Professor Ziad Beydoun (1925-1998)

Ziad ‘Don’ Beydoun, Emeritus Professor at the American University of Beirut, died on 7 March 1998, aged 73. He spent much of his early career as a geologist in the southern part of Yemen and maintained a life-long interest in that country

Ziad’s father was Mutasarrif of Haifa in the last days of the Ottoman Empire and his mother was of Turkish lineage. He had a Palestinian childhood and his heart remained with his fellow refugees, but much of his education was British — from school in Alexandria to his degree in geology and later doctorate at Oxford. He had the gift of tongues — Arabic, English, French and Turkish and was truly international in outlook, avoiding politics and concentrating his skill as a practising and teaching geologist in whatever country or ocean he happened to be.

I first met him in the Aden Protectorate, now part ofYemen, in 1953 when he was serving as deputy leader of an oil exploration party sent in by Petroleum Concessions Ltd (PCL), a subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company He had earlier taken part in a reconnaissance led by Tony Altounian on foot and by camel over some of the more inaccessible parts of the territory where no formal administration existed and travel by even Arabic-speaking outsiders could be hazardous.

As the Political Officer in charge of an area roughly the size of England and Wales, my duty was allegedly ‘to protect the oil company from the Bedu and to protect the Bedu from the oil company’! I found Ziad selfless, painstaking and far-seeing. He contrived to keep on good terms with everyone, from the wild and woolly mountain tribesmen to the British and Arab political staff in Aden and Mukalla, not to mention his highly sophisticated paymasters in Regent Street. He made his duty clear to all and in such a way that he was accepted by all. He could be relied upon to get on with the task in hand and contain any local problems when I was dealing with a small matter of murder or other mayhem’ several hundred miles away Without him, there would have had to be several of me. Ziad remained in charge when oil company activities expanded from geological survey to the more advanced gravity and magnetomical work and he must have been as disappointed as we were when PCL decided that further expenditure in the Aden Protectorate was unlikely to be profitable. However, he produced a geological survey of most of the region which was published in 1961 and remains the definitive work on the subject.

Ziad maintained his interest in what became Yemeni geology when he moved on to teaching at the American University, Beirut, and later while working for Marathon International Petroleum; he was patron of the Oxford University Expedition to north Yemen in 1990 which undertook a geological study of Kohlan in Hajjah province.When Ziad himself started studying geology, nearly all geologists working in the Middle East were Europeans or Americans. Today most Middle Eastern countries have their own geologists, many of them trained by Ziad.

In a televised ceremony in Sana’a in late September, the Prime Minister of Yemen presented Ziad Beydoun’s widow, Muntaha Saghiyeh (a distinguished archaeologist), with the Republic’s Science Medal — awarded posthumously to Ziad in recognition of his unique contribution to the study of Yemeni geology.

Jim Ellis