- Jullienne Kay
AIYS collaborates to carry out a Yemeni Cultural Heritage Emergency Response Training Workshop
The American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), in partnership with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI), a recognized leader in developing skill-based training in disaster risk management for heritage, organized a specialized training program to support Yemeni museum and heritage professionals in emergency preparedness and response. The training took place at the American Center of Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan in May of 2022 after having been postponed for 2 years due to the pandemic. AIYS, together with CAORC and Yemen’s General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) selected 16 managers and technical staff from several of Yemen’s most threatened museums to participate in the training.
Yemen has been engulfed in armed conflict since 2015 during which time many cultural heritage sites and museums have been targeted and much has been lost to the conflict, such as the Dhamar Museum that came under a direct missile attack on May 21, 2015. It is important for all countries to save and share their cultural heritage with their own people as well as the rest of the world and that is especially true for countries dealing with conflict, like Yemen. Salwa Dammaj, the Resident Director of AIYS and professor of Political Science at Sana’a University remarked at what an important success this was, as this training is the first of its kind to be organized for the specialists and technical staff of Yemeni museums since the outbreak of the war. A great deal of time and effort went into making this workshop a reality and making sure that the training objectives were best suited for the participants and the situation in Yemen was a high priority. Salwa discussed the importance of the careful and thoughtful planning, “It was also well planned and designed to include an extensive training schedule aimed to provide the trainees with the necessary knowledge and skills to rescue and protect the artifacts and museums which came under shelling during the war.”
The two-week training program included a wide variety of hands-on training sessions that included disaster risk management, assessment and planning, object conservation, identifying locally available packing materials, creating an action plan for when they return home, as well as site visits to Jordanian museums and heritage sites. The trainers were highly qualified professionals in their fields and AIYS was so pleased to have such a talented group. The group included Stacy Bowe, the Training Program Manager for SCRI, Abdelhamid Salah Abdelhamid Sayed, Chairman of the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF), Brian Michael Lione, the International Cultural Heritage Protection Program Manager for the Museum Conservation Institute, Rebecca Kennedy, the Collections Care Specialist for Curae Collections Care, and Holger Hitgen, an independent scholar who previously worked at the German Archeological Institute.
Zaydoon Zaid, President of the American Foundation for Cultural Research (AFCR), also known as the American Foundation for the Study of Man, Adviser to GOAM, AIYS Board Member, and major contributor to organizing this training, noted the importance of this type of workshop specifically for Yemen. He discussed how Yemeni’s in this field have long needed more outside training, but that the war enhanced this need tenfold given that before the conflict there was the ability to hold these trainings while doing field work in the country. Now, since the conditions have changed, the trainings have changed as well, from teaching skills like drawing, and cataloging, to rescue and proper storage and safety.
Salwa noted the crucial need for this training for Yemen, “[the workshop] gave the workers in the Yemeni museums a chance to be introduced to the up-to-date technology and methods that enable them to deal with the catastrophes and consequences of the war upon the antiquities and manage and protect the artifacts.”
As mentioned earlier, this is the first training of this kind since the war began, so this is the first time that the workshop participants were able to view and learn about the new technologies in their field. Using these new techniques and technologies is paramount in being able to care for and protect the cultural heritage of Yemen.
The conflict has impacted Yemen and its cultural heritage in many ways, including making logistics of planning a workshop like this even more difficult and laborious. Salwa analyzes this particular issue as one of the key organizers on the ground in Yemen, “It is not an easy task amid wartime to bring such a large number of specialists from different Yemeni regions, especially with the heated conflict and disputes among the parties to the conflict. So, to bring 20 participants from the different Yemeni regions including Aden, Sana'a, Dhamar, Ibb, Sayoon and al-Mukalla of Hadramout, Shabwa and al-Dhale'a is very significant progress and achievement by AIYS.” The training workshop was a great achievement for AIYS and the participants and their experience continued after the workshop finished.
Dr. Zaydoon Zaid organized the annual meeting of Rencontres Sabéennes, which took place in Amman immediately following the workshop and invited all the participants to join. The Rencontres Sabéennes conference is dedicated to the epigraphy, history, and archaeology of pre-Islamic South Arabia. The topic of the May 2022 conference was “Crossing Boundaries: Contacts between South and North Arabia”. This conference has been running for almost 25 years and at the previous meeting it was agreed upon that the conference should coordinate with the training workshop and to allow for the participants to join. This decision was made as an effort to expand the conference to include a wider audience.
Zaydoon described this decision as a good opportunity to open the conference to more than just professors and academics.
He remarked that the input from the workshop participants at Rencontres Sabéennes was “…just amazing”, because they bring a different perspective and bring up arguments that academics might not think of.
The workshop participants bring insight and understanding to exactly what it is like to do cultural heritage preservation work in Yemen today, their input in the conference was invaluable and will lead to greater discussions and greater solutions to the problems faced currently. This collaboration shows the value of the workshop and the annual meeting working together to continue to foster this sharing of ideas that would otherwise be impossible to next to impossible.
During our conversation with Zaydoon, he spoke about the program for the next training workshop. As the situation is constantly changing and evolving the training must do the same in order to keep up with what specialists in Yemen need to learn and to plan for the future. The next workshop will focus on fighting back against antiquities trafficking and how to implement procedures to do so at airports in Yemen. He clarifies that this issue is not new and had been a problem before the war, but now because of the worsening economic situation there has been a sharp rise in trafficking of antiquities and cultural heritage objects. With the next training session aimed at mitigating this issue, we hope that we can give specialists the information they need to protect Yemen’s cultural heritage with multiple approaches.
This training program wouldn’t have happened without the assistance from ACOR staff, CAORC, and Dr. Zaydoon Zaid for their work in organizing and conducting the workshop with amazing success. Since this training program was such a great achievement and will have a substantial and positive impact on Yemen and its cultural heritage AIYS plans to work with CAORC, SCRI, ACOR and Dr. Zaydoon Zaid in the future for follow-up workshops in Amman.
Learn more about the American Institute for Yemeni Studies at www.aiys.org