Literary CornerRed Wolves of Yemen, the struggle for independence [Archives:2005/832/Culture]

April 11 2005

Hassan Al-Haifi
Author: Vitaly V. Naumkin

Publisher: Oleander Press, Cambrididge, UK

Year Published: 2004

No. of Pages: 393

This writer by chance was one of the first to have a chance to delve into this monumental historical narrative on the War for Independence of the Southern and Eastern Governorates of the Republic of Yemen. Few are the books that give a vivid picture of this important phase of the Yemeni patriotic movement, by which the area of Yemen that was under British rule from 1839 to November 1967 was liberated. Even those accounts that are written by the role players from the inside and outside of the arena, where the struggle for liberation from British rule took place for four years, will always be found to be lacking in objective portrayal of, what we Yemenis consider to be the second half of the Yemeni Revolution.

I met Dr Vitaly Naumkin in Malaysia last Summer, as we were both guests of the hospitable Malaysian Government for a period of 12 days. His strong interest in Yemen was reflected by his rush to get acquainted with this writer soon as we finished our first meeting with our other guest colleagues and our kind hosts. I was frankly amazed to listen to Vitaly talking about Yemen and the Middle East Region as though it was just behind his backyard. He knew people, places and dates and could talk for hours on particular issues or personalities that shaped the events in the region for the last four decades of the last Millennium. Indeed it would not be an exaggeration to state that Dr. Vitaly was a well groomed scholar on the Middle East in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular, especially Yemen and the War of Independence carried out by our southern brothers. The book under review was actually a present by the author to HE Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iriani, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Yemen, who is just one of hundreds of former and present important personalities and officials of both the former northern and southern sections of the country.

For sure, one can easily surmise that the author's thorough insight into the war for independence in the Southern Governorates (formerly the South Arabian Federation and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) did not just come out as a result of heavy library research and chance meetings with this official or that. Mr. Vitaly apparently did have a direct official diplomatic and maybe covert connection to the development of events and the different groups that were carrying the banner of liberation.

Having said all that, it is still a commendable masterpiece of historical narrative that Dr. Naumkin produced and aside from his direct involvement in one way or another with the events and people he describes so masterly, he has substantive references and documentary evidence backing all his vivid account of this very important period of Yemeni history.

In addition, the book gives a well researched accounting of the background of events in South Yemen from the time of the British naval attack on the Port of Aden, in 1839, then controlled by the Sultan of Lahj, up to the radical leftist takeover of the Government in Aden in1969, two years after independence, after which the southern part of the country used to house the most radical socialist oriented regime in the Arab World. The well researched account of the South under British rule is a fascinating part of the book, although admittedly more could have been discussed about the interconnection between the developments in the North and South of the country, especially in the pre Revolutionary era, and a greater role might have also been given to the Egyptians (and Northern Yemenis) for speeding up the effort.

The various transformations witnessed in the Yemeni liberation movement in the South is given in fine detail, without any ambiguity and it is clear that Mr. Naumkin understood the political and sociological ramifications of each of these transformations. Undoubtedly, the author was inclined to look with favor towards the leftist orientation of the Movement, while noting that the Nationalist orientation provided the roots that catapulted the Movement into prominence. However his description of the metamorphosis leading to the rouge status of South Yemen as an independent entity was informative and showed a clear understanding of the socio-political environment under which this metamorphosis took place.

Anyone interested in the modern history of Yemen is bound to be enlightened by reading the “Red Wolves of Yemen”, written by an outsider with more insight than most of the literature that was produced by insiders on the subject.