Column: Poor Yemen’s oppressed children

Taha KılınçBy: Taha Kılınç*

Just 10 years ago, we went to the historic town of Jibla in the morning. Starting from the capital of Sana’a and targeting the traces of Islamic civilization in Yemen one by one, we deliberately happened to pass here. Jibla was hosting the magnificent palace and the milk-white mosque which was built by Arwa bint Ahmad al-Sulayhi – one of the two queens in the history of Islam on behalf of who sermons were read out (the other is her mother-in-law Asma Bint Shihab). As the representative of the Sulayhi dynasty, Queen Arwa, who ruled Yemen from 1067 to 1188, was also the first Muslim and independent female ruler of the country.

In Jibla, a mountain town with an altitude of 2,200 meters, I almost felt like we came to another world. Everything was still untouched as they had been in the era of Queen Arwa. We came to the mosque walking through stone-paved streets, hundreds of years of old houses and the queen’s extraordinary palace with admiration. Three elders, who were at least 90 years old each, sat in the mosque without ever talking. I ran over to them, stood among them and had our photos taken. It is perhaps the most precious memory of my trips in the Islamic world.

When our tour of at least 12 cities and innumerable small towns ended, both my admiration for Yemen increased and I obtained invaluable information about the history and civilization of Islam which I had not known until that time. Yemen was like a gigantic outdoor museum hiding nice treasures in its bosom.

Unfortunately, I could not go to Yemen once again amid other travels and grind stone. After the state of turbulence of the so-called “Arab Spring” began shaking the region, many of the traces of that old glory were already wiped out.

That is why my heart sinks whenever I read something about Yemen, I hear a word from it. “Seasons flew and flew / Calendars were wiped out / What is left of them / Pictures on the walls / Names on the graves / Seasons flew and flew…”

The Yemeni crisis, which broke out after Iran-backed Shiite-Houthi militias conquered Sana’a and its surroundings in the first weeks of 2015, appears to be out of control. The military coalition which was founded under Saudi Arabia’s leadership to reclaim the occupied territories from Houthis is aggravating the crisis with its solid embargo and failing operations that often target civilians.The main purpose of the embargo inflicted by the Arab coalition is to prevent Houthis from receiving arms and financial support from Iran. Although this could be achieved at a certain extent, people cannot meet even their daily needs in the central and northern regions where conflicts are prevailing. While food prices in the country are continuously increasing, there is also a large increase in epidemics due to the war. The bombing of hospitals and clinics by the coalition is another challenge facing Yemeni civilians. In the country where the poverty runs rampant, those who have money are also deprived of the means of treatment and the necessary infrastructure.

On the other hand, embargo conditions apply to regions under the control of Iran-backed Houthi militias as well. Houthis are obstructing entrance and exit points from the regions they seize in order not to lose civil support and man power. Civilians are the captives and the biggest victims of this seemingly endless battle.

According to official U.N. reports, around 3 million Yemeni civilians now need immediate aid and nearly 400 children also face danger of starvation. The number of people who have so far starved as a result of the embargo is not exactly known, but it is expressed in thousands. The shots disclosed by a few journalists and international news agencies that could reach the region are heart-wrenching.

The Syrian crisis came to a deadlock as each Islamic country had a different imagination of Syria. Wheneach country approached the crisis from a different angle, it became impossible to produce a “collective mind” – which resulted in the death of at least 500,000 people before the eyes of millions of Muslims. The Syrian tragedy, in this sense, can be defined as “the internal crisis of the Islamic world.”When a consensus could not be reached to prevent the atrocity and to remove the cruel ruler, the whole world was eventually involved in the crisis for the sake of their own interests. So, the problem escalated into a hornet’s nest.A similar situation is happening in Yemen now. Iran’s attempt to subjugate the southern Arabian Peninsula through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and Arabs’ unplanned and unscheduled response to this attempt is leading to the death of millions of people, who have never been involved in the war, before our eyes. As in many matters, the Islamic world is incapable of reacting here. It is just watching. And institutions are at the helm of the official policies of states.

The human tragedy in Yemen does not make as a big impact as Aleppo or Palestine in our country. This is both because of unhealthy information flow and geographical distance. Yet Yemen is much closer to us in all aspects than we think.

 Taha Kılınç is a Turkish columnist. He writes for Yeni Safak daily newspaper.

(Published in Yeni Safak newspaper on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017)