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Houthis Accused of Smuggling 4,800 Yemeni Manuscripts, Antiquities

Houthis Accused of Smuggling 4,800 Yemeni Manuscripts, Antiquities

Sunday, 23 May, 2021 - 08:15
Awwam Temple, also known as the Mahram Bilqis, in Marib, Yemen. (AP)

Yemeni Workers in the antiquities sector accused the Houthi militia of systematic destruction of national artifacts, through smuggling, trading, bombing, and using the museums as military barracks.

Last year, Yemeni officials accused the group of smuggling and looting over 14,000 rare Yemeni manuscripts and hundreds of artifacts.

A number of antiquities workers told Asharq Al-Awsat that prominent Houthi leaders had smuggled since the beginning of this year, more than 4,800 antiquities and manuscripts, dating back to hundreds of years.

The artifacts were sent to Iran, Lebanon, and other countries after they were stolen from museums and archaeological sites in areas under the group's control.

Some workers at the General Authority for Antiquities and Museums in Sanaa noted that the insurgents are looting many manuscripts from museums in Sanaa and other Yemeni cities.

Sources indicated that prominent Houthi leaders in Sanaa still possess many antiquities, including large and small bronze statues, inscriptions, gold and silver coins, amulets, tablets, and others.

They noted that local archeologists are following Houthi directives in excavating manuscripts and ancient monuments in dozens of mosques and historical sites in areas under the group’s control.

The workers warned that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Hassan Erlo, who was assigned as Iran's ambassador to Yemen, is involved in the operations tampering with the historical repository of Yemen.

They pointed out that Erlo, accompanied by prominent Houthi leaders, visited the Old Sanaa, noting that it exposes the group's intentions, and confirms that they are continuing to loot artifacts and manuscripts.

Employees working at the Yemeni Antiquities Authority in Sanaa accused the group of looting and smuggling many valuable manuscripts and artifacts from the National Museum.

They explained that the stolen antiquities are smuggled through illegal networks to be sold abroad.

Meanwhile, a number of authority officials told Asharq Al-Awsat that more than 16,000 historical documents, various artifacts, and ancient weapons have disappeared from the Military Museum in Sanaa.

In addition, over 13,000 pieces were taken from Dhamar Museum, in addition to thousands of pieces and manuscripts from other museums in Ibb and other cities ran by Houthis.

The officials, who preferred not to be named, estimated that there were more than 120,000 artifacts in the National Museum before the coup, and over 60 percent of those pieces were taken.

The United Nations Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) said in a statement that it is leading, with the European Union, international efforts to preserve culture and heritage in Yemen.

On 26 and 27 May, UNESCO and the EU will host an online conference “Restoring Livelihoods Through Culture in Yemen” bringing together key stakeholders, implementation partners, and young Yemenis, who will explore ways to engage youth to revive Yemen’s rich cultural heritage.

Archeologists say that the Houthi militia will likely sell the antiquities and manuscripts as a new financial source for its war effort.

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