By Tamjid Alkohali
A man waiting for a bus at the public bus station near by bab al-Yemen Sana’a. Walking proudly to the bus with his son who is about seven years old, the man was carrying a Kalashnikov on his right shoulder. He got on to the bus, sat next to a girl with his son in between his father and the girl. “The gun is his parent” said the boy.
On the bus, the man took down the Kalashnikov off his shoulder and gave it to his son. The son took the Kalashnikov and began moving it randomly. The girl looked at the boy and felt worried about reckless use. She began to think in advising the father to take the gun away from his son, but she was afraid of the father’s reaction. As she worry increased, she finally decided to voice her opinion and warn the father. Politely the girl said, “I think you should take the gun away from your son, because it’s dangerous”, unexpectedly he replied immediately saying that “the gun is his parent”.
From this story, we can see the strong relationship between the Yemeni people and their weapons. The phenomenon of carrying weapons is considered one of the most prominent phenomena among the Yemeni society.
In a particular Yemeni wedding in Sana’a, we found that most of the people invited had pistols beside their waists, or Kalashnikov on their shoulders, with all of them wearing Janbiya, a traditional male garment.
There, in the wedding we met Ail al-Jabary, a citizen from the Amran region. Al-Jabary was wearing a Janbiya and Kalashnikov on his shoulder.
He said that the weapon is a part of the Yemeni man’s personality. A Yemeni man is strong and the weapon symbolizes strength, pride, and manhood.
“I like carrying the weapon especially on occasions such as; weddings, Eid, and on Friday, because carrying a weapon such as, a Janbiya, Kalashnikov or pistol makes the person more elegant and attractive.” al-Jabary added.
“In addition to the attractive appearance that is given by carrying a weapon, the use of weapons in occasions are to greet invitees, groom in the weddings, relatives, and the bride at the end of her wedding party through shooting bullets to the sky. As well as, the most important pictures for the groom are those taken with him carrying a weapon such as; the Kalashnikov, or sword.” Said by al-Jabary.
Al-Jabary emphasized that he does not face any difficulties in attributing a weapon, when he has enough money, he goes directly to the weapon market and buys the one he desires.
Al-Jabary added that he uses his weapon carefully, but in case he is any danger, he will not be hesitant to use it in defending himself.
Al-Jabary train of thought is similar to the way most Yemenis think. People consider weapons a source of pride and manhood. Weapons can also be found in Yemeni houses. For example they hang swords, and Kalashnikov on the walls.
Moreover, Yemenis use weapons to resolve their problems, especially tribal issues. Tribal arbitration in which the party who is at fault satisfies the party who is right by offering weapons. Sometimes they offer ox or cows. Unfortunately, this way replaces the law and most of the Yemenis are convinced by it. The strange thing, this way is used to resolve the problems between the tribes and government recently!
The visitor who comes to visit Yemen for the first time is surprised of seeing weapons especially in the rural areas. Weapons are a part of the national personal; Yemenis consider it a heritage, traditions and customs more than a means of violence and murder. However, recently the accidents increased significantly because of the spread of this phenomenon.
Today, with the lack of conscience and lawlessness in the country, any simple problem between two people in the street ends by killing. Even inside the house, there are many children whom died or killed each other as a result of playing with weapons, which are in their reach as well as the accident that occurs in wedding parties which lead to the death of people because of weapon misuse.
Although out of all these accidents, Yemenis did not realize the dangers of carrying weapons and still consider it tradition and customs, with the demand for weapons increasing day after day. A field study about the bad use of weapons and obstacles of development, done by the professor of Sociology at the University of Taiz Pro. Abdul Salam Dar, emphasized that the proportion of people who own weapons in Yemen were 66,6% in rural areas, and 56,1% in cities.
Weapons in Yemen are sold in known and famous markets and in main cities like the capital Sana’a, Saada, and Amran. When anyone travels through the weapon market, feelings of being in a black market comes about, where there are many stores filled with different kinds of weapons. In these weapon markets, people buy guns, pistols, Kalashnikov as they would buy food.
In one of the weapon markets, a weapons dealer who refused to reveal his name said that he bring his goods from weapons importers through the sea ports, but today he does not bring many weapons as he used to because it became more expensive. For example, the price of the Kalashnikov is between US$500 and US$1500 according to the date of manufacture and quality.
The weapon dealer talked about the kind of weapons that are allowed to be sold in the markets, he said, “most of the weapons here in the markets are Chinese and Russian and his customers are mostly from tribes.
When we mentioned to him that weapons are a social problem that caused the spread of crime he replied with “the person who want to kill he or she will do this using anything so weapons aren’t the reason for crimes but are a tool”.
On the other hand the dealer emphasized that if there is a law stated to stop the selling and carrying of weapons, he will be the first one whom would close his store.
The spread of weapons especially in this phase which Yemen passes, made it one of the vital issues in the National Dialogue Conference, a conference in which is considered the way to resolve all the problems within Yemen and then build the civil state.
In autonomy of bodies’ team in National Dialogue Conference, the manager of the team Moain Abdul Malik said that it is impossible to build a civil state and have its people carry weapons. Therefore, he and his team can discuss this issue of carrying a weapon phenomenon in order to find a solution for it.
“In the team we demanded to stop the tribal arbitration and depend on the rule and the law of the state. This will help many to stop the interest in the weapon among people” Abdul Malik continued ” there should be an independent body to regulate tribal conflicts so they do not turn into avenge, in condition this independent body must work hard and justly in order to get the trust of the tribes so they depend on it.
Abdul Malik emphasized that in fact there aren’t serious efforts to curb the spread of weapons among civilians until now. The relationship between the tribes and army is strong, so there is tolerance and adoption with each other all the time which lead to the spread of weapons in Yemen, although some decisions that have been stated recently to prevent weapons in the last years.
From Abdul Malik’s point of view, the weapon markets, one of the main sources of illegal funding, are taking official licenses from the state, so part of this weapon goes to the state and the other part sold in the markets. Spreading the phenomenon of weapon is a regular process.
After discussing this issue in teams, two outputs were put, hoping they will be achieved in reality and weapons will be out of Yemeni hands permanently. The first output “Not allowed to carry weapons or possessing personal weapon without a license from the law.
The second output, the state is the only one whom has the right to own and import weapons.
Face the phenomenon of carrying weapons in Yemen needs continuous efforts rather than a political decision. The process passes from legal problems, and cultural and social barriers. Yemenis should realize the seriousness of weapons and it’s not a symbol of manhood, equestrian, or good traditions!