The Tor-Serawit are back: Eritrea's Sovereignty is at stake

Source: Hedgait هيدقايت ሄድጋይት

The Ethiopian army committed many horrific massacres of civilian

Eritreans between 1961- 1991.

1st December 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ona massacre, where the residents of a whole village close to Keren were burned alive to death that morning. The bodies of more than 700 people, including children and women bodies, were found charcoaled. A day earlier, the Ethiopian soldiers gathered the residents of Beskdira in a mosque after the villagers refused to be separated as Muslims and Christians and massacred them. More than a hundred of them were killed that day. Thus, the Ona-Bekdira massacre that cost the lives of 1000 innocent civilians stands out as the biggest massacre in Eritrea's modern history.

Many generations of Eritreans have struggled for a century to fulfill the dream of an independent, free, and democratic country. Before Italian colonialism, the people who lived in what was later known as Eritrea resisted Turkish and Egyptian incursions. When Atse Yohannes took over in Tigray in 1871, Eritrea's highlands were autonomous regions ruled by local families. Ras Woldemikael Solomon, ruler of Hamasein from Hazega, replaced Ras Hailu Tecle Haimanot of Tsatzega, appointed by Atse Tedros. Ras Alula raided and pillaged several parts of Eritrea at different times before and after his appointment as Governor of Seraye, Hamassein, and Akle Guzai on 9th October 1876. Yet, he never succeeded in having full control of Eritrea. Ras Woldemikael, Bahta Hagos, Kifleyesus, and other Eritrean leaders resisted his presence. The Italians were able to control most parts of Eritrea peacefully as the people were fed up with Alula's incursions.

When Italy declared Eritrea as a colony in January 1890, there was also resistance to colonialism. Among those who resisted, to mention a few, were Bahta Hagos (Akle Guzai), Mohamed Nuri (Saho), and Zamat Wed Ukud (Beni Amer), whose village Ad Zamat still exists close to Mensura.

Less than a month after the British came to control Eritrea, in April 1941, Eritrean intellectuals started to engage in politics, taking advantage of the British Administration's political sphere. It is quite astonishing that Eritreans took up the challenges of multiparty democracy in a short period. Eritrean intellectuals of the time met regularly to discuss the country's future and in 1941 formed the patriotic society known as Society for the Love of the Country (PLC) (Mahber Feqri Hager Eretra in Tigrinya, or Jemiyat Hub al-Watan in Arabic).

The growing movement for emancipation across Tigrait-speaking communities during the early and mid-1940s represented a significant watershed in Eritrea's eventual push towards decolonization as activists simultaneously challenged the traditional landlord-serf (Shumagulle-Tigre/Arab) dynamic and the colonial
authorities' exploitation of such a system[2]. According to Gebre-Medhin[3], the British diminished traditional chiefs' role in the central highlands and thus altered the rural power arrangement, particularly in Hamasein and Serae, and individual districts of Akele Guzzi. Thus, according to the author, nobility, who lost power, became staunch Unionists. In Akele Guzai, one-third of whose inhabitants were Muslims and harbored the largest number of converts from the Orthodox Church to Catholicism, was least affected by the BMA's administrative rearrangements. Thus, the only highland-based party that championed independence was based in this region.

When the British Administration opened-up the political space in 1946, Eritreans soon took the opportunity to form political parties. The most important and influential of those were the Muslim League (ML), The Eritrean Liberal Progressive Party (ELPP), and the Unionist Party. Those were some of the first political parties in Africa.

During the 1940s and 1950s, prominent nationalists included Abdulgadir Kebire, Ibrahim Sultan, Idris Mohamed Adem, Ras Asberom Tessema, and Woldeab Woldemariam. The Eritrean question was internationalized and discussed in the United Nations. It was not only Eritreans failing to reach consensus on their country's future, but also external actors were unable to reach such agreement.

On 24th November 1950, the United Nations Ad Hoc Political Committee adopted a vote of thirty-eight to fourteen with eight abstentions, the fourteen-power draft resolution containing the plan to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia. Following the federal act, Eritrean parties who favored independence accepted it as a compromise, and the Independence bloc was changed to the Democratic Front to safeguard it. The federation was born lame and became easy prey for Ethiopia's expansionist desires due to superpowers' interests and intrigues.

Ethiopia started from day one to dismantle Eritrea's autonomy and democratic rights guaranteed by the Federation Act. in 1956, the federal government banned the legal Eritrean languages (Arabic and Tigrinya), and Amharic was made the official language. Freedom of the press, political parties, and trade unions were banned. Increasingly more Ethiopians took over government positions, replacing Eritreans. Journalists and independent politicians were harassed and jailed. Ethiopia soon banned the Eritrean official seals and the coat of arms and, in 1958, lowered the Eritrean flag. There were large student and worker demonstrations in Asmara and other towns opposing the move.

On 14th November 1962, Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the federation between Eritrea and Ethiopia in violation of UN Resolution 390 A(V) of 2nd December 1950. He declared Eritrea as an Ethiopian province, which cost both Eritrea and Ethiopia tens of thousands of lives and incalculable destruction and suffering.

Having exhausted all peaceful means, including appealing to the United Nations, the Eritrean people began to think about other alternatives to assert their rights. The Eritrean Liberation Movement was established on 2nd November 1958 in Port Sudan and later expanded its Eritrea presence. It was known as Harakat al-Tahrir al-Eritriya in Arabic, or short Haraka, and informally known as Mahber Shewaate in Tigrinya, about its organizational structure, mainly in Eritrean towns. The Haraka was based on forming seven-member clandestine cells. The Eritrean Liberation Front was formed in Cairo in 1960 and waged an armed struggle led by Hamid Idris Awate in 1961. After huge sacrifices, the Eritrean Peoples' Liberation culminated the armed struggle in 1991. Eritrea was freed from the Ethiopian occupation and became a member of the world community of nations in 1993, yet the struggle for a democratic country continues unabated.


[1] The term is an Amharic word for ‘armed forces’, Eritreans used the name to refer to the Ethiopian Army

[2] J. L. Venosa, “‘Serfs’, Civics, and Social Action: Islamic Identity and Grassroots Activism during Eritrea’s Tigre Emancipation Movement, 1941–1946”, Islamic Africa, 4/2 (2013), 165–93.

[3] Gebre-Medhin, Jordan, Peasants and Nationalism in Eritrea: A Critique of Ethiopian Studies (Trenton, NJ:Red Sea Press, 1989), 109-112


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