It has been 58 years since the first bullet was fired in Mount Adal by patriot Hamid Idris Awate. Hamid Idris Awate led the Eritrean armed struggle from Mount Adal at the first encounter with the Ethiopian forces. Awate is one of the Eritrean national symbols. The construction of his statue in Haikota and the naming of many governmental and private institutions after Awate indicate the respect he has earned in the country. Awate is always celebrated through poems, songs, paintings and books. Awate’s statue and biography in Tigrigna are both the first of their kind in Eritrea.
Last Sunday, Eritreans celebrated the 58th ceremony of the beginning of the armed struggle and remembered the extraordinary commitment and bravery of the first generation of fighters. The Eritrean armed struggle remade Eritrea and Eritreans. Supported and encouraged by global powers, Ethiopian colonizers pushed long enough and hard enough to destroy the capacity of Eritreans to resist and fight. But in September 1961, the first generation of Eritrean fighters responded in the only language the colonizers understood — force.
In September 1961, Eritreans stood up with arms and fired a bullet of liberation. The bullet echoed ‘we are Eritreans and we are who we want to be.’ This message was initially taken lightly, but later on, especially after the formation of the EPLF, became a thunder that shook the foundation o f i n j u s t i c e and violence.
During the long and bitter struggle for independence, Eritreans were terribly abused by the international system. In the last 78 years (1941-2019), since Eritreans started organized resistance for independence, Eritrea has been subject to the preposterous actions of global powers. However, after the struggle of successive generations truth and justice triumphed. In the history of Eritrea, the years 1991 and 2018 mark the ultimate victory of truth and justice. In 1991 the thirty-year war of liberation was concluded with the removal from power of the chief architect of killing and genocide – the Derg. Similarly, in 2018 the twenty years of determination and sacrifice for the preservation of Eritrea’s sovereignty resulted in the removal from power of the chief architect of the “border” war – the TPLF. With little variations, the enemies of Eritrea faced the same ends. Eritreans have a long tradition of resistance to domination of any kind and are always ready to die for their dignity and identity. They never allow compromise on dignity. The saying of Abdelkadir Kebire that ‘living one year of dignity is worth much than thousand years of indignity’ is a guiding principle.
For the last fifty-eight years (1961-2019) Eritreans have engaged in multiple forms of struggle. Throughout those years, they have experienced only eight years of peace — the first seven years of independence (1991-1998) plus the last one-year of peace (2018-2019). Therefore, it is very important to evaluate the commendable achievements that Eritrea has made in nation building within this context.
When Eritreans agreed to fight against Ethiopian colonization, their number was small and they did not have enough weapons. The disproportion in terms of number and ordnance was compensated by the extraordinary bravery and commitment of the freedom fighters. The few tegadelti’s incredible spirit to resist and fight protected the flame of the revolution and the hope of liberation. They worked hard to keep the flame of revolution b u r n i n g until the complete liberation of Eritrea by the EPLF.
On their first encounter, Awate addressed the freedom fighters by saying ‘Today, with the gunshot fired by Azzanit (his riffle’s pet name), the last link between us and the occupier has been cut off; from today onwards there is no rest or sleep.’ Here, the inner sense of dignity of Eritreans that sought recognition was committed to pay the necessary price for independence. Through this gesture, Eritreans demanded public acknowledgement of their existence by others.
Many writers and philosophers have argued that the struggle for recognition is the ultimate driver of human history. The force that pushed Eritreans to undertake long and bitter struggle that finally culminated in the birth of an independent and sovereign Eritrea was basically the need of recognition and dignity. The struggle for dignity and national pride that energized the Eritrean revolution has continued until the present day to become the brand of the country. As narrated by many fighters of the first generation of fighters, Awate had once addressed his companions saying: ‘If we want to save our country, regain our honor and attain our goals, we have to pursue one way only and that is the path of the armed struggle.’ The armed struggle enabled Eritreans to recover, repossess and regain their natural rights. As they were fighting and humiliating the enemy, Eritreans were writing a proud and honorable history that would serve as a source of inspiration and reference for successive generations to come.
The first generation of fighters understood that the announcement of the armed struggle was not an end in itself. They knew its continuation was essential for the liberation of Eritrea from Ethiopian occupation. In the last moments of his life, while handing his rifle over to his companions, Awate said: ‘Raise this rifle high until final victory is accomplished, God willing.’ As promised, successive generations of fighters refined the vision and continued the struggle until the final victory. In the course of the struggle, Eritreans formed Peoples Front — an enabling organization that cultivated nationalism and unity among the Eritrean people. Peoples Front created a forum of struggle in which all Eritreans could participate regardless of their religion, ethnicity and gender.
Peoples Front accomplished the task of establishing national independence and dignity in 1991 and the task of protecting national independence and sovereignty in 2018. After all these achievements it has now shouldered a historic responsibility of building a peaceful, just and prosperous society, a task which is more difficult and complicated than the past. But we are sure of one thing — the struggle will continue without interruption until the dignity and identity of Eritreans is fully respected and the building of a modern Eritrea is accomplished.