A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Yemen’ Category

maps and mortality.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 30, 2009

Excuse me, but there’s something wrong with your map, I was told the other day.

Well, first of all: it wasn’t my map. I was speaking about the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s with a group of students, and had “borrowed” the 1976 map accessible via the University of Texas at Austin’s Perry Castaneda online map collection – a tremendous resource for any map nerd.

This is the map I was using (and yes, I fully credited UT Austin):

middle_east_pol_1976Back to my corrector.

What do you see that looks wrong? I asked, thinking: he must have seen the “U.S.S.R.” and missed the whole “The Middle East in 1976” caption. Annoying, but at least an easier question to address than, for example, What’s that diamond-shaped “Neutral Zone” between Iraq and Saudi Arabia? which to be quite frank is a mystery to me as well.

But my questioner wasn’t vexed by the lingering presence of godless Communism. Nor was he troubled by small diamonds, neutral or otherwise.

This map shows two Yemens, my corrector said.

There were two Yemens, I said, but they have been united since 1990.

There were two Yemens? another student asked. Really? asked a third.

A roomful of eyes looked at me, shocked. And I looked back.

I should have been happy that at least they all knew of Yemen, and could find it on a map. Instead, I just felt that it was time to stock up on a more powerful anti-wrinkle cream.


Oscar Williamson, at Queen Mary University of London, wrote in with a much-appreciated explanation of the map’s little diamond:

The diamond was the Iraq – Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone. Historically the main political unit in the area was based on tribe, rather than territory. Since the tribes moved about, fixed borders were impractical. However, the British really liked maps and in 1922 insisted that Ibn Saud define his northern border. He didn’t want casual inter tribe conflict to be interpreted as acts of war, so the Neutral Zone was created, with enough cartographical significance to satisfy the British and the practical irrelevance to prevent the unnecessary formalities of interstate wars over tribal slights.

In 1981 Saudi and Iraq signed a treaty to divide the NZ between them, but the legality of this treaty is debatable. Treaties have to be lodged at a public depository, such as the United Nations Secretary General, but neither party did this, or indeed informed anyone of this change to their territories. The NZ officially ceased to exist when Saudi Arabia deposited this and other treaties with the UN in 1991, partly to stop CNN referring to bits of KSA as Iraq.

Fascinating. And who knew that we would have CNN to thank for clearing up a messy little border issue?


Posted in Arab world, maps, research, Texas, time, Yemen | 7 Comments »

more weed(s) of the Bekaa: the view from Yemen

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 21, 2008

I’ve written two earlier posts on the Bekaa and its reputation for cannabis growing: weed(s) of the Bekaa, parts one and two. But this one comes from Yemen – Alfred Hackensburger’s “Drug Dealing in Lebanon: At Home with a Drug Baron“, published in the Yemen Times.

Mr. Hackensburger evidently spent time in the Bekaa, enjoying the hospitality and sweet tea of one of the region’s “drug lords”. I would call them “farmers looking for a high-value crop in difficult economic circumstances”, but maybe there are some Lebanese Pablo Escobars.

Here’s how Hackensburger describes the Bekaa:

The Beqaa Valley, a plateau that lies 1,000 metres above sea level, is an extraterritorial zone. The authorities have virtually no control here. Once off the main road, there are only tracks and no signposts to guide the traveller. Soldiers sit motionless in their posts and don’t even bother to turn their heads to look at passing cars.

Well, that’s not inaccurate, although I’m not sure that the authorities have much control over my neighborhood either. The darak (soldiers) I pass seem much more interested in goofing off with one another than attending their posts. As for signs, there are many signs in Beirut, but aside from the major ring roads, they provide little useful information.

Those who don’t know their way around could easily drive for hours without encountering a house or a human. It’s a remote region, the back of beyond. The only settlements are small hamlets with two or three houses where the man of the house generally greets visitors by asking them how much heroin, cocaine, or crack they want loaded into the boots of their cars.

Again, not necessarily inaccurate – the rebar bride and groom were in the Bekaa last week, and they described their own driving-while-lost adventures as “an inadvertent tour of the entire region”. But while I’ve heard of many people, men and women, Lebanese and foreign, stopping to ask for directions, I have never heard of them being offered drugs for sale.

Everyday life here is dominated by the industrial production of and trade in drugs. It is not only the young who take drugs around here; housewives, mothers, and grandfathers are free to snort cocaine and smoke heroin or crack if they so choose.

What? Housewives doing heroin? Young mothers on crack? Grandfathers freebasing cocaine?

This isn’t the Bekaa – it sounds like an anti-drug campaign in Detroit. I can’t imagine where Mr. Hackensburger got his information, but the Bekaa is hardly a haven for hard drug abusers.

Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, media, words, Yemen | 2 Comments »