Recently, the University of Oklahoma hosted a member of Amnesty International who gave a lecture on the Rohingya and the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Everyone has heard the news mention the Rohingya population, but I did not know all of the details and I wanted to learn more about the situation. This lecture seemed like a good place to start.
The lecture began with an in-depth look at the crisis, highlighting specific individuals and the horrific events they experienced. The speaker hoped to humanize the situation and give the audience an appreciation of the human costs of the crisis. While I knew that the Myanmar military was burning Rohingya villages and driving them out, I did not know that they were then clearing what remained of the villages and building on top of them. The structures varied, but many seemed to be either new military outposts, villages for different ethnic groups, or secure “villages” that the Rohingya might be forced into.
The lecture also informed me of the history of the Rohingya crisis, which did not begin as recently as I had thought. The conflict truly began in 1982, when the government passed a law that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and gave them a “half citizenship,” where they could not move around the country without a government-issued identification card. This eventually led to apartheid, where everything from schooling to medical treatment was segregated. The truly horrific acts began taking place when the general public began supporting the military in 2012. Since the worst of the violence in August 2017, over 671,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, meaning that over 80 percent of the Rohingya population have been driven out of their homes. While the infamous village burnings have largely stopped, the Myanmar army turned to forcibly starving the remaining population in the hopes of driving them out. This is mainly done by restricting the Rohingya’s access to rice, burning markets, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Rohingya.
The Rohingya are still living in a nightmare, and this lecture helped explain the issue, its history, and its what is currently happening. You can learning more from Amnesty International by clicking HERE and you can donate to the Rohingya refugees through the UN by clicking HERE.
Despite having taken multiple classes dealing with the Middle East, none of them have covered Yemen. I have been to a lecture or two on Yemen before, so I know some general things about the country and its civil war, but nothing in-depth. Professor Bahran, however, provided an easy to follow, concise look into the conflict. I appreciated how he started with Yemen’s history and tied its regionalism into the current war. As an outsider, I assumed the civil war was largely sectarian, since the Houthis have a religious bend. This lecture, though, introduced me to the regional divisions in the country. The North has traditionally held power while the South was relatively subjugated. When the previous Vice President Hadi was elected to the Presidency and the Houthis staged their coup, the country split between the North (relatively tribal groups who back the Houthis) and the South (more urban societies who support Hadi). However, the thing that I really took away from Professor Bahran’s lecture was the hopelessness of the situation. He continuously emphasized that the victims were the Yemeni people in general and, from what I have heard of the subject, it seems like everyone in Yemen has been affected in some way. He did a good job of explaining why the conflict was hopeless, though—both sides have substantial levels of corruption and, in some cases, there is overlap between them; warlords have tried to prolong the conflict to get richer; and the international community has no real stake in the country. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Professor Bahran’s analysis of the situation that the conflict will not end any time soon. From his lecture and the ones I have been to previously, it seems as though the world has forgotten about Yemen and is content to let it suffer on its own.
A few days ago I was able to attend a talk by Dr. Waleed E. Mahdi and hosted by Dr. Joshua Landis that focused on Yemen and its ongoing civil war. Dr. Mahdi’s discussion began with a general overview of the conflict: its external and internal causes, the main players, and some of the cities that were in the crosshairs. Before this discussion, I personally did not know much about Yemen or its civil war. Most of the American media chooses instead to focus on Syria, and only really mentions Yemen when something really big happens—like Saudi Arabia accidentally bombing a funeral. So my knowledge on the subject was minimal at best, and his general introduction did a great job of filling in all the missing information. Basically, Yemen’s government started going downhill, fast. The Houthis, a fundamentalist group (one of their motto lines is “Death to America”) and the former president, began to consolidate power in the north, and slowly took over important cities, like Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The important thing to note though, is that the Houthis are Shi’a, which explains why Iran decided to get involved in the conflict and support them. And when Iran is involved, Saudi Arabia invariably join in, too. So now the civil war has turned into another proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the Yemen people caught in the middle.
After this brief overview, Dr. Mahdi allowed the audience to ask questions. One of the most important, in my opinion, was a question about the humanitarian crisis that the conflict has ultimately caused. The statistics Dr. Mahdi pulled out were horrifying. Over three million people were internally displaced. Approximately 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. People are starving. Most of Yemen’s food security is imported and, in the middle of a civil war, that food is not able to get to the people who need it. A lot of it cannot even get into the country!
Over all, this talk opened my eyes to the conflict in Yemen. I had no idea how horrible things truly were in their civil war. In light of this, I really wish the media would cover it more, so that more aid can be given to the country. At the end of the day, it does not really matter who is fighting who, but that there are real people involved and they are paying the real cost.