Freedom is the most precious and valuable thing that every human being wants and deserves to enjoy. Eritrea made a lot of sacrifice to gain its freedom.
September 1 marks the transformation of the political struggle to an armed struggle for Eritrea’s independence. Eritreans fought together to show their resistance against the Ethiopian annexation of Eritrea. Before the armed struggle started, they had fought legally and peacefully from the 1940’s up to 1961.
When many African countries that had been under European colonial rule became independent in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Eritrean people were denied the same right and were thrown under federation with Ethiopia following the United Nations resolution on December 2, 1950. Appointed by the United Nations, the British Administration in Eritrea had the duty to preserve the Eritrean assets, but instead of fulfilling their duty, they dismantled and looted major Eritrean factories and infrastructure that had been built during the Italian colonization. By deliberately ruining Eritrea’s economy to make the argument that Eritrea could not stand on its own, they conspired to lay the ground for Eritrea’s federation with Ethiopia. And the federation had barely lasted ten years when it ended with the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia.
The independence of Eritrea was not seen by the West as one that could serve the interests of the international community, especially that of the USA. This was stated in black and white by the US Secretary of State at that time, John Foster Dulles. He said: “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interest of the US in the Red Sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.”
On September 1, 1961, Hamid Idris Awate and his followers began the armed struggle at the battle of Adal against the occupying Ethiopian army and police. This day is seen as a turning point in the Eritrean history as it marks the beginning of the 30 years of armed struggle for independence.
Hamid Idris Awate, who was formerly a conscripted Italian soldier, was resisting the unfair administration of the British rule during the 1940’s and was protecting his people against aggressors from Ethiopia and Sudan. The British Administration pleaded with Hamid to hand over his rifle and start living in his village. As a result, in 1951, he surrendered his rifle and became an ordinary farmer. Then from 1956 onwards the name of Hamid started to become popular again when he raised the issue of armed struggle with the idea of national unity. Meanwhile, the Eritrean police commissioner at that time, Mr. Tedla Ukbit, became suspicious of Hamid’s movements and instructed the local police to put him in custody. After some days Hamid and his followers fled and went to Adal where they had their very first battle against the enemy.
Hamid Idris Awate was injured at a battle and passed away on 28 May, 1962. Hamid is the founding father of the Eritrean armed struggle for liberation. A statue has been built to honor his dedication and sacrifice.
The armed struggle that was initiated on September 1 took thirty long years of bitter and bloody struggle before it ended with the utter defeat of the Derg regime of Ethiopia. Eritrea’s independence was no gift from anyone but the result of Eritreans’ sacrifice, a war fought against all odds. Young Eritrean men and women from all over the country fought to give Eritrean independence to the Eritrean people as the most precious gift. They presented it upon the unshakeable mind, heart and soul of the Eritrean people. That is why independence has a unique and deep meaning for Eritreans.
After independence, Eritrea has continued to encounter challenges. It fought three rounds of battles against the TPLF regime in Ethiopia and withstood illegal sanctions. Eritrea has proved time and again that no matter how long it takes it eventually triumphs over the forces of evil. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the armed struggle, we should remember to always be vigilant and work without reservation for the development of our nation and betterment of our people’s lives.