On the island of Socotra, the arid landscapes, the seriousness of Yemeni youth

Posted today at 7:15 a.m., updated at 6:21 p.m.

Owad, 28 years old.  He fishes with his father in Qalansiyah Bay, in western Socotra.

Photographer Charles Thiefaine arrived on the Yemeni island of Socotra on November 14, 2021. For more than a month, the 30-year-old Frenchman shared the daily life of young inhabitants. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, this territory of 3,500 square kilometers and 60,000 inhabitants is a paradise of biodiversity, with fauna and flora unique in the world, symbolized by the presence of the dragon trees of Socotra. The tree, an emblematic species of the island, stands there its particular silhouette of an upturned parasol, the needles pointing towards the sky, from the mountain plateaus.

The island is also one of the least accessible places in the region. Blame it on the war that has ravaged Yemen since 2014, opposing government forces to Houthi Shiite rebels, the former being supported by Saudi Arabia and the latter by Iran. A conflict that has dislocated the country into a multitude of fronts and areas of influence. If, after eight years of war, Socotra, long neglected by the governments of the country, has remained on the sidelines of the violence raging on the continent and relatively preserved, it owes this in large part to the waves that surround it.

“Most Socotris never leave their island. Except to go, for some, on the continent. Where there is war. Charles Thiefaine

The sea is at the heart of Socotris life. Source of subsistence as well as frontier. But also horizon line of the interests of external powers. “The sea sustains the inhabitants, some of whom live off the products of subsistence fishing, describes the photographer, but it is also an impassable natural barrier for many of them. Most Socotris never leave their island. Except to go, for some, on the continent. Where there is war. » Some of the young people Charles Thiefaine met went the other way in search of a little seasonal work and a more peaceful life.

At the heart of geopolitical issues

The turquoise waters of Socotra also arouse envy. Located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, less than 300 kilometers from the Horn of Africa and 350 kilometers from the Yemeni coasts, the island adjoins one of the main maritime routes of the planet which commands access to the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal and the transportation of hydrocarbons to Europe and manufactured products from Asia.

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Also, the island is at the heart of all geopolitical issues. Since June 2020, it has been controlled by the separatists of the Southern Transitional Council (CTS), an independence group opposed to the reunification of the two Yemens, North and South, in 1990. They drove out the government recognized by the international community and supported by Saudi Arabia. At the maneuver, a powerful ally and protector, the other regional power of the Gulf: the United Arab Emirates, which, anxious to gain in strategic depth, also have their eyes fixed on the sea.

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