The Turkish PM and the Old City of Sana’aThe humanitarian touch was very evident [Archives:2005/890/Opinion]

October 31 2005

The visit of His Excellency Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Sister Country Turkey to Yemen was highlighted not by the greeting and farewell ceremonies, or the official talks behind open or closed doors or by the splendid meals Mr. Erdogan was graciously hosted to. For the residents of the Old City of Sana'a, the major event of the Turkish PM's 24 hours visit was his tour of the Old City of Sana'a. The tour was moved ahead of schedule at the request of the visiting Prime Minister to the evening of the 26th of October rather than the morning of the 27th of October, as originally scheduled. This was to make it easier for the guests to meet the tight schedule of meetings that was set for the latter day and to enable Mr. Erdogan to spend more time in the Old City than had been originally scheduled. Furthermore, it was indeed more sensible for the tour of the city to be conducted in the Evening, when the Old Souk of the City was humming at its height of activities and crowded with the people of the Old City and the surrounding countryside buying their traditional Eid Al-Fitr clothing and sweets. In addition the tour took place after having broken the fast already for the day, so the guest of the City and his companions can harness the energy needed for the intended long tour Mr. Erdogan had planned to take in the city.

Mr. Erdogan savored the Old City in every way he could taking the maximum tour that anyone can make in the space of four or five hours, all on foot and all without the least fear or hang-up about converging with the general crowd in the Old Souk and the surrounding streets of the Old City. The people of the Old City were finally given a flair of a leading visiting dignitary milling about the streets of Sana'a in their midst and this is a sight they haven't seen from their own leaders in quite some time. They have been used to so much fuss about security in the past whenever a leading official – local or foreign – took a tour of their traditional narrow and winding lanes. For sure, this created a lasting impression on the people of Sana'a. On the other hand Mr. Erdogan was adamant to go out of his way and meet and talk to the people (he spoke fluent Arabic) as he fast paced around the Old Souk area and made sure that he got more than just a simple tour of the architectural landmarks of Ottoman splendor that Sana'a abounds with, including the impressive Citadel, the magnificent Bakiriyah Mosque, the Al-Zumur Neighborhood, the Military Barracks of South Sana'a, etc. His mingling and talking with the general population of the Souk area included a visit to a house randomly chosen by the Turkish MP and congenially talking to its residents, going into some of the typically small retail outlets that sold traditional Ramadhan sweets and making sure to pass around samplings to all his entourage and Yemeni accompaniments. Mr. Erdogan also displayed a keen sense of deciphering information from the people he met and it is for certain, that he must have felt the expressions of neglect conveyed by some of the residents, especially among the poor and the handicapped. In a moving scene, the observer was bound not to overlook, the humanitarian concerns and warmth of the Turkish PM were evident, when he went straight to a handicapped paralyzed beggar in one of the streets and talked at length with him asking about the background of his affliction and what has been done by the Government or the society to aid him. He apparently saw a possibility of having the cause of his handicap remedied and ordered that the person be sent to Turkey at his (or the Turkish Government's expense). He had hoped to take him along with him, but unfortunately our authorities couldn't get their act together to prepare the formal papers for his travel to Turkey. There were other fine and human moments that the people of Sana'a will remember for a long time to come and indeed Mr. Erdogan truly reflected the strong feeling of attachment to the Yemeni people, who once were under the Ottoman Sultan's or Caliph's banner, for a significant period in their modern history. Perhaps Mr. Erdogan remembered well that the Yemenis, despite their strong resistance to Turkish occupation, were not foolish enough to side with the Western Allies during World War I, despite the latters' strong and tempting offers and promises of grandeur, which some of the other Arab leaders at the time were offered by the Allies, but which never saw the light of day. The Yemenis at the time could not find prudent logic in siding with non-Moslems against Moslem brothers. The people of Old Sana'a were glad to see that the Turkish people were blessed with such fine displays of warmth in leadership and Mr. Erdogan will leave them with their prayers extended from the bottom of their heart on this blessed Month of Ramadhan. The Yemeni people will certainly wish him (and invite him to) many happy returns (to his other hometown, Sana'a of course).