Social & Community

Taiz: From Peaceful Protest to an Armed Tribal Escalation

National Yemen

Heavy smokes goes of out private building in Taiz

–      Appointing Qaira’an as Security Director for Taiz marked the beginning            stage of clashes. 

–      The largest number of martyrs of the Yemen revolution were from Taiz.

–      Schools and hospitals were turned into military barracks.    

 For National Yemen

– By Abdulhabieb Alizzy

Photos: Osama Alizzy

With the Gulf Initiative taking shape, and the establishment of the new military committee, the military has fully withdrawn their soldiers and tanks from Taiz after 10 months of continuous violence. An eye witness informed National Yemen that the streets of Taiz have now largely been absent of military units for over four days.

Another citizen from Taiz, who did not wish to give his name, talked about his concerns of the recent fighting in which dozens of people were killed. The citizen said he was surprised that many citizens in Taiz used Klashkinovs and the amount of force that military used to shell the city. Because of this, he felt that third parties such as tribes provided much of the guns and logistics.

While details remain murky given the conflict the blanketed Taiz in the days following the GCC, one thing that can be confirmed is the damage of many neighborhoods. The streets of Taiz are scarred by shrapnel pocketed walls and shattered windows. Your correspondent was just able to slip out of harm’s way when the clashes started.

There are two main questions that need to be answered in the aftermath of the fighting in Taiz to give an idea of why it began. That is, 1) Why did these battles continue in Taiz in particular and 2) Why did the pro and anti-government fight with so much intensity here, but not in other areas?

Taiz: The Heart of the Revolution

The youth of Taiz carry themselves with pride and dignity knowing that their governorate was the first spark of the revolution that would ultimately overthrow President Saleh. In the beginning of this year on February 11th, protests began to push towards a critical mass which spun the anti-government protests into other governorates – particularly Sana’a. Many observers note that it is hardly surprising that the protests started in Taiz as it has long been seen as the center of education and culture for Yemen. It also is the birthplace of many prominent writers, artists, politicians, and prominent thinkers who have formed the modern Yemen many know today.

The Start of the Peaceful Revolution

One of the youth present at Freedom Square in Taiz informed National Yemen that the revolution was initiated as a peaceful movement. This sentiment was circulated throughout the rest of the Change Squares in other major Yemeni cities. Chanting, stickers, and banners, not guns, were the tools that protestors used to oust President Saleh and his regime. In response to the growing protest, the Minister of the Interior appointed Brigadier Abdullah Qairan, as Security Director for Taiz, to control the growing momentum of the revolution. This appointment marked the beginning of the violent clashes between government forces and peaceful protestors.

Qairan, as protestors referred to him, made arrangements to clear Freedom Square by force, as instructed by President Saleh. He was very obedient to Saleh’s demand and tried to prove his loyalty by demonstrating that he could end the revolution. On May 29th, using multiple military units, Qairan entered into Freedom Square in a forceful attempt to clear it. The crackdown was brutal and the day quickly became known as Holocaust Day.

 Taiz After the “Holocaust”

During the “Holocaust” siege, more than 58 protestors were killed while many of slept in their tents at night. Since then, Taiz never returned to the peaceful city that it once was. While Taiz had long ago rejected the tribal philosophy of violence and paved the way towards a modern society, the crimes of the government stirred the citizens of Taiz who then called for the formation of armed groups. Clashes began immediately after, and only intensified as military forces and militias brought more heavy weapons into the battle. Military forces eventually were forced to withdraw from the city.

Taiz Never Sleeps 

As a result of the fierce fighting that forced the pro-government military out of the city, the military felt that it has lost its prestige and dignity after failing to silence small armed groups. The military decided to retaliate. Soon after, the military repositioned themselves and over took the surrounding hills of Taiz in order to endlessly shell at areas occupied by armed militias. When the shelling began, many public and private buildings in Al-Rawdah, neighborhoods, hospitals and buildings of Sheikhs were immediately damaged. The shelling launched what would become the real battle of attrition between pro and anti government forces. As the fighting grinded on, the lives of citizens worsened as they lost all basic commodities and services such as water, sanitation, solid waste management, transportation, and electricity. Taiz became a city of ghosts.

During this past November, Youth announced that Taiz as a disaster zone when 16 people were killed, including 4 women, during Friday prayers at Freedom Square. No one had taken any responsibility to protect the citizens in the battle.

Programmed and Systematic Killing

Ez-Eldeen Al-Asbahi, Head of the Information and Training Center for Human Rights said the events in Taiz are simply warning flags for a descent into civil war. Taiz in particular said Al-Asbahi, suffered through a process of systematic and programmed killing happened which only will create an inescapable downward spiral. It started with a military siege and degenerated to the point where citizens were simply shelled as collective punishment for supporting the revolution.

Al-Asbahi stressed that the international community should not remain quiet on what is happening in Taiz. The city has simply become a symbol of the unprecedented aggressive military tactics utilized by the military.

Opinions of Revolutionary Youth

Abdul-Hamid Al-Yousify, an activist in the revolution, said that the events in Taiz isn’t a fight between two parties as the media described it. Instead, Al-Yousify said that it was a more complicated struggle between the Republican Guards, Qairan, Al-Awbali and Dhaban (who supported the non-stop shelling of Taiz.) Mohammed Mayoub Al-Sharabi, said Saleh harshly punished Taiz mercilessly because the city lit the first fire of the revolution and Taiz citizens were frequently found supporting other Change Squares in the country.