Yemen’s 20th Century Wars [Archives:1998/34/Law & Diplomacy]

August 24 1998

Dr. Salah Haddash,
Managing Editor, YT.
War is a state of extended violence launched by one or more states on another. Many people have suffered worldwide from wars. Fortunately, humanity has reached many agreements and treaties in order to avoid wars and minimize their damage.
The 20th century has been especially hard as it witnessed two global wars and many many local and regional conflicts. We in Yemen have had our fair share.
There have been too many violent events which have taken place on Yemen’s territory – both North & South. This article will highlight some of the major events.
1) Imam & the Ottomans:
The second Ottoman domination of the northern part of Yemen extended between 1872 and 1918. There were many revolts and wars against the Turks.
Yahya, who was chosen as Imam in 1905, had led a war against the Ottomans since 1904. He continued until 1910 with the signing the Da’an Treaty in 1911.
2) First World War
The First World War had an impact on Yemeni since the Ottomans, who were in the north, fought the British in the south. Their forces advanced right down to Lahaj when the armistice was signed.
3) Imam & the British :
The northern part of Yemen (the Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen) gained its independence in 1919. Imam Yahya, the ruler of this kingdom, began to expand his authority over the different parts of Yemeni tribes and their territories. The main motive of his expansion was to re-establish a great kingdom on the territory known since ancient times as “Yemen”.
Military clashes took place between the Imam’s army and the British forces on the border, which was demarcated by the Ottoman (north) and the British (south). This war was terminated by signing a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1934.
4) Second World War
Italian war planes bombarded British positions in South Yemen, particularly in and around Aden. Many civilian Yemenis died or were injured.
5) Imam & Saudi Arabia:
King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia was out to create a great kingdom of his own. His expansions came in conflict with Imam Yahia. A war broke out between Yemen and Saudi Arabia over a dispute on the territories of Asir, Najran and Jaizan. This was terminated in 1934 by signing the Treaty of Tayif, which is supposed to be renewable every 20 hijri years.
6) Imam and The British (Shabwa, Al-Baidah, Harib):
For the second time, the Yemeni Imam and the British fought a war on the border. This was because the border line which separated north and south Yemen was not clearly demarcated in the 1934 treaty. The second reason was oil. This dispute was resolved by the London Conference of 1951.
7) Republicans vs. Royalists (1962-1970):
On 26 September 1962, a group of Yemeni army officers called the “Yemeni Free Officers” took power in North Yemen. They abolished the monarchy and proclaimed a republic. This event led to a war between Yemeni Republicans, supported by Egypt, and the Royalists who were supported by Saudi Arabia. This war started in 1962. A national reconciliation terminated it in 1970.
8) War of Liberation (1963-1967):
The National Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (NFLOSY) started a war of independence. It fought British colonial rule. This guerrilla war started on 14th October 1963, and continued until 30 November 1967 when South Yemen became independent, and a new state was established.
Another organization – Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSY) – was established in 1964 and waged war against the British.
9) South Yemen & Saudi Arabia (1968):
In 1968, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fought a war on a border dispute. This area, called Wadia’a, was occupied by Saudi Arabia.
South Yemen lost the war because it gained independence only a year earlier, on 30 November 1967. There were also internal disputes among different political groups such as the Front for Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSY) and the traditional political forces such as the Federation of South Arabia, supported by Saudi Arabia. All these factors led to the defeat of South Yemen in defending the region of Wadia’a.
10) South Yemen & Oman:
The National Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (NFLOSY) and the Popular Front for the liberation of Oman (PFLO) espoused to the same ideology, the Movement of the Arab Nationalists. They were supporting each other for ideological reasons.
When the NFLOSY took power in South Yemen and became the ruling political party, it started supporting the guerrillas led by the PFLO, which operated in the mountains of Dhofar, a border region in Oman. This situation led to a direct clash between the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and Oman. The latter was supported by the British, then by Iran.
11) North & South (1972):
In 1972, a war broke out between the two independent Yemeni states. In this war North Yemen occupied the Island of Kamaran in the Red Sea, which had been under British rule and was transferred to South Yemen.
This war was terminated by signing a treaty, under the auspices of the Arab League, to achieve Yemeni unity.
12) North & South (1979):
A second war between the two Yemeni states broke out in 1979. This war was terminated by signing an agreement between the two states in Kuwait, stipulating follow-up for achieving Yemeni Unity.
13) Saudi Arabia & Unified Yemen:
The Tayif Treaty of 1934 between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, stipulated renewal every 20 years. However, the two neighbors failed to achieve that.
Military clashes and border skirmishes between the two countries never stopped, especially since the achievement of the Yemeni unity on 22 May, 1990. The dispute between the two countries concerning their common border is still not completely resolved.
14) Eritrea & Yemen (1995):
In 1995, Eritrea occupied the Greater Hunaish Island, leading to limited military clashes between the two countries. The reason for this conflict was that both parties were claiming sovereignty over the island.
Fortunately, they reached an agreement to solve this dispute through international arbitration, which will announce its decision later this year.
Yemen suffered from several wars during the 20th century – a war every seven years. Most of these wars were terminated by signing an agreement. Who won or lost in those wars is no longer a relevant question. The important thing is that peace must be seen as important enough to warrant tolerance and negotiations.
Most of the wars and conflicts were caused by border disputes. Fortunately, Yemen can only as many neighbors. With Oman, the border has been finalized; with Eritrea, arbitration has been agreed upon, and talks with Saudi Arabia continue. Therefore, it is now possible Yemen will not need to suffer from another border war in the future.
Yet, some of Yemen’s wars – even some vicious ones – have been civil wars. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that this will not happen again.
The democratic system and the acceptance of the concept of peaceful transfer of authority will help. Provided, of course, we learn how to play the game in earnest, and not as a show.
It is my sincere hope that Yemenis will recognize that we have had our fair share of wars.