YT Person of the Year 2003:Irena Knehtl [Archives:2004/700/Front Page]
“I feel Yemen in my blood and veins. I cannot imagine myself leaving. I will stay to build bridges between what I believe is my country, Yemen, and the rest of the world” she once told the Yemen Times when asked whether she would return to Slovenia, her home country, after spending decades in Yemen.
Irena Knehtl may have not been a celebrity in the true sense. Many officials or diplomats may not know much about her. But if you visit remote areas in Mareb, such as Serwah, go to distant villages in the governorate of Sana'a, or pass by the old traditional market of Bab Al-Yemen, you would definitely realize that she is indeed popular. She is a humble person who liked to interact with regular people directly, eat, talk, and spend good time with them.
Then she would reflect those wonderful images to the world through her writings, some of which YT had the honor to publish.
A person who builds bridges
After discussions and an exchange of ideas, Yemen Times decided to dedicate the “2003 Person of the Year” title to a person who has participated in building bridges between Yemen and the world in 2003, which was a year in which such efforts should have been appreciated. The year 2003 lacked tolerance, understanding, and appreciation among people of different countries and origins, especially as it witnessed the Iraq war, which caused substantial damage to international relations.
In evaluating and respecting such efforts, a person's nationality, religion, and fame are of little importance. We have come to realize that Irena indeed fits this category, and hence deserves the gratitude and respect of Yemenis in Yemen and abroad for her role in this respect.
“Some may complain that the selected person is not a Yemeni, others may say she is not famous enough. But as a person who knew Irena closely, I believe she deserves the title and much more.” said the Editor of Yemen Times, Walid Al-Saqqaf.
“I have seen so many people who know and love Yemen. But I have never seen a person who loved the country and never asked for anything in return. She is truly a Yemen-lover.”
“The world doesn't realize the beauty of Yemen and its people. I believe I owe this country a lot, and what I do is still too little compared to what Yemen deserves.” she said.
Irena was and continues to be a person dedicating most of her life to bridging between continents through her spectacular efforts in all fronts to introduce Yemen to the world and serve as a link between nations. She is more than an ambassador of Yemen to the world, because she wrote, and wrote a lot about the country and its people. Through her dedication to Yemen, she was able to make friends in villages that are as remote as one can imagine, yet she was never satisfied.
Irena obtained her degree in economics from Slovenia, in Business Studies from London School for Business Studies, and in International Relations and History from the University of Oslo in Norway.
She is a prominent member of Slovene Writers Association.
She lived and worked in Malta (1975-1977) on investment promotion and Mediterranean economic cooperation.
During 1996-1999, Irena served as the Honorary Consul of Malta to Slovenia.
She came to Yemen twice in 1977/1978 on an UNIDO (UN for Industrial Development) assignment for steel and foundry industries for then Yemen Arab Republic. She also joined the Industrial Bank of Yemen (1979) as economic advisor and head of research department.
She moved to the private sector and worked as a consultant on a number of investment and development projects, including commercial ventures and trade
Irena lived in Yemen through good and bad times ever since the late 1970s.
One needs not to forget that she is also the first ever foreigner to be kidnapped in Yemen in 1982.
Irena became a Muslim at a unique ceremony held in 1982 at the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Sana'a.
Thereafter, Irena studied history of Islam and its people in the Islamic Center of the Old City of Sana'a.
She lived with fellow Yemenis through all the Yemeni wars and witnessed the spectacular Yemeni unification on May 22, 1990.
Irena also won the Marathon for Slovene women writers and poets (1999 and 2000), and wrote her own book of poetry and became among the most prestigious writers for Yemen Times.
She was chosen as the “Slovene for Today”” by a prestigious Slovene magazine in 2000. As an independent researcher