Three decades after unification, Yemen is more divided than ever


Tue, 25-05-2021 12:08 AM, Aden Time

30 years passed, People in South Yemen seem to be more determined to restore their independent state
Ali Mahmood (South24)

Three decades have passed since the unity of South Yemen with the state of North Yemen. The engagement between the leaders who achieved the unity on May 22 1990 did not last long. Within two years of South Yemen’s president Ali Salem Al Beidh signing the unity agreement with his northern counterpart Ali Abdullah Saleh, Northern leaders began orchestrating a dirty plot to get rid of their Southern partners.

A campaign of assassinations

In the space of five years, the North Yemen regime carried out dozens of  assassination targeting high-ranking Southern leaders.  Among the politicians and military officers who were killed was Cap. Majid Murshed, a nephew of the South Yemen president Ali Salem Al Beidh. He was killed on June 21, 1992, when North gunmen riding a Mitsubishi Galant ambushed him while he was returning home from Sana'a airport. 

In all, 156 Southerners were assassinated between 1990-1995 including security officers, military men, politicians and intellectuals. In addition, thousands of Southern civilians were killed while protesting between 2007-2014, while thousands more Southerners have died during the ongoing war in the recent Houthi war.
A new juncture

Following the assassinations carried out by North Yemen allies against South Yemen, North Yemen troops backed by North tribesmen attacked units from South army stationed in Ammran province North Yemen In April 1994. This attack sparked North coalition’s war against their Southern partner.

North Coalition was composed of the GPC, the Islah party (the Muslim Brotherhood Yemen branch), its military arm represented by the Mujahidin who returned from Afghanistan, and tribal fighters from the far north. On July 7, 1994, they invaded Aden, expelling South Yemen leaders to exile.

After the 1994 war, North regime took full control over South, carrying out a systematic plan to obliterate South’s unique identity. To do this, Sanaa's regime deliberately destroyed Southern culture and attempted to impose a Northern identity in its place.

Sana'a regime treated southerners as strangers

Socially, the Sana'a regime treated the southerners as "strangers'' or "refugees''. Following the summer war in 1994, Sana'a dismissed over 100,000 Southern officers and civil servants, replacing them with Northerners. Southern pilots, highly qualified engineers and high-ranking military commanders were sacked. Some resorted to working as taxi drivers, while others fared even worse.

“I spent 15,000 hours flying my Russian Mig-17 warplane during my service in the 1980s and after unity, I have found myself begging for my salary, this is frustrating.” Colonel Salem Saleh a Southern military pilot sacked by the Saleh's regime in 1999 told "South24".

North Yemen became an occupier to South Yemen, looting the region’s economic resources and destroying the industrial infrastructure in main cities in South Yemen. Many factories in South Yemen's provinces of Aden, Abyan, Hadramawt, Lahj were looted and deliberately closed, while others were moved to Sana'a. This left thousands of South employees jobless.
North Yemen marginalized South Yemen in other ways too. 80% of civil service jobs went to Northerners, while 90% of training opportunities were allocated to Northerners. Southerners weren't allowed to join the military or the police force, both of which were based in North Yemen.

"I spent 15,000 hours flying my Russian Mig-17 warplane during my service in the 1980s and after unity, I have found myself begging for my salary"

Economically, oil exploration profits in South Yemen lined the pockets of the Northerners. Similarly, South land and oil contracts often went to Northerners, including to Saleh's family, the tribal sheikh Abdullah Al Ahmer, and other warlords who were granted oil contracts as awards for their participation in war against South Yemen.

Unified Yemen died in May 21, 1994

On May 21, 1994, President Ali Salem Al Beidh announced a plan to secede from North and restore the independence of South Yemen.

Ever since then, southerners have been struggling to achieve a long-awaited dream of restoring its own state.

Since 1994, the struggle of the Southerners towards restoring their independent state has encountered numerous hurdles. The first resistance movement was created in 1996, when Colonel Aidrous Al Zubaidi – a Southern officer from the air defense brigade –  returned from exile in Oman and secretly established the resistant movement named "HATM" in Aden, Lahj, Al Dhalea and Hadramawt.

The armed resistance continued its secret operations in the face of overwhelming odds while Sanaa's regime was still powerful across South Yemen.

In 2007, a popular revolution in South Yemen sparked by protests organized by retired military officers who were sacked by the Sanaa's regime after invading South Yemen in 1994.

Yemeni Southern independence supporters wave flags of the former South Yemen (The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) as they demonstrate in the Khormaksar district of Yemen’s second city of Aden on August 15, 2019 (Photo by Nabil HASAN / AFP)

Protests escalated and by 2008, huge rallies were taking place in major cities across South Yemen. Hundreds of thousands of Southerners took to the streets, demanding independence once more.

Forces of North Yemen regime carried out widespread abuses against Southern protesters, killing thousands and arbitrarily detaining thousands of Southern activists and politicians. Hundreds of journalists were arrested while the offices of Southern newspapers and media outlets were raided .

In March 2015, the North Coalition consisting of the GPC, Houthis and other tribal fighters sought to renew their occupation of South Yemen. Their forces bolstered by tribal militias, invaded Lahj, Aden, Al Dhalea, Abyan and Shabwa, killing thousands of innocent people.

Southerners who have paid a large price since unity held the lines in the face of the Northern invaders, taking to the battlefield once more to write the final chapter in Yemen’s doomed story of unification.

Backed by the Arab Coalition, the Southern Resistance drove the old/new invaders out of South lands within months and announced the final end to unification.

On May 22, Southern activists launched a social media campaign using the hashtag, (#الوحده_المقبوره), which means "the buried unity", which summarizes the frustration of Southerners towards a unified Yemen.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in a speech on Friday ahead of Unity Day, said, “Yemen’s unity has been gnawed on and shattered."

"The unity of the Yemeni people ... has been and will remain the main and most important pillar of the Yemeni national identity," said Yemeni political parties, including the Islamic Islah Party, in a statement on Saturday. Also they rejected "the partition between the people of the same nation."

In contrast to the northern parties, the Yemeni Socialist Party, which previously ruled South, saw the unit as "assassinated." [1]

"It was three decades of Yemeni unity, I was a high school student at that time. Me and my classmates were over-optimistic that a wonderful future was waiting for us after signing the unification agreement with North Yemen," said Salem Bayahya, a Southerner who fled the oppression with his family after 1994.

"It didn't take long to figure out that this unity was just a slogan, rather than an actual goal to come true," Mr Bayahya told "South24".

"As time passed our shock increased. By 1994 we found ourselves the victims rather than beneficiaries of unification after a war was launched against us. We experienced all types of marginalization and deprivation," he said.

"There were no other options or feasible alternatives, only migrating. Looking for a better life is what made us travel overseas, away from our homeland which became a colony of North Yemen," said Mr Bayahya, who comes from the oil-rich province of Hadramawt. 

Glimmer of hope

For Mr Bayahya and the other southern expatriates, restoring the independence of South Yemen remains a dream and source of hope.

"We are waiting and all hope that our country will be reinstated and this the only glimmer of hope that allows us to imagine returning home to visit our loved ones," Mr Bayahya said.

Most Southerners now feel this way. A unified Yemen has long since ceased to exist.

Unity is over

For Samia, a Southern activist, unity between North and South Yemen failed because North breached the unification agreement and forcibly occupied South Yemen.

"As a Southerner I don’t believe that there is a chance for a unified Yemen at all, the definition of unity is far from what we have seen or experienced in the past 30 years, which more resembles an occupation," she told "South24".

- Ali Mahmood is  Aden-based freelance journalist who covers the war in Yemen via the National and other foreign media outlets
- Photo: (Friends of South Yemen)

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