Chairman's Report 2009

Seventeenth Annual General Meeting, Wednesday 17 June 2009.

If it is any surprise that you see your Vice-Chairman in the Chairman’s seat, it is because Victor Henderson resigned as Chairman earlier this year for the very understandable reason that, with his other commitments, he felt unable to devote the necessary time and energy to the Society’s affairs. We much regret his departure and express our sincere thanks to him for all that he has done for the Society.

We are, however, most fortunate that Dr Noel Brehony, with his wealth of Arabian and Yemeni experience, has agreed to become the new Chairman in January 2010.

I also wish to record the Society’s debt to Mr Khaled Alyemany, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Embassy, who has served on our Committee and has made many positive contributions to the work of the Society. Khaled is about to return to Sana’a to take up another diplomatic appointment, and his place on the Committee will be taken by Mr Muhammad al-Sadah to whom we extend a warm welcome.

At this point I feel it would be appropriate to express our sympathy with Yemen over the various misfortunes that have beset the country in recent months. The consequent security problems and negative FCO travel advice now mean that normal visits to Yemen are out of the question. Various planned trips to Yemen have had to be cancelled, including a Channel 4 production ‘On Tour with the Queen’ scheduled to visit Aden; the Royal British Legion’s trip to Aden’s war cemeteries, and a ‘Far Frontiers’ country-wide tour.

However, it was good to see a refreshingly positive story about Yemen appear in the Travel Section of The Guardian on 23 May 2009. This was by Kevin Rushby and entitled ‘Yemen behind the Headlines’. During a recent cruise in the Indian Ocean, I observed much interest in visiting Yemen among my fellow passengers who were greatly disappointed at being unable to call at Mukalla and Hodeida due to the ship’s diversion to avoid piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

We will of course encourage travel to Yemen whenever the situation permits. In this connection I should mention that Mr Abdul Wahab Sadaka has been appointed Tourism Counsellor here in the Embassy of Yemen, and that Dunira Strategy, PR Consultants, have been retained as advisers by Yemen’s Tourism Promotion Board. Thus anyone interested in travelling to Yemen should apply for advice to Mr Sadaka. Alan D’Arcy is no longer able to act as our tour leader, and in present circumstances we have no plans for a further Society tour to Yemen.

Meanwhile, new books about Yemen by Society members include:

The Birth of Modern Yemen by Brian Whitaker. This is an e-book available at www.al-bab.com/yemen/birthofmodernyemen.

Warriors of Arabia by Dr Franco Grima (a memoir of the author’s time in South Arabia 1962–65)

Yemen: Jewel of Arabia by Charles and Patricia Aithie (a revised paperback edition of the hardback published by Stacey International in 2001)

Establishing Peace in Hadhramaut: an historical study of Hadhramaut’s experience in eliminating the tribal feud 1933–1953 by Dr Abdul Aziz bin Ali bin Salah AI-Qu’aiti (in Arabic and published by Arabian Publishing Ltd, London);

Books by non-Society members include:

The Lost World of Socotra by Richard Boggs (published by Stacey International, 2009).

Among recent exhibitions relating to Yemen were Gillian Hills’ Yemen-inspired mosaics at the Chalk Gallery in Lewes; and images of Aden from the 1930s, together with a film taken by the Besse family, at the Louvre in Paris. I should also mention that Stephen Gracie, an Australian member of the Society, has amassed possibly the world’s largest collection of Yemeni daggers (janbiyas) and is looking for more!

To encourage further interest in and study of Yemen, we have revived the Essay Competition, offering prizes of £500 and £250 with the deadline now extended to 30 September; and amongst universities we are offering a Research Grant of £500, with submissions by 31 October and the award to be made in January 2010.

The Society’s lecture programme last winter and this spring comprised:

16 October 2008 – Fernando Carvajal, a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, spoke on Yemen: Beyond the Horizon;

20 November 2008 – Quentin Morton gave an illustrated talk on the early oil exploration of Yemen in which his father, Mike Morton, was a pioneer;

5 February 2009 – The Rev. Peter Crooks gave a moving account of his experiences during his time at Christ Church, Aden, and of the work of the Ras Morbat Clinics;

20 May 2009 – Dr Jac van der Gun, in a joint lecture with the Society for Arabian Studies, spoke on Water in Yemen: changing views on a rapidly changing resource.

The full Autumn programme will be sent out later this summer, but an advance note for yourdiariesis24 Septemberat the MiddleEastAssociation when Captain Roy Facey will give his annual update on Aden Port.

The Society has made several donations to deserving causes:

£1000 to the Friends of Hadhramaut for the flood relief fund;
£500 towards the Death and Burial Conference in September 2008;
£500 to Dr Nizar Ghanem’s Health and Culture Centre in Sana’a.

Besides these donations made directly by the Society, we have acted as a conduit for the funds raised by Bill Heber Percy for the Soqotra Training Centre, which reached a total of £21,000. I am sure the Society will wish to congratulate Bill on this most impressive achievement.

As to membership, I am glad to say that the Society now has 299 members, including some 20 new members who joined during the year and to whom we extend a warm welcome.

But it is sad to have to report a number of deaths since last year’s AGM: Abdelmalik Eagle, David Ledger, Murray Graham, Colonel David Smiley, Geoffrey Clayton, Will Arber and Mrs Alison Weir.

The newly co-opted members of our Committee – Muhammad al-Sadah, Ginny Hill and Dr Noel Brehony – are nominated for election at this meeting; and Dr Brehony is additionally nominated for election as Chairman from January 2010.

Finally, I should like on behalf of the Society to express warmest thanks to HE the Ambassador and his staff for the generous hospitality which I know once again awaits us at the reception which follows this meeting.

Julian Lush

Report year: 
2009