In wartime Yemen, artisans keep up the shine on gemstones

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Safa al-Faqih, one of the few female Yemeni craftsmen working in the precious stones industry in Yemen, holds precious stones in the old city of the capital, Sanaa, on April 18, 2018. (AFP)
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Safa al-Faqih, one of the few female Yemeni craftsmen working in the precious stones industry in Yemen, crafts a stone in the old city of the capital, Sanaa, on April 18, 2018.(AFP)
Updated 17 May 2018
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In wartime Yemen, artisans keep up the shine on gemstones

  • Yemen was once home to the legendary Queen of Sheba, and it was there that she found her famed jewels and gold, which she later gifted to King Solomon in Jerusalem
  • Yemen’s rich cultural scene is slowly being eroded by a brutal war, with the historic town of Zabid, the old city of Sanaa and the old walled city of Shibam, known as the “Manhattan of the Desert,” now on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list

SANAA: Her fingers bleed from beneath the nail beds, but sitting at her workstation, filing Yemeni gemstones on a spinning wheel, Safaa Al-Faqih is at peace in a country for too long at war.
In green canvas trainers and a black niqab, the young artisan — one of the few Yemeni women in her field — runs a blue Yemeni agate through a hot flame, turning it slowly with her bare hands as she fits it into a mold.
“Every day, these stones tell me a different story,” Faqih told AFP. “I discover something new every day.”
While the stone is still hot, she gathers her long black abaya and moves to a grinding wheel, where she runs her finger over the deep blue edges every second to feel for their smoothness.
The stone slowly morphs from an uneven sphere to a perfectly symmetrical emerald-cut agate that gleams in the light.
“I love this craft,” the young, brown-eyed artisan said. “Sometimes my fingers are all cut, and sometimes I get sick.
“But I love sitting among precious stones. I love the stones themselves. It’s a true passion for me.”
That passion is part of a long love story between Yemen and precious stones. What is today modern Yemen was once home to the legendary Queen of Sheba, and it was there that she found her famed jewels and gold, which she later gifted to King Solomon in Jerusalem.
Thousands of years later, war threatens to erase that history.

Safa al-Faqih, one of the few female Yemeni craftsmen working in the precious stones industry in Yemen, holds precious stones in the old city of the capital, Sanaa, on April 18, 2018. (AFP)


Yemen’s rich cultural scene is slowly being eroded by a brutal war, with the historic town of Zabid, the old city of Sanaa and the old walled city of Shibam, known as the “Manhattan of the Desert,” now on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list.
Yemeni agate — or “aqeeq” in the local dialect — is a trademark of the traditional silver jewelry the country is famed for, adorning rings, necklaces, women’s bracelets and, for men, curved daggers worn tucked into a belt.
The traditional Yemeni men’s dagger, or jambiyya, has for decades been embellished with locally-quarried agate.
The stone carries particular significance among Muslim communities, as the Prophet Muhammad is said to have worn a silver ring bearing the stone, which is hard, chemical-resistant and takes on different shades around the world.
Yemen also has a tradition of jewelry-making that dates back hundreds — some historians even say thousands — of years, joining both the country’s Muslim communities and the minority Jewish population, known for their craftsmanship.
Until the war brought the country’s rich crafts industry to a halt, Sanaa in particular was famed for its silversmiths and embroidery artisans creating Yemen’s trademark shawls.
In 2015, the country’s northern Huothi militia — who today control the capital, Sanaa, — drove the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi south, prompting the intervention of a regional military coalition .
Just a quarter of artisans are still working in Sanaa’s old market, where the majority of gemstones were sold, and the men who previously dominated the industry have mostly gone in search of other work.
Faqih has lost most of her clients, who are unable to afford gemstones in wartime, and now sells her wares to a few family members or neighbors.

Safa al-Faqih, one of the few female Yemeni craftsmen working in the precious stones industry in Yemen, holds precious stones in the old city of the capital, Sanaa, on April 18, 2018. (AFP)


It is in Sanaa that Faqih first learned her craft and where she continues to practice, creating pieces to meet whatever demand is left.
The artisan credits her father for encouraging her to fight for a place in her field.
In 2011, Faqih and a few of her peers pushed for women to be allowed into the male-dominated government vocational school. They succeeded, and joined the graduating class of that year.
“There was some opposition, from men especially, that I do this job. My parents were supportive, though,” she said.
“I went on because I love this. I love this craft. That’s the truth.”


Erdogan hints Turkey may ban some Israeli goods because of Gaza violence

Updated 51 sec ago
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Erdogan hints Turkey may ban some Israeli goods because of Gaza violence

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan has hinted that Turkey might consider imposing a ban on imports of some Israeli goods over the killing of Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces on the Gaza border, media reported on Tuesday.
Erdogan, who is campaigning for re-election in June, last week hosted Muslim leaders who condemned the events in Gaza and the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem.
Speaking to reporters on a return flight from Bosnia on Sunday, Erdogan said the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had recommended that a boycott be imposed on Israeli goods.
“I hope that OIC member countries implement a boycott decision in line with the recommendation. Consequently, no product should be brought from there any more. Naturally we will assess this situation in the same way,” Hurriyet newspaper reported Erdogan as saying.
A declaration by the OIC on Friday repeated a call for countries to ban “products of the illegal Israeli settlements from entering their markets,” referring to goods produced in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
It did not seek a ban on all Israeli goods.
The declaration also called for “economic restrictions (on) countries, officials, parliaments, companies or individuals” who followed the United States and moved their embassies to Jerusalem.
US President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shift the US embassy there reversed decades of US policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.
Erdogan said last week that Trump’s move had emboldened Israel to put down the protests at the border with Gaza with excessive force, likening the actions of Israeli forces to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews in World War Two, when millions were killed in concentration camps.
The violence in Gaza, where more than 60 Palestinians were killed on May 14 led to Turkey and Israel expelling each other’s senior diplomats. Erdogan also traded barbs on Twitter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel was the 10th-largest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics.
Data from Turkey’s statistics institute showed that trade volume between the two was at $4.9 billion in 2017. Turkey, which has a trade surplus with Israel, imports plastics and mineral oils among other goods from there.
Erdogan said Turkey would reconsider its ties with Israel.
“We will put our relations on the table, in particular our economic and trade relations. We have an election ahead of us. After the election we will take our steps in this direction,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.