The Yemeni fighters looking for peace after war
Since 2015 and the beginning of the war in Yemen, many Yemenis have joined the fighting for the money, especially government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who were paid in Saudi riyals.
Some left their low-paid jobs and took part in battles in return for better wages.
While others had no work to leave and found fighting was their only choice in a time of war and economic crisis.
Now, with serious conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi and UAE-backed coalition all but suspended since April 2022, Yemeni soldiers are beginning to lay down their arms and build a life away from the battlefield.
“Nothing is worth dying for or killing other Yemenis for. There is good income from fighting, but when you think about the negative impact of fighting, you see that an entire community has been destroyed,” Ahmed*, a 36-year-old former soldier in government-held areas, told Middle East Eye.
Ahmed joined the Yemeni army in 2011. In July 2022, after visiting the children of fellow soldiers who had died in the war, he quit.
“On Eid last year, I visited the orphans of two colleagues who had been killed. I considered their children to be my own, but I thought, why were they killed? I realised that there was no reason worth dying for or for leaving our families behind,” he said.
Ahmed is not a new soldier, and he believes that soldiers should serve their country like all other public servants. But he also believes that fighting should be the last resort, only undertaken with compelling justification.
'I was fighting in the battlefields, and when I came back home, I would get into disputes with family members'
- Adnan, former fighter
“It is time for peace. At the end of the day, Yemenis are brothers. I hope the warring parties can reach a peaceful agreement. Recently, we have not seen the fierce fighting that we used to see, so this could be the beginning of the end of the war,” Ahmed said.
Today, the former soldier works on construction sites, carrying bricks, cement, and other building materials. He does not have a regular job and sometimes goes for weeks without work, but he says it is better than fighting.
“I do a hard job now: what I earn is enough only for the basics, and sometimes we don't even have the basics. But our neighbours help us,” Ahmed told MEE. “I am happy with this life because I don't feel guilty of participating in the destruction of my country.”
Now aged 41, Adnan spent years fighting with government forces, while his cousin went into battle on the other side for the Houthis.
They had been close but were torn apart by politics.
“I lost the good relationship I had with my cousin and some other family members because they have different affiliations. I was even about to lose my wife, who was against me,” Adnan told MEE.
“I was fighting on the battlefields, and when I came back home, I would get into disputes with family members who were trying to convince me not to fight. I had no rest.”
Adnan began fighting in the war in 2016, but earlier this year he left, convinced that it was better to enjoy life with his family than continue fighting and lose the people closest to him.
“Politics decides the war,” he said. "I saw Saudi Arabia was against the Houthis and then started to be not against them. I saw fighters who were with the Houthis join the government and vice versa. We fight following leaders, not knowing what will happen,” Adnan told MEE.
'The war has only brought destruction and misery, and I am ashamed to have been a part of it'
- Abdullah, former fighter
“I decided to leave the war and its nightmare behind and enjoy life with my two daughters and the rest of my family.”
Now that he has laid down his weapons, Adnan says he has been enjoying family life. Gone are the disputes and discord, as the family has agreed to not talk about fighting but rather focus on the good things in life.
"I work as a shopkeeper, and what I get from this shop is enough to provide my family with the basics. Leaving fighting forever was the best decision of my life, and I really enjoy every moment now."
But for those who have left the fighting, reflection can often bring uncomfortable feelings.
Abdullah, a 39-year-old former fighter, believes that everyone who took up arms bears some responsibility for the outcomes of the war, both good and bad.
"I joined the fighting in 2015, thinking that the war would be over in a few weeks and that6 Yemen would be better off. But the war has dragged on for years, and Yemen is only getting worse," he told MEE.
"Since 2015, I have seen nothing but the negative impact of the war. I see hungry people every day, I see destruction, I see displaced people living in squalid camps. The war has only brought destruction and misery, and I am ashamed to have been a part of it."
Abdullah said that the impact of the war forced him to stop fighting. He believes that if no one fights, the war will stop.
"Fighters are the fuel of the war, and they are joining every day. But if there are no fighters or fewer fighters, the warring parties will be forced to find a peaceful solution," he said.
Abdullah hopes that God will forgive him for his participation in the war.
He also hopes that neighbouring countries will help Yemen to recover from the damage caused by it.
"The neighbouring countries were part of the war and helped Yemenis to fight each other. Now, they should help Yemen to rebuild and heal," he said.
The United Nations estimates that 60 percent of the estimated 377,000 deaths in Yemen between 2015 and the beginning of 2022 were the result of indirect causes like food insecurity and lack of accessible health services.
Two-thirds of Yemenis - 21.6 million people - are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2023.
*Some names have been changed for security reasons.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.