Protests in South Yemen (Getty)

Yemen Unity: A Dream Turned into a Nightmare


Thu, 07-07-2022 03:23 PM, Aden

Ali Mahmood (South24)

In the seventies and the late eighties unity for People of South Yemen was such a dream. People across South were extremely enthusiastic at the prospect of having a single unified powerful state within the growing Arab World. 

Inspired by the Arab Nationalism Movement, some political leaders in the socialist regime which was ruling South after the departure of Britain which occupied South from 1839-1968 pushed towards a full merger with the autocratic regime which was ruling North Yemen after the removal of the imamates rule in 1978. 

On May 22, 1990, a unification treaty was signed between the two states. Two years after the unity, concerns in South surfaced as the totalitarian regime of North Yemen started orchestrating a plot to eliminate its Southern partner.
The story

Two years after signing the unification treaty between the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen which was ruling South Yemen (PDRY) and the Arab Republic of Yemen (YAR), political tensions between Sanaa and Aden surfaced almost from the very beginning. The Northern regime of Saleh carried out a series of systematic assassinations targeted cadres of the Southern state. A 156 Southern leaders were systematically assassinated between 1990-1993 by Jihadis affiliated with Saleh's security services. The Southern leaders who were assassinated included intellectuals, politicians and military and security commanders, among them was Cap. Majid Murshed the nephew of the Southern President Ali Salem Al Beidh. Later, the Northern regime continued its plot against the Southern partner. In 27April 1994, military troops of Saleh started tightening the noose around posts where the Southern troops, which were transferred from Aden after the merger, were redeployed in North Yemen. The First Armored Division, a Northern military unit deployed in Ammran governorate North Yemen, started imposing a strict siege around the Southern 3rd Armored brigade, a southern military unit which was transferred from Aden to be redeployed in Ammran governorate just after the unity. Clashes fiercely erupted between the two military units, and instead of addressing the problems behind igniting the clashes in Ammran governorate, the Northern regime, chaired by the Yemeni slain president Ali Abdullah Saleh, formed a Northern Coalition composed of his party, the General People's Conference party, (GPC), The military arm of the Islah party (The Muslim Brotherhood Group in Yemen) represented by the Mujahidin who returned from Afghanistan between 1989-1990 after concluding their participation in the fight against the Soviet union, in addition to tribal fighters from the far north. The Northern Coalition announced an aggressive war against the Southern partners in the Summer of 1994. The war resulted in a full invasion for South by force.
Why do people of South Yemen reject the unity with North? 

After the aggressive war of 1994, the regime of North Yemen ruled South by iron fist. Southerners in their homeland were treated as "strangers" or "refugees". Over 100,000 Southern civil servants and military officers, were sacked from their positions in the state institutions and replaced by northerners, among the southerners who were sent home by Sanaa's regime pilots, highly qualified engineers, high-ranking military commanders, some of them resorted to working in groceries, or as taxi drivers while some others fared even worse. 

Recognizing the right of the people of South Yemen in self-determination remains a major step towards ending the conflict in Yemen
"We conceded our state with all its resources and institutions and agreed to the unity with North Yemen for the sake of unity and nationalism, but we were betrayed and stabbed in our back" Ahmed Al Rabizi a senior official in the STC says to South24. 

"Northerners killed the dream of unity while it was still in its cradle" Mr. Al Rabizi said  

"They turned it into a complete occupation by forces when they led their militia to invade South in April 1994" he added. 

"We gave them everything from South and they gave us death and deprivation in return" says Mr. Al Rabizi who was abducted by Saleh's regime later in 2009 and prisoned in Sanaa where he was tortured and mistreated.

A dream turned into a nightmare 

Over the following decade after the bloody war of 1994, the situation in South Yemen worsened, the Sanaa's regime relied on patronage and nepotistic distribution of assets and economic resources in South to ensure that power and wealth remained under its control along with his Northern allies who helped invade South in 1994. After taking control over Aden, the capital of South in July 1994, Saleh and his allies wreaked havoc in the Southern territory. They stormed the and looted the government institutions and the civilians' residences in the Southern cities, privatized the governmental resources including over 80 factories in governorates of Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramout and referred over 698,000 employees used to work in them to retirement. Furthermore, Saleh and his Northern allies worked hard to obliterate the identity of the diverse community of South through destroying the cultural heritage which dates back to over 3000 years, to do that, they imported the Islamist ideology to South through sending the folks of extremists who came back from Afghanistan in 1990 to Aden and the other governorates in South after invading the territory in July 7, 1994. They bombed and shuttered the Christian churches, the Hindu temples and prevented the non-Muslim sects from practicing their religious believes especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aden.

Early Resistance

People in South Yemen rose up against the wrong practices by the Northern coalition. Armed groups started a charm struggle against the arsenal of the Northern regime in South. In 1995 Colonel Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the president of the STC recently, came back from exile and established The Movement for the Right of Self-Determination "Hatm". The armed movement, composed mainly of patriotic military commanders of those sacked or came back from exile after the war of 1994, started attacking posts of Saleh's forces in different Southern governorates relying on "hit and run" tactics. Later, some other groups appeared.

In 2006 the dissatisfaction of the Southerners with the worsening conditions in their territory grew up into a broader call for secession. Angry military men of those who were sacked by Saleh's regime started protesting demanding for their rights. The protests flared up across South turning into a political struggle demanding independence. 

The struggle of the people of South Yemen continued on a daily basis in both armed and peaceful patterns until the uprising of the so-called Arab spring erupted in many Arab countries in 2011 forcing the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down under pressure of the public uprising in Sanaa. 

The situation in South Yemen was different in 2011, the momentum of the Arab spring didn't change the mood of the Southerners to refrain from their ultimate goal. The Southerners carried on their peaceful struggle towards fulfilling their aspirations in restoring their state before 1990. They boycotted the elections held in February 2011 to legitimize the new president "Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi'' to whom Saleh transferred his mandates as a president. 

Despite the fact that president Hadi was hailing from South, people in South Yemen continued their struggle towards achieving their independence from the north. In February 21-22, 2012 a Southern rally took to the streets in Aden city while Hadi's regime was celebrating the first anniversary of his reign. A dozen of the Southern protesters were killed and injured. 

In 2015, the situation dramatically developed in Sanaa following the Houthi takeover of the city forcing the legitimate president Hadi to flee to Aden on February 21, 2015.
A new Northern invasion for South

The Northern Coalition which led the aggressive war against South in 1994 reproduced itself in a different form in 2015. Saleh's regime allied with the Houthi rebels and launched a new offensive to re-control South. The situation was totally different this time. People of South Yemen backed by the Arab Coalition held up the line against the Houthi-Saleh Coalition. Everybody picked up his gun and took to the fronts. First victory against the new Northern Coalition was announced on May 25, 2015, in the southern governorate of Al Dhalea by General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi the commander of the Southern Resistance evolved from Hatm Movement which he established in 1995. The other Southern governorates were liberated one by one following the liberation of Al-Dhalea.
A turning point in the Southern struggle

On May 4, 2017, the port city of Aden in South Yemen hosted a huge demonstration. Huge crowds from across South gathered in Aden where they authorized General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi in a historic declaration dubbed as (Aden Historic Declaration) to assume the administration and representation of South towards restoring the independent state before 1990. 

Based on the popular referendum stemming from the huge rally, which was held in Aden on May 4, 2017, General Al Zubaidi announced the formation of the STC on May 11, 2017. 

In 2019, the STC clashed with the Hadi's forces taking control over Aden, the interim capital of president Hadi and other governorates. Later on November 5, 2019 Saudi Arabia and the UAE brokered a power share agreement between the STC and Hadi's government. The Saudi/UAE sponsored agreement resulted in forming a new government divided between South and the North. In April 2022, president Hadi transferred power to eight-members presidential Council, four members from South and four members from the north among the Southern members was General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the president of the STC.
Determination and Resolution 

Amid the tireless efforts being exerted by the UN and the international community to end the conflict in Yemen through a comprehensive political process, recognizing the right of the people of South Yemen in self-determination remains a major step towards ending the conflict in Yemen. After three decades of struggle, people in South Yemen seem more determined to snatch up their independence from North Yemen. 

"The whole world know that South Yemen was an independent sovereign state and had its seat in the UN and the other international organizations" Mohammed Al-Amodi a Southern journalist based in Aden told South24. 

"We have the right to determine our political status and build our own independent state in line with resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the international covenant on Civil and Political rights and in line with Security Council resolutions 924-931 issued in 1994 which rejected the aggressive war launched by the Northern partner against our people in South." Al-Amodi added

Ali Mahmood 

Aden-based journalist who covers the war in Yemen via the National and other foreign media outlets

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