Towards the sixth year
awate.com is five years old. It was on September 1, 2000 that this website was launched with the aim of contributing to the Eritrean struggle for the respect of human rights, democratic governance, reconciliation and justice. Today, as on each September 1 for the last five years ago, we renew our commitment to continue struggling for those same ideals until the rays of freedom and justice shine on our beloved Eritrea.
We take this opportunity to thank our readers for their input, criticism and encouragement. We thank our families and friends for the generous support they gave us. We thank our writers for enriching awate.com with their diverse, insightful, and sometimes thought provoking views that were published. Thank you all for your trust in awate.com.
We hold strong opinions and we might have offended some and wronged others. It is our wish that those who feel wronged and offended understand that it was all on the basis of the bigger picture: the interest of Eritrea, or what we believe is in the interest of Eritrea. Our reactions are strong but they are not disproportionate to our sense of disappointment by the pitiful indifference shown to the plight of our people, by those who are supposed to be at the fore front defending the humiliated, famished, diseased and abused citizens. The overwhelming majority of the intellectual class, those who were educated and attained high position at the expenses of the poor Eritrean people, have betrayed their compatriots. Some have even preferred the laps of the oppressive regime to the dignified stature of struggling for what is politically and naturally just by any divine or human standards. But there we go with our strong opinions.
Inform, Inspire, Embolden, Reconcile
That’s it, our mission statement, in a nutshell. If it had a shape, it would be an hour glass: All will be informed, some will be inspired, a few will be emboldened to act, and then all shall be reconciled. Our role is to provide news and information and then to provide a platform to all Eritreans to share their opinion and calls for action. Below are the highlights of efforts to inform, inspire and embolden between September 04 – September 05:
Gedab News: In this reporting period, we published 52 Gedab News reports. The overwhelming majority of them dealt with information that were not fit for Eri-TV: the Adi Abeyto extra-legal killings of the innocent (which is, if you are curious, still being “investigated” since November 2004); the suppression of religious minorities; the identity of individuals leaving the sinking ship of PFDJ; the strangulation of Eritrea’s private sector; exposing the rule-by-proclamation policy of PFDJ; reporting its countless feuds with neighbors, GOs and NGOs, as well as itemizing its assault on the youth (roundups, arrests, torture and rapes) and, lately, the parents of the youth. We also reported on developments within the opposition groups.
Unless there are exceptional reasons, the general thrust of Gedab News is to provide news and information that is not available anywhere else. We do not provide wire service information, and we do not replicate news that has been published elsewhere, unless we can add value to it.
Documents/Interviews: The two major documents we produced were the Martyr’s Database and the Population Report. Compiling the martyr’s database was the most exhausting effort—not just for the reporting period, but since the launch of this website. To see thousands and thousands of names, some of whom are our relatives, who didn’t live long enough to be 20 years old was an emotionally draining experience. We knew that our readers, too, would find it an emotional experience but, as we explained at the time, the information belongs to the people—not to a government that rules without the consent of the governed. Our motive was not to embarrass the government or contradict its claims that the martyred numbered 19,000; but to change the focus from numbers to names and thus show the true cost of PFDJ policies. We received dozens of letters (many of them threatening) but the person who best expressed our sentiments was the incomparable Burhan Ali who wrote at the time:
The names of 19,000 of our fallen brothers, sons, sisters and daughters, according to the intentions of the tyrant and his cohorts, were intended to stay in their symbolic morgue that is their Computer-Servers. Had it been possible for them, they would as well have confined the physical remains in physical morgues, as if that would conceal the evidence of their crimes and absolve them from the deed. But each and every one of these 19,000 souls is a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, and a loved one. Each and every one of them had an image still alive in the minds of those who loved him, his laughter still echoing in their ears, his anger and delights still remembered. Each and every one of them was flesh, blood and soul. They are unforgettable. The tyrant and his cohorts, for lack of an essential experience, that of being human, cannot see that the living will not forget their dead, who were nipped while in the bud. This is only natural. He, the tyrant, and those who support him wanted our dead to stay faceless and nameless as if these, once fine and lively young men and women, belonged to the realm of the abstract. They wanted to lump them in one short conceptual name, 19,000 Martyrs, faceless and without substance. If it was possible they would shorten it further to 19,000 without the word “Martyr”, the more abstract the easier the tyrant and his men feel. And if it is further possible, they would shorten it to saying only nineteen, dropping the thousand.
Perhaps due to our armed struggle and its emphasis on “liberating land”, we Eritreans tend to focus more on land than people. If the martyr’s database was an effort to humanize those who died prematurely, the population report was driven by our goal to provide a profile on those who are living. In the process, and quite by accident, we also confirmed a suspicion: that Eritrea’s population, which has been experiencing a net negative growth, could not be the “3.5” or “4.0” million that is reported without much evidence. But myths are hard to die down and the 3.5, 4.0, 4.3 will, like software applications, be automatically applied without providing supporting data.
We found it outrageous that while the Ethiopians were expressing heart-felt emotions about their compatriots who would be displaced and losing their identity as a result of the EEBC ruling, there was not one single article or sentiment expressed by any Eritrean about Eritreans who share the same fate. We were heartened when the Eritrean Democratic Alliance, at long last, mentioned this in its charter, albeit vaguely, that the demarcation of the border must also keep in mind the needs of our population who will be displaced or lose their identity.
We’ve also made an effort to acquaint our readers with different personalities of the opposition groups. Often, we Eritreans have allowed others to tell us about our people—without hearing it firsthand from the people affected. Thus, the interviews.
EHRAG: This is where a chronicle of the human rights violations against Eritreans, as documented by various sources, is displayed. More and more, our focus is on securing first-person testimonies from Eritreans who have been subjected to human rights abuse. This record is kept for posterity, a blueprint of Zemene Isaias. It is also used by attorneys and human rights activists when arguing for the Eritrean immigrants rights to not be returned to Eritrea as they will surely face torture. The original goal of EHRAG was to be a full-fledged human rights organization, with various charters in different localities. This effort was abandoned (mostly due to lack of money and time) and its operating standard is to rely on affiliated groups and individual volunteers for lobbying and supporting asylum cases.
Editorial/Columnists: The Pencil is the collective editorial view of the Awate Team. Articles written by columnists describe the viewpoint of the writers. In 2005, we wrote much fewer editorials than in previous years. This was due to two editorial decisions that were undertaken in August 2004: (1) to have far less involvement in the intra and inter-organizational feuds of the opposition fronts and (2) to direct some of those activities towards “quiet diplomacy”, particularly in the area of reconciliation. Going forward, we intend to pursue this policy.
Featured Articles: This provides a platform to writers who want to express their thoughts and opinions on the prevailing situation in Eritrea. One of the things that we are most proud of is that Awate’s featured articles continue to be authored by the most diverse group of Eritreans, anywhere on the Eritrean Internet landscape.
As you may have noticed, this year, we have refused to grant a platform to the forever-dissecting offshoots, splinters and ghost organizations who, using imaginary organizations and pen names, want to distract and demoralize the Eritrean people.
Which brings us to the subject of pen names. The historic origin of pen names was for valid reasons: when authors belonged to a persecuted minority and could not get published, they used pen names. When an author who has found acclaim in one genre wanted to branch out to another, pen names were used. In the Eritrean context, there is almost no valid reason for pen names, except for hiding and maintaining a dual personality.
Almost all of the irresponsible messages and provocations and “friendly fire” can be traced to people who use pen names. The intent is to deceive and to display a clout that does not exist. There are one-man “organizations” with impressive names; there are male writers masquerading (or pouting) as women to give themselves instant spokeswoman status of an entire gender. There are people who use pen names to imply that they belong to an ethnic or religious group that they really do not belong to. What they get in return is total anonymity and total irresponsibility. The EPLF/PFDJ publishes undated, unsigned documents; the internet tigers use fake names.
We believe that the pen name plague has been the worst single issue that has prevented us from going forward in finding solutions to our problems. In this regard, we wish to announce the following: effective September 1, 2005, we will not allow publication of articles by people using pennames to be hosted on our main pages. We will make exceptions for those who have genuine reasons—example those writing from Eritrea—but even they have to tell us who they are, and their contributions will then be published under a “name withheld” byline.
Direct Quotes: The PFDJ is impossible to satirize as they do a good job satirizing themselves. If we had invented the quotes in a fiction, people would dismiss it as too far fetched to be believed. We have decided that sharing the direct quotes of PFDJ officials will go a long way towards making our case that the PFDJ is broken beyond repair. We have been displaying these in our banners. We intend to do that for those readers who do not have the patience to read long articles but wish to get a snapshot of what the PFDJ is up to.
Going forward, our practice will be more of the same: inform, inspire, embolden, reconcile. We will continue to break news, we will continue to inform, and by informing, to inspire and embolden our people and to create an environment for reconciliation. This is the antithesis to PFDJ’s mission of misinformation, demoralization, dispiriting and fragmenting our people. And, with every passing year, we will continue to chip away, like falling water on the soft underbelly of the PFDJ until it removes its hand from its chokehold on the people. How can you help?
We appreciate your moral support. There were times when we needed it and you came through. We appreciate your feedback and your suggestions. Equally, though, we would appreciate your financial support. One of the things that we are most proud of is that Awate.com has, in the last 5 years, been entirely sustained by its founders and individual Eritrean readers. As you well know, all we have done and all we plan to do will require money: technology, communications, travel, documentation, etc. There will be a time, the right time, when this medium will be self-sustaining: subscriptions, merchandising, etc. Until then, though, we need your donation. Or, as the public television people call it, your “partnership.” Please express your partnership by donating $20, $50, $100, or $500 dollars. You can do this via credit cards (link available in front page) or by mailing a check or money order to our address:
Elk Grove, CA
95758 – 0006
Every year brings some outstanding and admirable efforts. Our sister website, Asmarino.com has been a pioneer in recognizing individuals, a tradition that is not so popular among Eritreans. Naturally, asmarino.com is duly recognized by awate.com as a sister website that we feel proud to have relation with. But beyond that, it gives us great pleasure and pride to recognize the following people. We apologize for not having trophies and prizes, our most expensive gift is our appreciation coupled with our admiration and a big THINK YOU.
1- Poet of The Year: Kiros Yohannes for his brilliant poems. Kiros has walked in the footsteps of the late Dr. Reesom and in fact, as they say, the student improves on his teacher’s skills. We think that is what Kiros is doing. We will provide a sample of his work for your perusal.
2- Activists of The Year: Elsa Chyrum and Berhe Yeman. If Eritrea had about 200 Elsa Chyrums and Berhe Yemans, we have no doubt that the resistance movement would have increased its momentum by leaps and bounds. Most people who write to us give us directions and orders on what we should do; Elsa and Berhe are different: they tell us what they have done.
3- Contributor of The Year: Negash Arefa and our friend in Geneva and friends in Dallas, London, Bay Area and D.C —you know who you are.
4- Technical Support of the Year: asmarino.com
5- Encyclopedia of The Year: The same individual who has gotten this award 5 years running, is Mr. Co. A virtual encyclopedia of Eritrea’s oral history, Mr. Co is indispensable in researches, particularly biographic researches. We appreciate all that you do, Mr. Co.
6- We Wish We Could Name Them Award: Woodward and Bernstein had “Deep Throat” and we have….! Gedab News would not exist without the tireless support that we get from our members living inside Eritrea. The job that they do to inform Eritreans through awate.com is immense and very risky. Yet, they have been instrumental in breaking the barbed wire set around Eritrea by the PFDJ and giving us a glimpse of what goes on in Eritrea every now and then. These are the heroes who are doing the impossible and one day in a free Eritrea, their role will be celebrated and they will get the due respect that they rightly deserve. For years now, they were the reporters, stringers, luminary contributors and advisors to awate.com. We can’t thank them enough. On behalf of our readers, we just show our admiration for their dedication. Thank you.
And thank you all… now lets move to the sixth year.
The Awate Team