First Annual General Meeting, November 1993.
The idea of a society to foster relations between the peoples of Yemen and Great Britain began in mid 1992. Given the long historical links between the two countries and the recent unification of the two parts of Yemen into the Republic of Yemen, the time seemed right for such a society to be formed. Its objectives were to promote friendship and understanding and to advance public awareness and knowledge in Britain of Yemen, of its history, geography, economy and culture. In the autumn of 1992, Bill Heber Percy, with much encouragement and support from H.E. Dr. Shaya Zindani, the Yemeni ambassador in London, undertook the initial spadework and formed a small interim committee of five people to bring the Society into being.
In November 1992, some 300 people were invited to join the embryonic society. As a result of a most encouraging response, an inaugural meeting was held on 11th February 1993 at the British Academy, which was attended by some 120 people. They heard that the Society had already 120 individual and fifteen corporate members. The members present also endorsed the continuation of the interim committee to manage the affairs of the Society until a constitution could be prepared and adopted and a proper committee and officers could be appointed. The objectives meanwhile were to arrange a broad and interesting series of lectures, having particular regard to the wishes and interests of the Yemeni members.
Following the business, Professor Fred Halliday addressed the meeting on "Reflections on contemporary Yemen". With his scholarly knowledge of the historical background and a considerable insight into the current conditions, he gave a rounded appreciation of the situation within the now unified Republic of Yemen as the country approached its first multi-party elections and an account of the new state’s relations with its neighbours. Without denying the immense difficulties of the path forward, his outlook was generally optimistic.
The next meeting was on 16th March at SOAS, when Dr. Samar Damluji gave a well illustrated talk on the architecture of south Yemen and the Hadhramawt in particular. Her knowledge of the subject was most impressive and she conveyed the essence of the unique building styles of these areas in a masterly manner to an appreciative audience.
On 11th May, Dr Tudor Parfitt addressed the Society at the Middle East Association on the Jewish community in Habban. Tracing its history and the position of Jews in the predominently Muslim society of the town, typical of many Jewish communities in Yemen over the centuries, he described their legal and social status in detail. The story ended with the departure of the entire Jewish community to the new state of Israel in 1949/50, for a variety of reasons based on fears perceived and hopeful expectations, the latter having hardly been realised.
Links have been forged with other Arabian societies, in particular the Society for Arabian Studies. On 17th March many of our members attended a lecture, organised by that society, by Hugh Leach, who reminisced on his years of service in Arabia including two spells in Yemen. Our Society also became a joint sponsor with the Society for Arabian Studies and the Leigh Douglas Memorial Fund of a visit by Professor Yusif Abdalla, Vice-President of the General Organisation for Antiquities, Manuscripts and Museums in Yemen, in July, when the professor lectured to members of both societies on the state of archaeology in the country.
On the formal side, a draft constitution was prepared and approved by the Charity Commission. This enabled the first General Meeting of members, held on 21st September, to adopt the constitution and elect the honorary officers and the executive committee. Now that our Society is fully established as a charity, it is well placed to proceed with the various projects in hand and the committee will remain receptive to ideas from the general membership as to how to achieve its objectives.
A. J. M. Lush