Veteran singer and fighter Tesfalidet Kburezghi (aka Birgade), in his famous revolutionary song Amawta Bzuh Eyu Aiynetu (loosely translated as ‘death comes in various forms’), pays tribute to those who die for a noble cause.
That kind of death is not a common, ordinary death. The song soberly points to the fact that in the Eritrean armed struggle fighters did not die on deathbeds. They experienced extreme and horrible situations in which bombardments of various kinds shredded them into pieces and buried them alive in their trenches. The song weaves solemnity into hardship and martyrdom. It also alludes to the arduous life fighters had to endure. The freedom fighters’ resolve to withstand the unbearably chilly nights and sweltering days, hunger and thirst in the deserts and rugged mountains was indescribable. The fighters were always stoic and wore smiles in the desperately grim situation. The smiles, accompanied with unremitting perseverance, routed the seemingly undefeatable big Ethiopian army that had been supported by super powers.
It is natural for human beings to want to keep death at bay or wish it to come at a snail’s pace so that they could live longer. This is what happens under normal circumstances or in a normal flow of human activities. However, there have been unusual historical and political circumstances in which people have had to unwaveringly come face to face with the immanent death in the struggle for their dignity and against colonialism.
Oppressed people, instead of trying to escape death, charge toward it. They selflessly and relentlessly give up their irreplaceable life not only to repossess what they have been deprived of but also to give it a fresh breath and start to launch it into eternal existence. The way people experience this death makes it different from the death people normally die, the inescapable one. That death for pride is what we call martyrdom. The history of Eritrean struggle for independence is one of the greatest lessons of martyrdom; the revolutionary song solemnly captures only a minuscule part of the martyrdom so resolutely displayed in the service of the victims of subjugation and greed.
Greed of whatever measure unashamedly dashes headlong in various manners to covet other’s belongings. It knows neither conscience nor empathy or sympathy. It does not acknowledge the other’s rights to various human needs. Its instruments are suppression of rights, cruel indifference, hypocrisy, denials, and absurdity. Greed never quits dreaming until it covets what it sees in its dream. In its unjust quest for possessions, it causes incalculable human right violations, denials of inalienable rights, and suppressions. It also bends the truth out of shape in order to quench its thirst. By virtue of its power, it seats itself on the throne to dispense ‘justice’ as it pleases.
International greed is one type of greed.
History shows that the main evil behind international greed — geopolitical greed — is the desire to secure economic interests or ensure economic domination by the few, through cooperating countries, at the expense of the millions. About 70 years ago this greed denied Eritrea its rightful existence in the Horn of Africa.
In a political climate historically characterized by cruel Western conspiracy and betrayal, the only choice Eritreans had at first was to take to the streets to protest the injustice. But their national concern — their rightful demand for sovereignty — fell on deaf ears at the United Nations. The absurd and high-handed decision was painfully indifferent to the fate of the people in distress. Conspiracy begot other worse conspiracies that caused Eritreans to transform their political struggle into armed struggle. Eritreans of all walks of life flocked to the field. Farmers abandoned their ploughshares and paired oxen unattended on the farm, factory workers threw off their overalls, and students dropped out of school, colleges, and universities. Males and females and Christians and Muslims made their way to the field. Professionals of all sorts, from inside and outside the country, abandoned high-paying jobs for arduous life in the field. Many of them did not make it back.
The Haileslassie regime tried to nip the revolution in its bud. Its unruly army burned people alive in their abodes. It razed hamlets, villages, and towns to the ground. It did not even spare holy places. The army converted them to places where the innocent were gunned down or burned alive. The regime hanged civilians and captured fighters in public places in a failed attempt to dampen down the glowing revolutionary spirit and the aspirations of the people to see an independent Eritrea.
The flagrant and heinous crimes against Eritreans continued in their worst forms into the Derg regime. Many more people were dragged into infamous prisons where they suffered the utmost inhumane conditions and extreme human evils. Many of them were tortured to death there; others were killed by firing squads. As a result, thousands were forced to flee the country to escape the atrocities. Families were disintegrated. The physical and psychosocial harms inflicted on the Eritrean society were painfully evident. Worse still, Ethiopian officials, historians, and military officers of the Haileslassie and Colonel Mengistu regimes — who in the end knelt in submission before the crushing force of the EPLF – did try to whitewash the atrocities; some do not show any remorse even today.
Besides, though it is outside the scope of this article, it is appropriate to juxtapose the truth that the very same remnants, rather than bear their defeat with grace, shamelessly and contemptuously attribute their defeat to ‘systemic’ failure of their regimes, not to the strength, hard-rock tenacity, and battle-hardened resolve of Eritreans.
After all the tortuous trek toward independence and to lay bare all the embarrassingly reckless and perpetual international betrayal and machinations; after the all-encompassing destruction; after all the appalling and dreadful conditions in which Eritreans were forced to live; after all the atrocities; and after all the blood and toil, Eritrea finally became a member of the international body, the very organization that subordinated it to Ethiopia without its consent. Eritrea is deservedly a sovereign nation because its citizens died an uncommon death.
May Eritrea live forever!
Eternal glory to our martyrs!