Russian Archeological and humanitarian expert to Yemen Times: “youth of today should be taught to renounce hatred between nations” [Archives:2008/1219/Reportage]

December 25 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
Professor Vitaly Naumkin was born in Russia, trained in Egypt, and completed his Doctoral studies in Arab and Islamic History and Sciences at Moscow State University. Known for his research in areas such as international relations, strategic studies, Islamic studies, conflict management and resolution, and Eurasian studies, he is an internationally renowned scholar throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He has been president of the International Center for Strategic and Political Studies since 1991. In addition, he holds the positions of: Director of the Center for Arab Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences; Editor-in Chief of “Vostok-Oriens”, and Chair of the faculty of World Politics, Moscow State University. Professor Naumkin has written over four hundred books, chapters, and articles in Russian, Arabic, English, French, German, and other languages.

The Russian Archeological Mission discovered a large Jewish temple in the region of Bir Ali but the incumbent authority has held back details of the discovery.

Mohammed Bin Sallam of the Yemen Times met with Professor Vitaly Naumkin head of the mission to Yemen. This mission is currently directing the archeological exploration of Socotra and Bir Ali in the Shabwa governorate, assisted by Russian scientists. He interviewed him about the activities of the mission and other political and cultural issues.

Can you brief us on the aim of your current visit to Yemen?

First of all, the main aim of this visit is scientific cooperation between the Russian Academy of Sciences and Yemeni institutions. I always visit Yemen due to my scientific work, and also my interest in Yemeni history and development. The direct aim of this visit is to continue work on the island of Socotra. For a long time, I have been working on the translation of its ancient history, as this is a very important aspect of Yemeni civilization. I will head a Russian archeological mission that will work in the island during December. Above all, the major reason is to further develop the relations and academic cooperation between Russia and Yemen, particularly during this period when relations are improving in other areas. I hope that this relationship will encompass cooperation in the cultural, scientific, military, economic, commercial, and political fields. Also of importance is cooperation on the issue of the Red Sea, and in combating the piracy which has become so endemic..

Can you give me an idea about the latest book you published and how many books have you published so far. What is your new writing project about?

I have a lot of projects. This year, I didn't complete any of them due to the many tasks I have to fulfill. However, I have published a book about the armed struggle in Southern Yemen, and later updated the volume to include the period of armed struggle against the British colonization. After that, I wrote many chapters about Yemen for various Russian books, and also published a book about Yemeni history. I have also had a special book about Socotra published in Britain. I am currently working on a new book which, God willing, I will finish very soon.

What about the archeological discoveries made by the Russian mission in the area around Bir Ali? Why haven't they been officially announced, and why is there a media blackout surrounding this? Could it be because the mission discovered a big Jewish temple?

The issue is tactical but has nothing to do with fear. We don't have any concerns over whether this temple belongs to the Christian, Jewish or Buddhist religion. The temple may even date back to the pre-Islamic period. There is an agreement between the Russians and the Yemeni Archeological Authority, which is responsible for the media coverage. We prefer not to say much about new discoveries, as this is a joint matter between the Yemeni and Russian mission. Nothing is announced without the agreement of the Antiquity Authority. You can call Mr. Ba Wazeer who is in charge of the authority. We usually don't talk about the Russian discoveries or activities, particularly if the mission is jointly conducted.

As a veteran of many past conferences concerning the dialog of civilizations, what is the difference between the dialog of civilizations suggested by Iranians, and the initiative of civilization alliance that Spain recently proposed?

The difference is simple, as the idea is more developed. That is, it is not just a dialog between countries but, rather, between civilizations. It is a question of fate and civilization and the idea that Spain and Turkey suggested is an idea of alliance. We meet and discuss issues of the international community and many other issues to contribute to peace and stability between religions, majorities and minorities, and between countries as well as between the different generations. Therefore, the idea was translated into four main texts. For example, we demanded in our report to amend the education curriculum. This is an important step so that there will be no initiatives that may propagate hostility among peoples and nations, as well as between religions. Education is important, as new generations can be educated in a way that is free from bias and prejudice.

The youth of today should be taught to renounce hatred between nations. It is at this point that the media plays a role. We know how mass media can be used for vicious purposes, against humans in general, or against the interests of a given nation.

What did you achieve with at the Spanish conference concerning the dialog of civilizations?

The conference was held last January. We proposed various projects, and the representative of the UN Secretary General, who is also the ex-president of Portugal, is in charge of implementing these. There are also clear missions in the field of education, youth, and cooperation between international mass media. Other governments, including that of Qatar, are funding some projects on the international level. This is just a start, as no one project can fix everything, but in the end these dialogs serve the interests of the people of the world.

Concerning this dialog of civilizations, is it conducted between religions to solve the disagreements that result from differing ideologies? Do interests deepen the gap between religions?

In my opinion, the main source of disagreement is politics. For example, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine is clearly a result of political interests. However, there is a dire need for dialog between religious groups. For example, Russia proposed the establishment of a consultative council for international religions, under the umbrella of the UN, to help maintain the dialog between different religious groups. The council can be in Russia or in any other country.

What is Russia's role in this?

Russia plays an active role in the UN, the Security Council, international organizations, the Organization of Security and European Cooperation, and in many other organizations including the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), as there are more than 20 million Muslims in the country. In addition, the alliance of civilizations is one of the international projects that will work to benefit all humanity.

What about the problem of piracy off the Yemeni and Somali coasts? Do you think that the introduction of international maritime forces will solve the problem, or can a solution be found through the existence of a strong and stable Somali state?

I wish that we would help Somalia to reach stability. But how can this happen amid the myriad internal crises? You cannot impose your own opinion on other people. Why doesn't Saudi Arabia, which is the second largest country after Russia in oil exportation, contribute in establishing an ally country in Somalia? Why don't the other Arab countries play this role? Why doesn't the African Union play an active role toward creating a strong and stable Somali state?

First and foremost, Yemen sovereignty should be respected and all countries that exist near the Yemeni coast should recognize this. Yemen cannot accept any of the demands of the great countries which dominate the Red Sea. I believe that there should be dialog before accepting any resolution from the UN or more powerful countries.

The Russia Today satellite channel broadcasts in the Arabic language, often with you as a guest; what is the main aim of this channel?

The aim of the channel is to create rapprochement between the Russian and Arab cultures. The aim is also to make Arabs acquainted with what is going on in Russia in a transparent way.

The channel recently broadcast a film about Yemen. It was out-dated. Aren't there are other films?

I had an idea to form a team of three photographers and a producer to make a film about Socotra, and about the work of the Russian mission there, but the mission arrived late due to technical reasons. We will carry out this project next year.

How do you evaluate the economic and commercial cooperation between Yemen and Russia?

Economic cooperation is weak and I think that the two governments should improve this cooperation in the interests of both nations. There has been some consultation between experts from the two countries with regard to the possibility of cooperation in the field of energy, electricity, oil, gas, aviation, and agriculture, as well as other projects that would benefit Yemen.