Socotra Island: A Historical Story Ends With Looting

National Yemen

By Tamjid Alkohali

The tourism business has been ceased in all Yemeni governorates as a result of lawlessness, political conflicts, and kidnapping tourists. Socotra Island is considered  to be the only tourist destination left for its safety and security.

According to the Tourism Promotion office, Yemen’s tourism revenues rose to $940 million in 2013, which was an increase of 11% driven mainly by Socotri tourism.

Therefore, the heads of tourism represented by the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Promotion office, worked hard to provide the island with tourism services such as restaurants, hotels, parks, and tourist activities.

Recently, Ali Mohamed Al-Yazeedi, Minister of the local administration  and Joe Fawkner, a representative the International Company Adam Smith of the Affairs of Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, Al-Yazeedi called for investment in Socotra for  its unique natural beauty and tourist potential.

Minister Al-Yazeedi emphasized that the returns of these investments will provide tremendous resources not only for people on the island, but also for Yemen in general.

Despite these calls, the island of Socotra is now being exposed to looting and destruction of its archaeological sites.

According to the director of the Office of  Antiquities Authority on the island, Ahmed Saeed Al-Araqbi, eight old historical graves and tombs in the Momi region in Socotra, including some historical inscriptions, sculptures, ornaments, and household items, have been destroyed and looted by unknown people.

The Momi region is considered the richest archaeological area in the archipelago and looting is a serious indicator that the rest of the archaeological sites may be exposed to looting too.

In recent times, the National Commission of UNESCO condemned the looting and destroying of archaeological sites on Socotra, considering it a cultural, ethical and scientific crime because Socotra is the most important nature reserves registered on the World Heritage List.

“Destroying one of the oldest heritage sites and civilizations in the world is a violation of international treaties, agreements, and commitments,” the commission said.

The National Commission of UNESCO demanded that the state to preserve Yemeni heritage, which was registered on the World Heritage list, and what is being recorded, whether material and immaterial.

The Agent of Socotra Province, Fahd Kvain, emphasized the keenness of local authorities to maintain the protection of archaeological sites on the archipelago.

However, the lack of capacity of the Relics Bureau led to the failure of the work. “We suffer from a lack of awareness among citizens of the importance of archaeological sites in the province. People should be aware that the preservation of relics on the island is their duty, for they reflect the ancient civilization of Socotra and reflect the ancient ties of the civilization of Socotra with other ancient civilizations,” he stated.

In addition, Kvain appealed to the Government of National Reconciliation to specify an amount of money in order to start the process of the survey and to protection of relics in the province.

The Minister of Culture, Abdullah Aubl, also called on military units and security agencies to save and protect archaeological sites in the archipelago.

Despite these measures, the thieves remain unknown and the stolen artifacts haven’t been returned.

Socotra is a Yemeni archipelago consisting of four islands. The archipelago sits in the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Horn of Africa, 350 km south of the Arabian Peninsula. The long isolation of the island from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula has granted the island an incredibly unique level of biological settlement on the island, and has similarly shaped a unique social structure of the island’s human population.

In 2008, Socotra was classified as a World Heritage Site. It was named one of the strangest places in the world because of its unique bio-diversity. The island used to have political importance as well; it served as the capital of the Mehrah Sultanate until 1967, when it fell to members of the National Front coming from the Yemeni mainland. It joined South Yemen in 1967, and became a part of united Yemen with the 1990 unification.

The Russian Mission of international historians and archaeologists in the Socotra archipelago discovered a number of stone tablets written as far back as the stone age, as well as hand tools suggesting that humans had inhabited the island as far back and two and a half million years.

Socotra Island is characterized by a wide variety of vegetation; the island enjoys over 750 distinct plant species. Some of these plants are used in folk medicine and in the treatment of many diseases. Socotra’s birds are also highly distinct, and they serve as one of the hallmarks of the island’s diversity.

Socotra’s topographic features also impress its visitors. There are mountainous caves scattered across the island, many of which are used by island residents as habitation. Outside the caves, Socotra’s beaches are considered one of its beautiful secrets. The beaches are blessed with pure white sands, which appear to visitors like piles of cotton shaded by palm trees. All of Socotra’s beaches are suitable for recreation and diving, thanks to infrastructure services on the island.