Yemeni Manuscript

(P1) Since a Saudi-led COALITION last March began its bombing against the anti-government forces now controlling much of Yemen, more than 5,800 people have been killed. Experts say the bombs have also done IRREPARABLE damage to historical sites and precious ANTIQUITIES, including ancient MANUSCRIPTS dating back to the 10th century.

(P2) Unless action is taken soon, SCHOLARS warn, Yemen’s rare collection of manuscripts may be permanently lost.

(P3) “Within these manuscripts are the collective memory of a people, a CONTINUOUS cultural tradition from the 10th century to the present. Once this memory is ERASED, an important chapter of the story of what it is to be human will no longer exist,” said David Hollenberg, director of Arabic at the University of Oregon.

(P4) The estimated 50,000 ancient handwritten books, called codices, represent the largest and most important set of unexplored Arabic-language manuscripts in the world, according to the website of Princeton University’s Yemeni Manuscript Digitization INITIATIVE (YMDI).

(P5) With the help of a grant, Hollenberg set up YMDI in the 1990s in an effort to preserve Yemen’s manuscripts using digital technology.

(P6) “The manuscripts are the CORE of the classical Islamic tradition,” said Hollenberg.

(P7) In response to the immediate threat to the manuscripts by the recent air strikes, Hollenberg launched the organization Save Yemen’s Heritage last November. The project is working with a local organization in Yemen to send badly needed digital workstations and funds to staff in the country’s capital, Sanaa.

(P8) “The machines will allow staff in Sanaa to continue their digitization work,” Hollenberg said.

(P9) But before he can send any equipment, he needs permission from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is responsible for enforcing ECONOMIC SANCTIONS against certain countries and groups. The OFAC last year IMPOSED sanctions against anti-government forces in Yemen. Americans who send funds to Yemen without OFAC permission are SUBJECT TO criminal and civil penalties.

(P10) The Yemeni manuscripts cover topics ranging from poetry, theology, and Islamic law to history, grammar, and ETIQUETTE, Hollenberg said.

(P11) Access to manuscripts in Yemen has historically been limited to the families in possession of the codices.

(P12) “They tell the story of the Yemeni people and the greater Islamic world,” he said.

(P13) Hollenberg said his team is in A RACE AGAINST TIME to preserve the texts — many of which have already been destroyed in military action, including bombings. Both the Saudi coalition and anti-government forces have faced heavy criticism for striking HERITAGE sites, the most recent being the National Museum in Taiz. The museum housed a collection of manuscripts among other antiquities.

(P14) In response to the WIDESPREAD destruction of historical sites and antiquities, UNESCO in July 2015 launched an emergency action plan to SAFEGUARD Yemen’s cultural heritage.

(P15) When the plan was announced, Yemen’s AMBASSADOR to UNESCO, Ahmed Sayyad, urged the international community to RALLY BEHIND the effort.

(P16) “Sanaa, Aden, Taiz … are all my cities and they are all your cities,” Sayyad says.

(P17) “They are the past and present for every man and woman, whatever their religion or their identity. For this reason, the work to stop the destruction and to preserve is the duty of every Yemeni, every Arab, every Muslim, and every man and woman.”

WORDS: 532



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What ancient sites and antiquities are important to your country’s identity?
  3. Why has digital technology become so important in universities and scholarship?
  4. Why is this effort to save Yemeni manuscripts a “race against time”?
  5. Why would one nation impose economic sanctions on another?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Economic sanctions
  • Subject to
  • Rally behind
  • A race against time

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