Thirteenth Annual General Meeting, 8 June 2005.
I am pleased to report that travel to Yemen has been made easier by both the British and Yemeni governments. Foreign Office travel advice is now less restrictive, and with Yemen 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 escort.
The Society’s seventh tour to Yemen 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 United Kingdom . 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 Sheffield , 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 in Sheffield . The meeting was very well attended, and we were delighted that representatives of the Yemeni Community in Liverpool 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 Yemen . 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 Port of Aden . The Middle East Association was also the venue for Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s lecture to the Society in April on ‘Ibn Battuta in Yemen ’. 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 Edinburgh , namely the exhibition on Soqotra which is to be held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, but this has been postponed until 2006.
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 Malaysia , 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 London for the Yemeni artist, Abdullah al-Amin, following his study visit to Cardiff and Swansea 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 Republic of Yemen and thus succeeds her as Co-President of the Society. A few weeks later the Yemeni President paid an official visit to Britain – 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 Yemen ’s Ambassador to Canada , 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 Aden 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 archaeology of South Arabia . Brian Doe served as an architect with the Public Works Department of Aden from the early 1950s until his appointment as Aden ’s first Director of Antiquities in 1962. His book The Monuments of South Arabia published in 1983 was the first detailed survey of the Yemen ’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 the Middle East 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 due course.
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 one.
* Having 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.