Save Socotra, the sleeping beauty of Yemen [Archives:2007/1108/Culture]

December 3 2007

Wojoud Hasan Mujalli
For Yemen Times

Many international and national calls are demanding Socotra become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, Miran A. Hvala, a retired Slovenian electronics engineer and economist has done more than simply call for this; he has launched a program to promote the nomination, as well as protect the island, which drew him at first sight. Wojoud Hasan Mujalli interviews Hvala, who talks about the program and his experiences in Yemen.

Including this visit, you've been to Yemen 26 times. Why? What attracted you here?

I first visited Yemen in 1983 for work. I was–and still am–attracted by the simple life here. Because of that, I returned the following year in 1984 and made the first Slovenian and Yugoslav documentary film about Yemen called, “Sight to Yemen.”

In subsequent years, I volunteered for numerous activities to work in Yemen, the last time being from 1987 to 1997 for technical support in servicing Radio and Television Yemen's transmitter network.

When was your first visit to Socotra and how many times have you been there?

I made the first of nine visits to Socotra in 1999. At first, I wasn't allowed to access the island, but a friend of mine in the army got permission and then later that year, it was opened to tourists. I was astonished by life on the island–the amazing sights and scenes there–the general impression was different. Rare trees were on every part of the island.

A year later, I requested help from the United Nations Development Program for every possible bit of information and for local transport to film the island in order to make the first professional documentary film about Socotra. Including me, the team was only three people and filming took five days, but preparing for it took about five months. But in the end, the film was produced.

When and why did you initiate the idea of nominating Socotra for the UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Actually, I've been promoting Socotra's nomination through promotional materials such as a Socotra DVD, posters, postcards, etc., for the past six years. But this year, the idea to nominate Socotra as a UNESCO World Heritage Site struck my mind. I believe the best way to save and protect the island is for it to be declared as a part of that program.

With its beautiful sights, Socotra is the Sleeping Beauty of Yemen and one of the most unspoiled parts of the world. The island's rare and amazingly different tree varieties are simply unbelievable. Because of this, scientists consider the Socotra archipelago the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.

As the largest Arabian island in the Indian Ocean, legend has it that Socotra was where the mythical Phoenix arose from its ashes. The ancient Greeks also named the island “dioscurida” after the stars due to its unique geographical and weather conditions.

Simply, the island is unique and must be protected under the best conditions. UNESCO standards are very high and excellent. Many locals have affirmed that Socotra should be protected and saved and that it's everyone's obligation to do so.

Please explain what the promotional program is and how it works.

The promotional campaign is the first step toward winning Socotra's nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the following:

1- A Socotra DVD

2- A Socotra archipelago DVD including folk music, the idea and initiative for which was executive produced and co-produced with the Yemen Music House and currently in production.

3- A 2008 Socotra wall calendar and table calendar.

4- Socotra posters

There's a 50 percent or more probability that Y Mobilization Company will become the general sponsor to promote the calendars in most public places in Yemen, especially at schools, colleges, hospitals, in the private sector, etc. The free calendars will be distributed to promote “Save Socotra,” because promotion is the way toward the island's nomination.

Socotra really is one of the most beautiful places on earth, so everyone should contribute throughout this campaign to help save this virgin island.