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Negarit #21- Riddle — ኣዝግኑኒ

Reading time 5 minutes

A family. A microcosm of an Eritrean family. Love, hope, and despair. Weddings, childbirths, and death… and burial services. This family is so used to the last one, living on the foothill of Qatsetai, whose top was a Christian orthodox burial ground. It is a place where priests in full regalia, garbs, and bells led the solemn crowds who carried the coffin. A Wata playing a sad, melancholic tune walked alone behind them. Women wailing or sobbing, and chocking in tears walked behind them.
Across the street, a little up the hill was a Muslim graveyard. Usually, an elderly man led the procession murmuring prayers for the dead. And crowds followed, carrying the body of the deceased on a stretcher, covered in a white blanket.
The family watched such common scenes on a regular basis. So did the youth of the neighborhood. Among them were Saleh Adem Idris (Keray), Ibrahim Kerami, and Mehari Berakhi. Saeed Saleh was their leader whom they watched in awe.
The three worked hard for years to grow up. They lifted rocks for weights in an improvised alley-Gym, and checked their muscles every now and then, hoping they would buff up their bodies soon. Saeed Saleh would click a cigarette lighter pretending it was a camera flash while the rest took off their shirts and displayed their muscles like confident bodybuilders. In time, Saeed Saleh thought he had buffed his muscles enough–one day he vanished. His body-building friends didn’t discover his mysterious disappearance for almost a year. Then they found out he had joined Jebhat, the Eritrean rebel group known as Jebhet Tahreer, Eritrean Liberation Front. Soon, the three followed in his footsteps and joined the ranks of the ELF.
That is the story of one of the three: the martyr Saleh Adem Idris Keray
In the late 1970s, Saleh Keray ended up a senior in a battalion commanded by his friend Said Saleh.
In 1977 Saleh Keray sneaked into Keren and visited his family. It was the last time his young siblings saw him. On September 8, 1980, he died in Hawashait of a wound he sustained in Kerkebet, in a joint EPLF-TPLF assault on the ELF. Three years later Saeed Saleh, his friend, and commander, was mysteriously assassinated in Kassala. To date, though there are several suspects, the culprits who assassinated him are not yet identified.
In 1982, Saleh Keray’s father, Shiekh Adem Idris died.  In 1995, his mother Seedia died. In 1999, Abdulkadir lost his life in the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war. He is the man in the iconic picture of today.
In 1992 the PFDJ issued martyrdom-certificates for combatants killed in action. They also distributed “compensation money” to families whose children died in the struggle. Officers arrived at the home of Shiekh Adem Idris, the father of martyr Saleh Keray andy met his wife Sa’diya. Her full name is Sa’ediya Adem Mohammed Ali Reka Gebrekristos Ashad Gergish Shum-Redie. They offered her 5000 Nakfa as a compensation since she was the only surviving parent of Saleh Keray. They also wanted to give her another 5000 Nakfa to recieve on behalf of Said Saleh’s deceased parents. The lady was not only a close neighbor of Shaikh Saeed Saleh’s parents, but she has watched him grow up like her own son. She refused to accept her sons “compensation money” and that of Saeed Saleh.
The wounded mother explained why she refused the money. She said, “I know that an enemy bullet hit my son Saleh in Kerkebet. But unknown people assassinated Saeed Saleh. I will not accept blood money, neither for my son’s blood nor for Saeed Saleh’s—first, you should tell me who his killers are.” She also said, “I will not betray Saeed’s parents who died without knowing who killed their son. And I cannot disrespect them by accepting blood money when they are dead and buried. And I will not receive blood money for the two of them”
They returned with the money, the 10,000 Nakfa they brought.
Saleh’s young brother Abdulkadir (the iconic picture), and his siblings were there. They listened to the conversation
One of Abdulkadir’s siblings in the house is Ferejet Adem Idris, who joined the armed struggle in 1976. She was in a battalion under the command of the late General Grezgher Wuchu and later sustained a wound in a battle around Himberti. Until the independence of Eritrea, Ferejet worked in the medical division. During the Ethiopia Eritrean border war, she served in fronts of Zalambessa and Badme. She finally settled in the Glass hospital. Ferejet is still serving within the medical teams of the war veterans.
Abdulkadir Idris is the third sibling who joined the national army. He is the man in the iconic picture carrying his wounded colleague.
Abdulkadir was born in 1970 in the Hashela neighborhood in Keren. Later on, he moved with his family to Sudan and went to school there. He briefly joined the United Front and then returned to Kessela where he stayed until the independence of Eritrea when he returned home to Keren. In 1997 he joined the seventh round of Sawa. When the border war started, he joined a unit in the 381 tank division and shipped to the war front. On February 17, 1999, an unknown photographer shot the iconic picture–it’s of him carrying a wounded colleague, Hamid Saleh Hummed (nicknamed Saddam).
Saddam sustained many wounds in a landmine blast but survived his wounds. He is now alive and flourishing as a farmer and merchant in the town of Tessenei.
Six days after the shooting of the picture, on February 17, 1999, a nighttime air raid hit a tank in Adi Qeshi. Inside it sat Abdulkadir and Teame, his tank squad commander. They were both killed inside it. Two of their colleagues, Wedi Berhe and Sendel, escaped with wounds as they stood close by.

Hamid Saddam has returned by renting a car to get to the war front from Barentu where he was seeing a dentist. Three days later he was wounded and taken to safety by Abdulkadir, a few days later and Abdulkadir was killed.


There are such human stories behind any picture we see, and behind any name of a martyr we hear.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Blink

    Dear SG
    This is great work . I hope many can do such wonderful work to educate the young because PFDJ will not as the consequences will be a negative thing for them.

  • Kokhob Selam

    Yes Mr. SGL,

    Picture, you are right.. talks more than words. I am having a picture from our fighting days with me and my own picture with my friend on camel .just watching it remands me more than you all imagined ( another day I will come to it),,

    Among the men you remembered, I only know the hero Saed Saleh. He was leading our Brigade 77 where I learn to be strong fighter,,Only to see him 1983 killed by criminal group who use to be mafia and killed a lot of our fighters..In Sudan … Don’t tell Saay 7,,He will become allergic as we had argument long back on this site,,

    Now, to come to the point..of yours we fought for freedom and paid souls –a lot of price have been paid to gain this national identity..Saying the list, you know what is going on on the ground… seems to me it strange..that is Dr.Abiy arrival and not fine already people are complaining..keep struggling keep it up to the end..What that means Dr. Jehan said “We can end the war by ballet, not the bullet” ..thank you Saleh.

    “Knowledge tells us that we must learn to love ourselves, before can learn to love others. Wisdom tells us that the self-love can easily turn in to a lifetime occupation, and only by giving to others do we eventually receive ourselves “

    Even people are talking about kitchen items like Taif and Bunna what they will wake-up as it ends..Just keep it up for now..