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February in the history of Eritrea

Man is an historical animal with a deep sense of his own past” said Geoffrey Barrowclough. History is the most important product which the chemistry of the mind has concocted. In order to understand the present it’s imperative to study history and to predict the unknown future by understanding the present.

This logical relationship makes history indispensable. We are the result of all the events that have happened in the past. Although we assume that we are living at present and look forward, simultaneously we should remember that we are the past. What happened in the past in the month of February?

1 Feb 1975 Wekidiba massacre. Many villages had suffered devastating losses during the 30 years long war of Eritrean liberation. Under the motto of “its Eritrea’s land that we want not its people”; successive Ethiopian governments committed untold suffering to exterminate Eritrean people. The Wekidiba massacre was one of the numerous atrocities that were committed against Eritrean civilians by Ethiopia colonial army. The Ethiopian army devastated the village suspected of harboring the liberation fighters. Ethiopian army also believed that to kill the fish one has to dash the sea. The tragic massacre of Wekidiba was most remembered as black Saturday. To understand the situation I bring in to your knowledge an eye witness account of a survivor of the massacre_ Colonel Zeremariam Tesfay. The full account of Zeremariam is available in Tigrigna and English in a book “massacre at Wekidiba” authored by Habtu Gebreab. He said that “in every house, there were two or three dead bodies. The ground was drenched with blood.

After committing the atrocities, the soldiers brought in trucks. Stepping over the dead bodies, they hauled away anything of value from these houses… As the morning progressed, the soldiers began killing the roaming cattle and made meals out of them” (Habtu, 2013; pp201_202). The massacre and dispossession perpetuated by Ethiopian colonizers followed a strict conformity to Machiavellian advice on holding the conquered. Nicole Machiavelli in his book “The prince” instructed that whenever those states which have been acquired have accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them. He further recommended that “there is no safe way to retain them otherwise than by ruining them” (pp20_21).

14 Feb to April 1950 the five man UN inquiry commission visited Eritrea. With the failure of the plan for partition, the UN General Assembly again discussed the Eritrean question and required more information to decide on its disposal. On 21 November 1949 it resolved to send its own inquiry commission and elected Burma, Guatemala, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa. The mandate of the United Nations Commission was to ascertain “The wishes and welfare of the inhabitants of Eritrea”. The commission discovered t h e strength of the E r i t e a n Independence Bloc and the political maturity of the people. The chief of the British administration, Robert Mason, opined that the Independence Bloc represented “a clear majority of the population of the country” (Tekie F 1990, p10). The delegations of Pakistan and Guatemala recommended for independence of Eritrea. Despite this fact however, the final recommendation of the commission was divided that gave chance to an erroneous decision of UN that is Federation. Independence of Eritrea was ignored simply because it doesn’t suit the interest of Ethiopia and United states.

11 Feb 1967 the massacre of Adi Ibrahim. Ethiopian Army killed, burned and bayoneted the inhabitants of Adi Ibrahim and surrounding villages. Ethiopian author Zewde Reta, gave insincere remark on the treatment of Ethiopia that way “in the [years] we have lived togather … we should never forget that we Ethiopians have committed no offense against our Eritrean brothers” (Habtu, p2). Denial to such extent reveals the unregretful mentality that leads to another dilemma. This is scoffing at the blood of the innocent Eritreans shaded in Adi Ibrihim, Omhajer, Ona, Sheib and many other places. TPLF boss Late PM Meles Zenawi who once looted, imprisoned and deported Eritreans and Eritrean origin Ethiopians and proclaim with arrogance and ignorance ‘Go, because we don’t like the color of your eyes,’ latter said “we have made everything good that a wise man can do for Eritreans.” Such kind of cheap political mockery has been played b y unabashed TPLF political comedians.

15 Feb 1982 the sixth offensive (red star campaign) launched by Ethiopia in 1982 to quash Eritrean revolution once forever. Red star campaign was all means aggression that tested the perseverance of EPLF, which according to Dan Connell was the largest war ever since the Second World War fought in Africa. It was the largest and challenging of all previous offensives that aimed to annihilate EPLF from the face of Eritrea. It was unique in that Derg took a two year multi dimensional preparation. During the war Derg deployed more than 120,000 army and many Soviet military advisors were arrived to plan and lead the war. The sixth offensive is known as a symbol of perseverance of Eritrean revolution. In the course of the war that continued for more than three months, almost half of the total number of EPLF were martyred and wounded. During that time the then vice secretary of EPLF Issaias Afewerki has described the invisible power of the EPLF: “EPLF does not possess sophisticated modern weapons and an abundance of ammunition. Nor does it have satellites at its disposal. What the EPLF possess is political consciousness and it is this that works miracles” (Tekeste Fekadu 2008, p222).

10 Feb 1990 liberation of massawa. The offensive called Fenkil operation started on February 8, 1990. In the period between the demise of Nadew command (March 1988) and Fenkil operation EPLF conducted 50 military operations that cleared the way for the liberation of Massawa (PFDJ, 2015, p214). In Fenkil operation EPLF naval forces, using small boats surprised and confronted Ethiopian warships. Finally after three days intense battle the EPLF captured the port of Massawa and sealed off Ethiopia’s land forces from all but air-borne supplies. In retaliation, the Ethiopian army bombed the civilian population of massawa using clusters and napalm bombs that remembered by Eritreans as qbtset meaning desperation. Fenqil operation profoundly shocked the foundation of Derg and hastened the final defeat of Ethiopian army in Eritrea. On the other hand the operation enhanced the position of Eritrean revolution in regional and international politics.

10 Feb 1994 third Congress of EPLF was held in Nakfa. After achieving its mandate to liberate Eritrea from Ethiopian colonial oppression, EPLF convened its third congress and transformed in to a new post-war political movement, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice PFDJ to build on the EPLF’s legacy and to lead the country. The PFDJ’s basic goals, as summarized in the National Charter adopted there, were: national harmony, political democracy, economic and social development, social justice (economic and social democracy), cultural revival and regional and international cooperation.

23 Feb 1999 second military campaign of TPLF against independent Eritrea. The so called border dispute which could have been resolved peacefully, due to TPLF’s covert intentions led to devastating conflict. The Eritrea Ethiopia conflict was basically created by TPLF in 1998. TPLF obstructed the efforts to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner and launched full war toward the end of February 1999, a level what historians contrasted with Second World War. Tekeste and Tronvoll on their book “Brothers at war” estimated the second offensive of Weyane “to be the biggest battle on African soil since the expulsion of Nazi forces from Egypt during the Second World War” (2000, p73).

The source of the conflict was Badme. In an intensive Ethiopian offensive against Eritrean position at Badme using a wave strategy of pouring thousands of men they secured short term gain. That time the victory was won at great cost and conservative estimate suggest that Ethiopian causalities at Badme reached 10,000 (Ibid pp73_74). Latter in 2002 when EEBC gave its final and binding decision, it confirmed and awarded Badme as an Eritrean land.

Eritrea, as a historic territory and political entity is therefore becomes a repository of historic memories (memories of resistance, sacrifice, massacre and dispossession) the place where our martyrs and heroes remembered for ever and successive generations lived, worked, and fought for. The TPLF war of aggression is the most unjust war ever waged against the freedom and independence of Eritrea.

To turn the tide of Eritrea independence and to kill the dream of prosperity, TPLF employed a campaign of terror, intimidation, deportation, sabotage, and open military aggression aimed to kill the hopes of Eritrean. They organize their labor, mind and resources in digging a grave to bury Eritrea. After twenty years they exhausted and finally they rested in peace in the ditch dug by their own hands. The Tigrigna proverb “Gud’guad Nefeharia” grave to its diggers is right!

In explaining national identity Anthony D. Smith in his book “National Identity” said that “national identity provides a powerful means of defining and locating individual selves in the world, through the prism of the collective personality and its distinctive culture” (1991, p17). Eritrean national identity offers a powerful means of defining and locating individual Eritreans in the world. History tells us that in the past Eritreans of all age and group died for their identity and territorial integrity and now Eritreans are making another history in development and construction.

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