In order to build a religious shrine, officials in Yemen have claimed that the Houthi militia plans to destroy ancient marketplaces and buildings in Old Sanaa, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
A new 3-D film depicting a massive facade with a religious shrine named after Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, would be constructed on top of hundreds of stores and buildings in Old Sanaa, prompting an urgent warning from the Yemeni government and local residents and shopkeepers.
Hundreds of homes and shops in Old Sanaa would be destroyed by the Houthi project, along with the historic Al-Mahdada, Al-Halaqa, and Al-Manqala districts.
Outraged by the film, Yemenis have appealed to UNESCO and other international heritage authorities to stop the Houthis from destroying the country’s cultural landmarks.
Yemen’s minister of information, culture, and tourism Muammar Al-Eryani warned that the Houthis’ demolition of a millennium-old mosque in Sanaa would result in the destruction of hundreds of ancient houses and locations in the city.
He wrote on Twitter, “The Houthi militia has previously demolished the historic Al-Nahrain Mosque, leveled it to the ground, and tampered with its building materials and priceless stones.
For example, “We warn against the terrorist Houthi militia demolishing Al-Mahdada, Al-Halaqa, and Al-Manqala markets, which include hundreds of antique shops in the old city of Sanaa.”
According to Mohammed Jumeh, Yemen’s permanent representative to UNESCO, the government has warned that Old Sanaa will be removed from the UNESCO list if the Houthi plan goes forward because of the damage it will cause to Sanaa’s status as a world heritage site.
Jumeh claimed that the Houthis would alter Sanaa’s identity by tearing down and rebuilding damaged shops and homes with new materials.
Jumeh said on national TV that the Houthis’ holy site would be built in the style of religious locations in Iran rather than in keeping with Sanaa’s old architectural style, and that this was the problem.
However, “this modern structure does not originate from the Yemeni cultural setting, but rather is intended to be based on the Iranian cultural environment and the Persian architectural style.”
Officials in the Yemeni government, conservationists, and archaeologists all hope that the Houthi proposals will receive widespread media coverage, and that international pressure from global heritage organizations will convince the Houthis to drop the plan.
I think UNESCO and other international organizations’ pressure to halt aid to Sanaa could have an effect,” Jumeh said.
Some Sanaa antique market shop owners claimed the Houthis coerced them into selling their businesses.
According to a tweet by Sanaa-based legal activist Abdul Wahab Qatran, he met shop owners in Old Sanaa who claimed the Houthis had tried to force them to surrender their businesses in order to build a holy site and endowments for Imam Ali.
We are surrounded by the same crazies who tore down the 1,400-year-old Al-Nahrain Mosque. Qatran continued, “And now they want to demolish the marketplaces of the world’s most significant and oldest city.
Qatran said that one store owner sold for a “reasonable amount,” while another would not sell for anything, including his life.
Residents of Sanaa and other Yemenis have protested, but the Houthis have remained silent.