Islamic worlds, not to mention strong opposition within
Europe. Nevertheless, we remain convinced that, with sensible
planning, travel to Yemen poses no greater threat than to
destinations not subject to similar travel restrictions but where
foreign tourists have been manifestly at risk. As regards the
Society’s seventh tour to Yemen planned for this autumn, it is, I
regret to say, the recent illness of Alan D Arcy, rather than
security considerations, which seems likely to rule this out. We
wish Alan a speedy return to good health.
[The Chairman read out a message from Alan D’Arcy thanking all
those who had sent him messages of sympathy and support. His message
included a brief financial statement, pending the circulation to
members of a full statement of account later in the year].
Meanwhile, I very much regret to announce the recent death of David
Birtles who generously supported the Society as a corporate member.
As some of you will recall, he was co-author of an illustrated
history of the Armed Forces of Aden 1839-1967, published three years
The critical times in which we live make it all the more
important for us to encourage and support projects promoting
cultural interaction with Yemen. Thanks to the efforts of the
British Council in Sana’a and in Cardiff, where there are, of
course, strong community links with Yemen, I am happy to report that
a scheme for an exchange of study visits by Yemeni and Welsh artists
was initiated earlier this year. The idea grew out of the art
exhibition organised by the Society in October/November 2000 to
display the works of Yemeni artists and those of several British
artists who had visited Yemen. The first artist to benefit from this
new scheme was Miss Najween al-Atef, a young lecturer at the Fine
Arts Institute, Aden, whose two month programme in March and April
included attachments to art colleges in Cardiff and Swansea. We hope
that it will be possible to build on the success of her visit and
that further such exchanges will follow.
Turning to our lecture programme, the first of our current series
of lectures took place in November, when Peter Hinchcliffe and Maria
Holt gave a presentation on their proposed history of the British in
Aden 1961-67, which will draw on Yemeni oral sources as well as
British. No lecture was held in October because of the Red Sea Trade
and Travel study days organised that month by the Society for
Arabian Studies; and I should mention here that our Society has
contributed to the cost of publishing the proceedings of those study
days. In December, Paul Hughes-Smith introduced and showed a
documentary film about Yemeni music. In February this year, Dinny
Hawes, Deputy Director of the Catholic Institute for International
Relations, discussed the many years of humanitarian work carried out
in Yemen by the Institute’s overseas arm, International
Cooperation for Development; a full account of lCD’s work, written
by Marta Colburn and entitled ‘The Republic of Yemen’, was
recently published by Stacey International. In March, we joined with
the Society for Arabian Studies to hear Peter de Geest give a
fascinating talk on the caves of Soqotra. As some of you will be
aware, a recently formed charity called ‘Friends of Soqotra’ has
published its first, handsomely illustrated, newsletter. Membership,
at an annual subscription of £20, is open to all who have an
interest in the Soqotra archipelago, the welfare of its people and
the conservation of its uniquely important biodiversity. We will be
publishing further information about ‘Friends of Soqotra’ in the
Journal. We will also be publishing an abridged version of the
excellent talk which James Taylor gave the Society last month on ‘Traditional
Arab Sailing Ships’.
In the autumn we hope to have another joint lecture with the
Society for Arabian Studies, a film evening and, in December, a
social function to celebrate the Society’s tenth anniversary,
which I very much hope that Dr Abdul Karim Al-Iryani will be able to
In conclusion I should like to thank His Excellency the
Ambassador and his staff most warmly for welcoming us once again to
the Embassy and for their generous hospitality.
Chairman's report, AGM 25
At our last AGM we said goodbye to our Honorary Co-President, H.E. Dr
Hussain al-Amri, who has returned to Sana’a but remains an honorary
member of the Society. In his place we are very pleased to welcome H.E. Dr
Mutahar Abdullah Al-Saeede, who presented his credentials as the new
ambassador of the Republic of Yemen at the end of October and subsequently
became our Honorary Co-President.
After the summer holiday recess we resumed our lecture programme in
October with an illustrated talk by Shelagh Weir on the "Crafts of
Yemen". In November, Dr Trevor Marchand of the School of Oriental
& African Studies described in his illustrated lecture to a joint
meeting of our Society and the Society for Arabian Studies, how the
distinctive shape and beauty of the Yemeni minaret was achieved and how
the skills were passed down from master builder to apprentice. The autumn
programme concluded in December with a presentation by Ian Harmond on the
EC-funded Master Plan for Soqotra.
In the New Year, the Letchworth Museum Art Gallery arranged an
exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Abdo Nagi whose obituary was
published in the last edition of the Journal. Our first lecture of the
year was given by Mohammed Almasyabi who introduced us to the work of the
Yemeni Development Foundation, a charity that was launched in March 2000
to give advice and assistance to the Yemeni community in this country and
in Yemen itself. Our Society has contributed to a project to provide
Braille computers for the al-Aman Welfare Society in Sana’a to train
In March, Marta Paluch introduced her book ‘ Yemeni Voices - Women
tell their stories’, giving a vivid insight into the changing lives of
the women whom she had interviewed for a British Council project while she
was working in Yemen.
Our next speaker was Caroline Singer, a member of the Society, who
lectured to a joint meeting with the Anglo-Omani Society on "The
Frankincense Trail - travels in Oman & Yemen". She delivered a
fascinating talk illustrated with slides to a full house. The final
lecture in our spring programme was a talk by Jane Diamond, who had just
returned from visiting Yemen, on The Establishment & Management of a
Family Planning Centre: organisational objectives versus local
expectations’. She has worked for Marie Stopes International in Yemen
and wrote an article for the journal in 1998 about her experiences in this
important field. Unfortunately a personal misfortune prevented her from
delivering the lecture, which has been postponed until next year.
Once again we are grateful for the co-operation of the Society for
Arabian Studies and the Anglo-Omani Society in arranging joint meetings
and avoiding clashes over lecture dates. Throughout the year under review
we have been invited to several meetings about Yemen arranged by the
Middle East Association (MEA). In October there was a discussion group
meeting at which Mustafa Rajamanar, the British Vice-Consul (Commercial)
in Aden, spoke about business opportunities. In January, Captain Roy Facey
spoke once again about ‘Aden Port Development’, which is fast becoming
an annual event in our calendar. In March the Yemeni Foreign Minister, Dr
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi addressed a discussion group meeting at the MEA during
his official visit to Britain. In early June, Ambassador Frances Guy, on a
brief visit from Sana’a, also addressed the MEA. We are most grateful to
the Mae's Director, Brian Constant, for inviting members of our Society to
attend these events, and for the continued use of the MEA as a venue for
some of our lectures.
On your behalf I should also like to thank the Committee for their
support over the year. A major concern of the Committee has been to
contribute to the side events connected with the British Museum ‘Queen
of Sheba’ Exhibition which was launched on 5 June in the presence of a
strong Yemeni delegation led by the Minister of Culture and several
hundred guests. To this end we have co-sponsored with Dr Abdul Aziz al-Qua’iti,
a member of our Society, an exhibition of Freya Stark’s photographs
taken during her travels in Southern Arabia, which opened earlier this
month at Magdalen College, Oxford. We have also contributed to the
projects bringing musicians from Yemen to perform at various venues in
London from 27 to 30 June and in Cardiff on 2 July, and another smaller
group of Yemeni players who will be performing in London from 18 to 21
We are planning to have three more lecture meetings this year, details
of which will be circulated to the membership with the forthcoming tenth
anniversary issue of the Journal.
In view of the events of last year it was not possible to arrange a
British- Yemeni Society Tour to Yemen, but Alan D’Arcy has worked
tirelessly to arrange a tour this autumn. The Foreign Office Travel advice
remains discouraging but several members of the Society have made private
visits to Yemen; clearly a close eye must be kept on security with the
continuing tension in the region. The latest FCO travel advice is
available on the internet.
I congratulate the Embassy on the establishment of a web site, which
will be much appreciated by those of our members with internet access:
In conclusion I should like to thank H.E. the Ambassador and his staff
for hosting our AGM and for the generous hospitality shown to the Society.
Chairman's report, AGM 21
Since the last AGM held exactly a year ago to the day, the Society has
been active with a full programme of meetings and events. The autumn
programme last year began with a lecture by Christopher Ward of the World
Bank’s Rural Development, Water and Environment Department, on the water
crisis inYemen. In October, Dr Salma Samar Damluji gave an illustrated
talk to a joint meeting of our Society and the Society for Arabian Studies
(SAS) on her return visit the previous February to Hadhramaut and Yafa’.
We are grateful to SAS for their continued cooperation in arranging joint
Starting in late October an exhibition of paintings by Yemeni artists
was held in Cardiff, London, where a number of British artists who had
visited Yemen were invited to exhibit alongside them, and in Birmingham.
Bill Heber Percy, who played a major role in organising this successful
and rewarding event, has written a detailed account for the Journal. But I
should like to take this opportunity of expressing our warm thanks both to
him and to the other volunteers involved, to our financial sponsors who
helped make the event possible, and to H. E. Dr Hussain al-Amri for his
The year ended with a well attended lecture by Carl Phillips on the
archaeological work which he and his team continue to carry out in the
Thanks are due to Alan D’Arcy for once again leading a Society tour
to Yemen last October. This was the fifth such tour. It was arranged at
shorter notice than we would have wished because of developments earlier
in the year; it was a great success and I know that Alan, undaunted by a
long spell of ill health — now happily behind him — is planning a
sixth tour. The timing of it and notice to members will again be subject
to local factors. I sometimes think that the wild men of Marib and
elsewhere have prior knowledge of the date of our AGMs! Shortly before our
meeting last year two kidnapping incidents occurred; last month a young
German Arabic language student was kidnapped; he was released last week
fit and well. I suspect that his unexpected immersion in the dialect and
oral traditions of tribal society in Marib province, where he was detained
for some three weeks, will have aroused the envy of not a few of his
fellow students. But even ‘benign’ kidnappings can cast a long shadow,
pulling the rug from under the feet of those of us who have lobbied for a
relaxation of FCO travel advice. The Society’s October tour did not, of
course, start auspiciously: on the morning of the party’s arrival in
Sana’a USS Cole was attacked in the Port of Aden, and early the
following day a bomb exploded in the British Embassy compound in Sana’a.
Nevertheless, after consulting the Embassy, Alan D’Arcy and his party
decided to go ahead with what proved to be a very successful and enjoyable
tour. Their decision was influenced by the knowledge that the Yemeni
security authorities have always taken very good care of organised groups
of our members. But it was also made easier by the fact that as a Society
and individually we have many friends in Yemen, and that between us we
have considerable local knowledge of the country. For these reasons, while
always bearing FCO travel advice in mind, we feel able to exercise a
certain latitude in interpreting and applying it.
Before turning to this year’s activities, I should like to mention
two events in last year’s social calendar: on 18 July our
Vice-President, Dr Abdulla Abdul Wali Nasher, received an honorary
doctorate from the University of Southampton in recognition of his
exceptional services to medicine; and in late September, I and four other
members of the Committee had the pleasure and privilege of calling on
President Ali Abdullah Salih during his brief visit to London on his way
to New York. We had a lively discussion with the President immediately
before his own meeting with the Foreign and Home Secretaries. We are most
grateful to Dr Hussain al-Amri for proposing and arranging this call.
In January we once again had the opportunity to listen to Captain Roy
Facey address the Middle East Association on Aden Port development and the
Free Zone. In February we joined with the Anglo-Omani Society to hear a
talk by Sa’id el-Cheithy on ‘The Life and Writings of Sayyida Saline’,
whose connection with Aden was described in last year’s Journal.
In March Dr Dionisius Agius gave an illustrated talk on ‘The Language
of the Dhow’ to the Society for Arabian Studies, to which the
Anglo-Omani Society and our own Society were invited. In April we showed
the film ‘Only I returned’, a documentary about the life and
achievement of the 18th century German surveyor and explorer, Carsten
Niebuhr; we are grateful to the Royal Danish Embassy for making the film
available to us. In May,Victor Henderson, who has now retired after
completing his term as HM Ambassador in Sana’a, gave us the benefit of
his experiences in a valedictory talk at the Middle East Association. We
are most grateful to him for the support he has given us during his term
as Ambassador and as co-President of our Society; many of our members have
warm memories of the hospitality extended to them in Sana’a by Victor
and his wife, Heather. As most of you will know, Victor Henderson has been
succeeded in Sana’a by Frances Guy, and I should now like to read out a
message which she has sent accepting our invitation to become the Society’s
‘Thank you for inviting me to become co-President of the
British-Yemeni Society It is an honour and a privilege. My first few
weeks in Sana’a have been marked by the very kind hospitality shown to
me by everyone, most notably by the Yemeni-British Friendship
Association. The change in government has permitted a fresh look at some
of the issues which have complicated our bilateral relations. While I
cannot promise miracles for the immediate future, I hope we can build on
the goodwill created by some recent visits, to gradually improve our
relations. I have been struck by the genuine warmth felt by many Yemenis
towards the United Kingdom, despite recent events, and I can hut
undertake to do my best to build on that, and try and create some new
areas of co-operation between our two countries. I wish you well with
the ACM and look forward to meeting you all soon. ’
Last year we said farewell to Sa’id Hadi following his appointment as
Yemen’s Ambassador in Kuwait, and we were grateful to Raid Salim for
taking his place on the Committee until the arrival of the Embassy’s new
Minister, Mr Ahmad Hajar.
As in all societies, our membership ebbs and flows but remains stable
around the 225 mark. We have three corporate members and would like to
increase the corporate element in our membership. But unfortunately few
British companies are actively involved in Yemen at the present time.
Inevitably, as members of our Society get older we lose some of them, and
this year we were sad to see the passing of Gavin Young, Colonel ‘Bill’
Bowen, and, perhaps saddest of all because so unexpected, of Abdo Nagi.
Our next meeting will be on 10 October when ShelaghWeir will speak
about the Crafts of Yemen, and on 7 November Dr T. Marchand has promised
to give us an illustrated talk on the Minarets of Sana’a. The autumn
programme will be sent out with the Journal in early August.
A very significant cultural event to which we can look forward next
year will be an exhibition of Yemeni antiquities to be held at the British
Museum between June and October. The exhibition follows those held in
Paris, Vienna, Munich, Rome, Turin, Rotterdam and Madrid during the past
three years, but will include material in British and other collections
not previously displayed.
After the conclusion of our business this evening, we are very glad to
welcome Charles and Patricia Aithie and to congratulate them on the
publication of their book, ‘Yemen: Jewel of Arabia’, which they will
be introducing to us to later. I would like to thank them very warmly for
coming all the way from Cardiff to tell us something of the background to
the book, and of their experiences in gathering the wealth of beautiful
photographs which lies therein.
Finally, I should like to thank H. E. the Ambassador and his staff for
hosting this meeting and for entertaining us here this evening. A few
weeks ago His Excellency told us the sad news that he would be leaving
London shortly to return to Sana’a. I hardly need say how sorry we will
be to see him go; we will remember him very warmly; those of us travelling
to Sana ‘a will hope to catch a glimpse of him there; meanwhile we offer
him and his family our very best wishes for the future
Chairman's report, AGM 21
As you know, I took over as Chairman from Stephen Day in September
1999. I should like to take this opportunity to thank him for his period
Since the last AGM, the Society has held regular meetings which for the
most part have been well attended. I will not mention details of the
lecture programme up to the end of October 1999, since these were listed
in the December issue of the Journal. In November, Dr Fuad al-Nahdi, the
Editor of Q-News, spoke on The Influence and Impact of Yemenis in East
Africa, and in December we had a joint lecture with the Society for
Arabian Studies at which Dr St. John Simpson spoke on Vice or Virtue?:
Early reactions to the spread of tobacco in Arabia.
In the first half of this year we have held four meetings. In January
at a joint meeting with the Middle East Association, Captain Roy Facey
gave us an update on the development of Aden Port; and in February, John
MeHugo discussed the legal basis of the decision on the Yemen-Eritrea
dispute over Hunaish island. Special mention must be made of Bader Ben
Hirsi’s documentary film onYemen, The English Sheikh and Yemeni
Gentleman, which we showed in March to a packed hall. It had been our
intention to show a shortened version of the film after the AGM today, but
so far there is only the 75 minute video, which will be shown next month
during the Seminar for Arabian Studies. In due course we hope the film
will become available on video-cassette. In April, Peter Hincheliffe gave
a talk entitled Dhala’ Diary, 1966, which he illustrated with
slides and film taken at the time. The text of his talk will appear in the
forthcoming issue of the Journal.
I must thank our Editor for his hard work in producing the excellent
December issue, which, due to a last minute crisis in the printing of it,
was not available for distribution until January. The demand for it, not
least from our friends in Yemen, was gratifying and we are planning to
increase the print-run of the next issue. As mentioned in our last
newsletter, we have decided to move production of the Journal from the end
of year to mid-year.
In addition, I should like to pay tribute to the support I have had
from Julian Paxton, as Secretary, and from Alan D’Arcy, as Treasurer, in
keeping the Society’s affairs in good order.
Sadly, several of us were amongst the many who gathered to say farewell
to Jim Ellis, our vice-president, in late January. A founder member of
this Society, he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
On a happier note, we congratulate our co-president, Victor Henderson,
on the award of his C.M.G.
We regret losing the services of Sa’id Hadi Awadh on the Committee,
as the Yemen Embassy representative, but we were delighted to hear of —
and now record our congratulations on — his appointment as Ambassador to
Kuwait. We await news of his successor, but meanwhile the gap he left is
being filled by Raid Salem.
Our members have been active. Last September, Carl Phillips contributed
to a symposium held in Sana’a on the material culture of Yemen, and in
December returned to the Tihamah for a fifth season at the early Sabaean
site of al-Hamid. Meanwhile, Julian Lush arranged at short notice a
weekend in Munich for a few members of the Society to see the Yemen
Archaeological exhibition, which has since moved to Rome. In January this
year Bill Heber Percy, with John Shipman, led a small group of artists
Our Christmas appeal for the Ras Morbat Clinic, Aden, raised £1,000,
and I thank members for their generosity towards this worthy cause.
For reasons which are well known to you, we could not arrange a Society
tour to Yemen in 1999, but, subject to the usual caveats, Alan D’Arcy is
planning to lead one in October/November this year.
We have kept in constant touch with the Foreign Office on the subject
of travel advice and have lobbied for less stringent restrictions. Clearly
there are still places where it would be unwise to go. Although we are
hopeful that a tour can be arranged - and those of our members who have
visited Yemen in recent months have been very well received - we, as a
Society, have to err on the side of caution. Unfortunately there have been
two kidnapping incidents within the past two weeks: one involving a
visiting Norwegian diplomat (killed) and his son, and the other a senior
Italian archaeologist. Such incidents obviously rule out any early
relaxation of FCO travel advice. But this month has also brought some very
good news, namely that Yemen and Saudi Arabia have finally reached
agreement on their long-standing border dispute. This is a remarkable
achievement, following hard on the heels of the tenth anniversary of
unification on 22 May. On the occasion of that anniversary, I have already
on your behalf asked His Excellency the Ambassador to convey our
congratulations to President Salih, but I am sure you would wish me to ask
him to send a further message expressing our warmest congratulations on
the historic border treaty whichYemen has now concluded with Saudi Arabia.
Looking ahead, I am very glad to report that the Society will be
arranging an exhibition in London of works by Yemeni artists combined with
paintings of Yemen by British artists. This will take place in November at
the Kufa Gallery and we will be sending members full details in due
course. Meanwhile, I should like to thank Bill Heber Percy and Caroline
Lees for taking the lead in organising this project on behalf of the
Dr Salma Damiuji has agreed to speak to a joint meeting of our Society
and the Society for Arabian Studies on 11 October about her visit to Yemen
in February this year. When arranging our lecture programme we try to hold
joint meetings with other Societies when the subject is of mutual
interest. This increases the size of the audience, helps us to recruit new
members, and reduces costs by sharing expenses.
Stacey International will be publishing a new book on Yemen by Patricia
and Charles Aithie. We hope that Pat, a member of our Society, will be
able to talk to us about it and show us slides of some of the splendid
photographs which the book will contain. Meanwhile, we congratulate David
Birtles and his co-author on the publication earlier this year of The
Armed Forces of Aden 1839-1967. A review will appear in the
forthcoming issue of the Journal.
Finally, I should like to thank His Excellency Dr Hussain al-Amri for
his generous support of the Society and for placing the facilities of the
Embassy at our disposal this evening.