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Reminiscences of Fenkil at the Northern Red Sea Museum

It is February again, which means our minds begin to reflect on Operation Fenkil. After Eritrea’s victory in the battle, freedom seemed close enough to grasp.During the long war for liberation, the people of Eritrea sacrificed a lot and suffered greatly. As the saying goes, “Freedom is not free.” Twenty nine years ago,history was made through Operation Fenkil and the doors to independence were flung open.

The Northern Red Sea Museum helps keep Eritrean history alive and tell our story. Today, we are happy to speak with Yohannes Ghebreyesus, head of cultural affairs of the Northern Red Sea region.


  • -Thank you for joining us,  Mr. Yohannes. Could you please tell us about the Northern Red Sea Museum and what it encompasses?

It is a pleasure. Currently,the Northern Red Sea Museum is serving as a branch of the Northern Red Sea Department of Cultural Affairs. It has five units: the natural, archeological, cultural, colonial, and the liberation struggle sections. The Liberation Struggle section deals with the Eritrean history for independence. The main goal of the museum is to preserve the region’s history and heritage, both tangible and intangible. The museum takes part in different activities, such as the archeological excavations in the region, like Buia and Engel’ela. It also collaborates with many government and foreign institutions. The region features a large number of important archeological sites and the museum has a lot of the historical findings.

  • On the topic of preserving heritage, what exactly does the museum manage?

The community knows and values its heritage and does well to preserve it. What is important in preserving heritage is communication and strong team work among the government institutions. The region is large and almost every part of it can be regarded as heritage. For that reason, mindlessly constructing building could be very destructive. That is why we are trying to work with government institutions in many ways.

The archeological study was first carried out by the National Museum, the Northern Red Sea Museum and several Italian universities. Currently, many government institutions are taking part in a number of studies. The findings are helping us to understand more about the region and they reflect the value and importance of our heritage.  The Northern Red Sea, in general, is doing great in preserving various archeological sites. The communities have increased their understanding and awareness about the topic. In fact, they are becoming more and more interested, so much so that they bring in historical or archeological heritage items that they find. Local residents also pass on information about different findings that they come across.  This is all very helpful for the museum and, of course, very important for preserving our nation’s history and heritage.

  • -Almost half of the museumis dedicated to objects related to Operation Fenkil, right?

The museum was first established as a temporary exhibition in 2000 to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of Operation Fenkil.  After its establishment, the Northern Red Sea region and the National Museum worked hard to convert the temporary museum into a permanent institution.  At the beginning, we had added a lot of material related to armed struggle. Especially this year, we were able to add various tools the freedom fighters used for education and medical purposes. Besides everything else in this museum, there is a pilot project being conducted in Nakfa. It is being sponsored by Eritreans who reside in Sweden. The project aims to preserve the trenches. So far, we have worked on about two kilometers of our trenches and approximately one kilometer of trench of the enemy. We also did six kilometers underground.

  • -What is the role of the Northern Red Sea Museum in transmitting awareness of Eritrea’s history and heritage to the next generation?

The museum organizes activities such as making documentary films, songs, and dramas which reflect different aspects of Eritrean history. We also help organize school field trips to the museum or nearby sites, such as the Sahaba Mosque, the first mosque ever to be built in the world.This allows the students to see what the region has in terms of history and heritage. We also have billboards to encourage guests to pay the museum a visit. Of course, we also try to transmit our history through short clips and documents which we present at different national events. Importantly, many of our activities involve the close cooperation and support of different government institutions, such as the NUEYS (National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students).

  • What does Fenkil mean to you?

Fenkil, for every Eritrean, is the opening of the door to independence. I was young at the time but I clearly remember everything. All the dreadful things our people had to go through. It took a lot of precious lives. Operation Fenkil was the ray of hope that the people needed. That is why everyone should come together to enjoy and commemorate the day at Massawa with all the programs that are being organized.

  • -Is there anything you would like to say before we conclude our interview?

Our history is our identity. It is important to know our culture, values, and heritage. Massawa is a place of history, culture, and enjoyment. Massawa is a museum by itself. Everything here tells history. Happy Fenkil week to everyone.

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