Cemeteries in Yemen are now competing with amusement parks for public attention on the day of Eidul Fitr, Anadolu has reported. The size of the cemeteries has increased dramatically over the past two years of escalating conflict, with dozens of new burial sites created to cater for the victims of the war and accompanying hunger, malnutrition and disease, most recently cholera.
Special graves for war victims have been built by those with whom their loyalties lay; many groups now have their own “martyrs’ cemeteries” quite apart from the well-known graveyard of the same name in the capital Sana’a. That is where heroes of the Yemeni revolution, senior politicians and military leaders are buried to honour their contributions.
It is traditional in Muslim communities to visit the cemetery on the days of Eid. The past two days has seen a steady flow of the families of the casualties of this increasingly bitter war go to the graves and read the Qur’an over their loved ones.
Although the Houthi rebels have not revealed how many of their people have been killed, there are plenty of new graves in Al-Jaraf neighbourhood in northern Sana’a and other cemeteries in areas under their influence and control. Said Abdul Qawi lives next to a Houthi cemetery in Sana’a; he told Anadolu that it turned into a sort of public park on Sunday, with a huge number of male visitors, followed by visits by women and children on Monday.
While the Houthis put frames over the tombs containing the name and photo of the dead person, along with the circumstances of his or her death, the graves of soldiers in areas under the control of the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi do not.
According to the World Health Organisation, the city of Taiz in central Yemen has one of the highest death tolls due to the war. The city registered 1,560 deaths up to the end of 2016. The martyrs’ cemetery there is built on a farm in Osifra and received a lot of visitors over Eid.
Ahmed Al-Makhlafi’s sister was killed by a Houthi artillery attack on the residential neighbourhood of Osifra. “This is the first time that I have visited this cemetery during the Eid holiday since my sister was martyred earlier this year, but I feel as if I am participating in a public event,” he told Anadolu. “I stayed for half an hour reciting the Qur’an and spraying water over the grave but I ran into dozens of people from my neighbourhood and from near neighbourhoods, as well as friends, all of whom came to visit their deceased relatives.” Going to the cemetery, he added, has turned into a social gathering on Eid. He explained that he was heartbroken to see so many children there crying at the graves of their parents who have been killed during the war.
According to the residents of Taiz, the cemetery is expanding and taking more of their agricultural land due to the Houthi bombing of their city. The siege imposed on the city prevents many people from rural areas being able to visit their relatives’ graves.
The precise number of war victims in Yemen is unknown. According to the WHO, the number registered by health centres since 26 March 2015 – the date when the Arab coalition started to bomb the country in support of the Hadi government forces – suggests that the figure is more than 8,000. This does not identify the percentage of civilian and military personnel due to the refusal by conflicting parties to reveal the real number of casualties within their ranks.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced recently that there have been 5,000 civilian victims of the war in Yemen since the coalition intervention. However, according to the Hadi government, which has been documenting deaths since the Houthi invasion of Sana’a on 21 September 2014, up to the beginning of this month, 11,125 people have been killed, including 1,080 children and 684 women.