The Iran-backed Houthi militias have sought to destroy all aspects of cultural life in Yemen since their coup against Sanaa and its state institutions. Artists, writers and intellectuals spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of the Houthis’ attempts to destroy their cultural scene and heritage.
One artist revealed how the militias sought to eliminate cultural diversity and instead impose an identity that is “hostile” to Yemen.
“Throughout four years, Houthi oppression has targeted all segments of Yemeni society, starting with artists, writers and innovators,” he said. It has resorted to threats, intimidation, arrests, displacement and murder to achieve this goal.
“The Iranian militias have not allowed a single voice that contradicts their views to be raised against them,” he lamented.
An official at the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Culture in Sanaa told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis deliberately targeted artists and writers “either by physically eliminating them or throwing them in jail.”
A number of artists have also been killed in Yemen, such Nader al-Jarady and Moeen al-Sabry, he said on condition of anonymity. They have also prevented artist Ayman Othman from setting up an exhibit in Sanaa and burned his paintings.
The militias have sought to impose their own “culture” on Yemen, which they employ to create sectarian incitement, he continued.
They have barred artists from holding cultural activities, banned music from being played in cars and have even gone so far as to destroy musical instruments. In 2017, they banned schools in areas under their control from holding concerts and musical performances. They also ordered gender segregation at schools and holding separate graduation ceremonies for girls and boys. Musical events, if they are allowed to be held, should have religious themes and avoid western culture.
An official at the syndicate of professional artists compared the Houthi practices to those of the ISIS terrorist group when it captured Syria’s Raqqa in 2014 where it banned cultural and musical activities.
The Houthis must be resisted through art, culture and literature, he told Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity. “This will be part of a comprehensive war that should be waged against the militias before they turn into a plague that would be difficult to eliminate.”
The militias have also shut dozens of cultural institutes and looted the heritage and development fund for their so-called war effort.
Cultural activist Samar Abdullah said that the Houthis are seeking to destroy Yemen’s cultural memory.
In Taiz, they shelled the Alsaeed Foundation for Science and Culture, one of the most important institutes in Yemen, which destroyed hundreds of historic books and documents. They also shelled the national museum in the city, also destroying priceless manuscripts.
Moreover, the Houthis have also smuggled and sold historic artifacts, worth millions of dollars, to fund their sectarian agenda in Yemen.