Yemen may not have much in common with Oregon, but there is a certain echo that the two surely want to share. Once upon a time, the hills of the Willamette Valley in Oregon were filled with echoes of rejoicing. It was a celebration of peace.
It was 1846 and word had reached the Valley that a peace settlement had been forged between the United States and Great Britain.
There was no CNN, no twitter or blogs back then, so it took months for them get the news. But what great news! A boundary dispute between Britain and the U.S. was resolved via the Oregon Treaty. What the Oregon Spectator newspaper described as “the miseries of war” were averted.
150-plus years later, far away from the hills of Oregon, others are searching for their own celebration of peace. They are children in Yemen who are right now caught up in the unrest between supporters of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh and protesters who want him to step down.
This is not the first moment of trial for Yemenis. Even before the recent unrest, this country has suffered through a violent conflict in the north between the government and rebels. There has been a seccionist movement in Southern Yemen. The Al Qaeda terrorist group has made Yemen a base. Along with conflict there is tremendous hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and a disappearing water supply.
Who suffer the most from this tragedy? Children. Last year three Yemeni children got to voice their message of hope for their embattled country. This was part of an interactive event hosted by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bashir Shalili, a boy from Yemen said, “We don’t want war. We want peace. We have the right to education.”
Hadil Mouafak provided a tragically accurate assessment of the state of many children in Yemen. The young girl said, “Education is lousy, their health is poor. When you see them you feel sad inside. We want security and happiness for all the children in Yemen. We are tired.”
Sleiman Sinan, a Yemeni boy, said, “Frankly, this is an international crisis. Whoever has a say in this matter must help bring peace and security for the sake of the children.”
UNICEF’s Mohammed Al-Asaadi recently published a story whose title, “Yemen’s Children Hold onto Dreams amid Violence,” sums up the reality for the nations’ youth.
The story profiles 17-year-old Ahmed who is trying to finish school. Ahmed says, “My friends and I should be studying and playing, without having to worry about politics or conflict.”
Children and young adults don’t get to make the decisions for a country, yet they are the ones who have to deal most with the consequences.
In Yemen the protests have already turned deadly. What happens next? An escalation of violence, or peace? Will the peacemakers, like the children we just heard from, step forward?
Back in 1846 for Oregon there were peacemakers like the veteran diplomat Albert Gallatin, who for many years championed an amicable resolution of the crisis. For Gallatin and other peacemakers knew what the costs of violence would mean. The people of Oregon were so thankful war would not visit their land.
The Oregon Spectator of that time read, “War is inimical to the prosperity of our institutions, poisonous to the very life blood of our happy republic. We have never yet come out of a war, however so glorious have been our achievements, however so victorious to us its termination, without having been retarded and thrown back in our progressive march.”
Today, Yemen can ill afford more conflict. When you look at the scope of the problems of hunger, water shortage, and poverty facing them, they cannot afford another setback from violence.
We watch news reports come in almost every hour from Yemen. Some of these show progress in peacefully resolving the standoff between protesters and President Saleh’s supporters. But then will be an episode of deadly violence. Could this disintegrate into a civil war? No one knows where this is going.
One thing we can count on are the voices for peace. We can count on the hopes of the children. They are always with us. Can they prevail today in Yemen?