By: Luke Somers
Despite an absence of foreign reporters and international media coverage in Aden, Southern Movement followers continue to hold public meetings and stage weekly marches in the southern port city. While high-ranking southern separatist leaders continue to receive headlines, a recent walk through Aden’s Crater district provided strong evidence that the movement’s strength continues to emanate from the street level.
Southern Movement flags – pale blue and blood red paint on white walls and the sides of houses – can be seen throughout Aden. Some are crudely drawn while others are picture perfect; yet all are recognizable for what they are, and whether they’re accompanied by writing or not, all strongly convey the message of a city desiring secession from the north.
Late afternoon in Aden’s Crater District witnessed a blending of organization and passion as Southern Movement followers young and old – some bearing flags, most sitting cross-legged on the ground, with almost all wearing beads of sweat on their foreheads – listened attentively to a panel of speakers.
At the close of the meeting – and before a jubilant march crammed its way through Crater’s narrow streets – the words of those ‘Heraki’ in attendance were at times predictable and, at others, emotionally stirring.
One middle-aged woman, hardly raising her voice amidst the noise of a small crowd, said, “The price for my son’s blood is independence and freedom for Southern Arabia.”
Her son, Nasser Al-Bakshi, a 19-year-old student, had been killed on July 2, 2011 by army soldiers. According to Nasser’s mother, he had been murdered “by occupying military forces just because he was a youth with Herak [the Southern Movement].”
She spoke of “occupying military forces,” who, like herself and her now-deceased son, were Yemeni. Just the day before, with little prompting, youths at Aden’s battered and beaten Southern Movement headquarters formed the number ‘14’ in recognition of a national day which is celebrated by both southerners and northerners – in this case, to commemorate the eviction of a truly ‘foreign’ occupying force, the British, in the year 1969.
Yemen’s current president, having been born and raised in nearby Abyan but now sitting atop the government ranks in Sana’a, can provoke mixed reactions even among Southern Movement followers. A woman who identified herself as ‘Amal Jokur’ said, “We believe in his excellency Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, because he’s one of the southern people. When he decides to return to Southern Arabia and to his people, he will be very welcome.”
Just a short time earlier, though, when asked about Hadi and what he could do to appease southerners, a man named Hamza said, “No, I don’t think the president can do anything; it’s too late.”
A lack of commonality with northerners is not only visible in Adenis’ clothing, mannerisms and manner of speech: it’s explicit in many people’s words, and especially so in those who stand before the Southern Movement flag – which, not coincidentally, is the same flag which flapped above the independent People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen before national unity was declared in 1990.
Her voice leveled out at a constant high pitch, Amal Jokur said, “We have a history, we had a chair at the United Nations, we had a state charter. And now, we are nothing. We are missing our own identity.”
Hamza said, “Our unity came in 1990. But it came without any benefit for us. The northern people want unity, but what about the southern people, who want democracy?”
At a recent large gathering of followers, Southern Movement leader Hassan Baoum said, “We assure you that we are with the south and will continue with the struggle to regain it. This is a revolution until victory.”
On this 14th of October national day, after almost two years of country-wide revolution and/or turbulence – and with a national dialogue conference set to pit diametrically-opposed parties and factions across from each other in a ‘dialogue’ – many in Yemen’s Southern Movement have at least convinced themselves that nothing short of complete separation will suffice.
The gatherings, marches and sometimes enormous Southern Movement crowds raise key questions not just about boundaries, identity and pride – but also about what follows exhaustion when one is fuelled by determination. Yet if the struggles of individual, ordinary citizens in both the north and south are taken into account, there’s no doubt that the question itself is, at this point, 100 percent Yemeni.