“Eritrea’s Independence was not the placing of the Eritrean flag by putting down that of Ethiopia. It was the verdict of justice against human crimes” Ghidey Ghebremichael
How many silent tear drops and heavy sighs do Eritreans undergo on daily basis whilst they relive a day in the past when loved ones were vanishing before their eyes, when out of a family of seven children,all die for Independence, when a parent doesn’t return home from work, when young men are slaughtered like animals for butcheries, when villages are one fire, cadavers everywhere, body hanged from poles?
At that point, dying while fighting, is an actual war is the greatest honor. The account of Eritrean people is mostly based on so. That is why the commemoration on June 20th, Eritrea’s National Martyr’s belongs, doesn’t belong only to the families who’ve lost beloved ones in the war for Independence but to all. There isn’t one Eritrean family that hasn’t been a victim of atrocities inflicted by colonizers. After Independence, for the call of sovereignty and nation building, many young and dear Eritrean heroes, still, fall. The pain is too great for June 20th to be just a national holiday. It is the heaviest day of the year as Eritreans officially dedicate the day to putting a little more voice to the yearlong silent lingering tears of ugly days gone by with unbearable destruction.
We speak to artist Ghidey Ghebremichael. He is a well-known artist, a painter, a sculptor and interior designer. Son to the late and famous Eritrean painter Mr. Ghebremichael Kinfe, Ghidey has been in arts almost all of his life.
- We chose you to be our guest today as we reminisce the precious lives lost to brutal and, unjustifiable crimes committed against Eritreans. It is an eye catching nationalistic commitment that we see in you as, for the past seventeen years, and this year you have been presenting artistic works of praise culminating June 20th, National Martyrs Day. Who are, you Ghidey? And why such devotion?
First of all, Eternal Glory to Our Martyrs and Victory to the Masses. I am Ghidey Ghebremichael. I am an artist, I paint and do sculptures. I am also an interior designer. That’s who I am, nothing special. I am just an artist. But just like any other Eritrean I do feel compassion towards the people who suffer. The 20th of June is a major date in our calendar and it means so much to us Eritreans. As an artists, with what I do best, I try to contribute toward the commemoration of our martyrs and the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians that were victims of crimes committed against the Eritrean people.
You ask me, why such devotion? I don’t know. The answer is simply because I am an Eritrean like the rest of my compatriots. This is not an individual feeling I have nurtured on my own. If anything else, isn’t it a sentiment of the people?
- It seems like your annual schedule needs a lot of months for the preparation of June 20th.
That is right. I work every year for six months, from January to June, preparing, mostly, sculptures as tribute to the Martyrs’ Day. I tend to do sculptures but not individual ones. I do sculptures of a scene. The display takes place in front of the Ministry of Education’s building, in the center of the city, in Harenet Avenue. It is an open stage. Anyone can stop for a dozen of minutes and observe the group of sculptures, which together makeup a whole scene, while on the background the narration is played. It is very emotional for me and everyone else because when I tell stories through sculptures with a proper narration of the instance on the background, people get to sail back to the exact moment and time suggested by the sculptural show. There is so much that’s done for Independence Day, and many artist exhibit their works linked to the event. But for June 20th the contribution is rather small to that of May 24th. Therefore, for seventeen years now, I have been keeping the promise I made to myself. That of doing what I can in order to pay homage to such an important day.
- Who gave you the idea?
It was a revelation from above, totally. Since there is a spiritual connection with our martyrs, Eritreans would know that deep in their heart there still exists that unworldly link with the lost loved ones.
- It is impressive how every year you tell a new story of atrocity inflicted in many, if not all, Eritrean families. Every year we get a new story from you. How do you conduct your research?
The story is not a problem in Eritrea. In every step you take there is one story that can be picked up and told. So much has happened in Eritrea. The staunch resistance of Eritreans and the price they had to pay to that end can be trailed back to centuries. People normally think of the recent massacres during the Ethiopian occupation, but no, it goes way back in time. And all these accounts can be found in many households and families.
However, what I personally do is look for stories that can serve as arguments to present events. The first step is looking in what is going on in present day or what is being said about Eritrea and from there search for evidence that contradicts the lies being told. For example, a couple of years back an Ethiopian general, Gen. Nur Hussein, wrote a book contradicting the genocide of Shieb. Maybe it was to console his inhumanity, but in his book, he completely denied the allegation saying they were rumors spread by the E.P.L.F. The reality is that the entire population of Shieb was put on fire by his hands. So when that book came out I went to Shieb looking for the few that remained and talked to them. I also got pictures that were taken by freedom fighters who came to the rescue at that time. I got my evidence and documents and told the story of Mrs. Amna Mohamed Shingolay. The only one rescued when all of her family was burned. Mrs. Amna Mohamed Shingolay, lives her days in solitude not recovering from the trauma she experienced.
- When looking for stories you obviously interact with many families. Nevertheless, by bringing up something from their agonizing past, aren’t you afraid of bringing back a painful memory?
Honestly, nobody has ever recovered from their agony. This is something that affects a big part of the Eritrean people. Which mother would live normally after seeing her children slaughtered? These people live with nightmares that linger in their memories no matter how hard they try to move on. Therefore, I don’t put them in a new form of pain. They have always been in pain. On the contrary, they feel, to some small extent, relieved when they know that their stories are being told gaining the compassion of millions of their Eritrean compatriots.
- For this year’s show you actually prepared a documentary regarding the almost two hundred thousand Eritrean ascari who fell for the Italian flag bringing honor to the Italian Mussolini regime.
Exactly. This one is a tribute to the Eritrean ascari who fell for the Italian regime. I must say that speaking to the soldiers who survived, I learned that the revolution of Eritreans started from them. The ascari were mostly volunteers. They fought against the English empire because they very well understood the consequences World War II would have on the colonies of Europe in Africa. Most of all, they were conscious that having Britain would mean forcefully being part of Ethiopia. They did not want it. And weren’t they right? The English came and destroyed the world’s largest and longest cable rail way, sold thousands of Eritrean industries and what not. They were the worst. Eritrean ascari might have fought in Italian uniforms but they fought and died for their country. Italians don’t like to accept this but it is what it is. Who conquered Libia? Who pushed the British Empire till Keren, almost with few arms, when the Italians had already given up? … Our forefathers are heroes whose legacy surely has been surely passed down to previous generations, then to us, then on to our children.
- I wish the world knew about your works. Right now what you do is recognized only nationally.
I don’t worry about it. First, let me tell you my story and you tell me yours. When all Eritreans learn and share their deepest sorrows, then we will shout, if we have to, and let the world know. Genocide has been committed in many places of the world and they got recognized. As for us we have to work hard to make the world know and get the respect we deserve. Does the world know what we have done in return when we got our independence? Did we kill any Ethiopian civilians? We didn’t even touch a hair of the Ethiopian soldiers. In return, we bestowed love. We wanted to be an example of how human beings should treat each other. We didn’t kill any Ethiopian prisoners of war, instead we drove them home like heroes. Seriously, what I feel for the Eritrean people is nothing but respect… so loving, caring and forgiving but not, ever, forgetful. Hasn’t Germany included Nazi’s brutality in its academic curriculum? Isn’t that a sign of civilization? Nothing can be reversed but at least it won’t be repeated by Germans ever again. And we expect Ethiopia and the rest to do the same. The Eritrean people deserve an apology. It might take time but we’ll get there. That is a dear dream of mine.
- Thank you, Ghidey, for a very deep insight. Do you have anything you want to add before we end?
I want the world to note that Eritrea’s Independence was not the placing of the Eritrean flag by putting down that of Ethiopia. It was the verdict of justice against human crimes.