Eritrea: Where The Victims Are Villains
I am livid – absolutely livid, in fact!! The reason for my anger has to do mainly with the last three comments made by S. Temelso, Y. Kahsai and A. Hidrat in response to my article of June 30, 2012 (www.awate.com) in which the Eritrean people are labeled as cowards, self centered opportunists and runaways (Eritrawyan ferahatn, tebeletstn, hademtn iyom!!) who are in no position to fight against their oppressors. Actually, nothing can be far from the truth. This amounts to unfairly confusing the victims with the villains.
Those surprising accusatory statements are the culmination of a long standing argument about the possible explanations for why the Dictator Isaias Afwerki has turned out to be the nemesis of Eritrea and its people. The central position of my two previous articles about the Eritrean Holocaust was that Isaias Afwerki has deliberately tried and to a large extent succeeded in dismantling the Eritrean state and society in such a way that he can rule indefinitely unopposed without a constitution, a parliament, a free press and independent judiciary. The two articles also detailed the unimaginable human tragedies this has resulted in. An attempt was then made to consider why a person could be so heartless and uncaring in the face of so much suffering originating from his own warped thinking and feeling. The hypothesis that emerged after reviewing the facts was that the man is a psychopath and that in his formative years there might have been certain factors that inculcated the feeling of “otherness” in him – possibly linked to his family origins in Tembien (i.e. Emperor Yohannes IV, et al.). The damaging influence of Kiada al Ama was also raised as another important factor that contributed to making the monster what he has been in the last forty years or more.
These factors were detailed in an attempt to lay down a more or less acceptable ground on which we can evolve effective strategies on how to deal with the Eritrean crisis. The two articles concluded that in the absence of any realistic opposition to remove the dictator and his brutal and corrupt regime, the best option for the moment might be to compile a compelling dossier detaining all the atrocities and acts of genocide perpetrated by the dictator and his regime and take the matter to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in Geneva to seek an arrest warrant and subsequent actual arrest of the dictator. This is to be done with the purpose of removing Isaias Afwerki from power. Once the pillar of the regime is removed, it is expected that the regime would crack and collapse – giving way to a new democratic dispensation in Eritrea. These were the lines of argument of the two articles.
Alas, for reasons that are not known, many of the respondents started picking on secondary issues such as the genealogy of Isaias – which were really tangential to the central issue of the matter. The main issue was not actually his real family tree or whether he was linked to royalty anywhere. Unless he undergoes a genetic test, we can’t be sure where he is from, in fact. What is crucially important in how he perceives himself. Whether his family is originally from Adi Niamin, Arbaite Asmera, Tembien or Timboktu does not affect his Eritrean identity at all. What matters is, however, whether he genuinely accepts his Eritreaness full heartedly and identifies his destiny with that of the Eritrean people – and whether he really thinks more for the good of the Eritrean people above his own personal interests, as he once used to claim, although he does not mention it nowadays. In short, we have no problem with his family tree at all. But, we have a big problem whether he really takes himself primarily as an Eritrean or somebody “other” who is only going through the motions just for his own personal and private ends. We think that he has, in fact, deceived us: he has abused our trust.
To make this point absolutely clear, we shall take the case of Ato Woldeab Woldemariam, God bless him! That gentleman and genuine Eritrean was as far as I know 100% of Tigrean ancestry. His father and mother were from Tigray. He was born and raised in Eritrea, and he saw himself none other than an Eritrean. He genuinely fought for Eritrean independence, and he risked his life and limb for Eritrea. We now have a question? Who can claim to be more Eritrean than Ato Woldeab, or Welwel? Actually, none!!
I now feel morally obliged to tell you openly about my own family history because I do not intend to run for public office anywhere. In short, I will spill the beans!! I have done research into my family history. What I have found is extremely interesting, and it says a lot about what we call the “Eritrean people” – whom I believe have a unique general identity. My family belongs to two main clans in Eritrea: the LOGOS and the HAWYAS. Descendants of these two clans are found mainly in Seraye, Akeleguzay and Hamassien. The Logos say that they are originally from Quara, Gondar and further from that possibly from Syria. They also link themselves with the Sahos. They even say that their original father is a man called Umar Donguaie, a Muslim Saho. On the Hawiya clan side of my ancestry, it is claimed that we belong to the once ruler of Seraye, Dejetch Diebul, whose rank and position was later taken over by his grandson fathered by a servant in his court who had migrated from Lasta after the Zaguye Kingdon collapsed. Much has been written about the Hawya in Eritrea by the Italian scholar Conti Rosini. You may also read about the Hawya in a book written by Dr Abba Issak. The Hawya clan are a branch of the Beja people from the Sudan who invaded and settled in large parts of lowland and highland Eritrea and became dominant rulers although they latter adopted the local language, culture and religion. (cf. the Beja Kingdom of Eritrea, 740 A.D. -14the century A.D.) The Bejas also had a strong presence in Ancient Egypt as priests and warriors depicted in the tomb pictures with fizzy hair. Therefore, am I related to our very own Ali Salim (cf. www.awate.com) through my Beja roots going back to the Metahit, the Sudan and finally Egypt? I do not know, but maybe. I like that anyway.
But, there is also another twist to the story. It is about my great grandfather from Adowa Awraja. After the Italians occupied Massawa around 1885, they brought draught animals like horses from India and Southern Europe and other places. That caused a serious spread of rinderpest disease from Massawa through highland Eritrea, Tigray, Shoa, the Rift Valley up to Kenya and beyond. It was also the cause of a serious epidemic of cholera and other infectious diseases – and famine. That caused a catastrophic decimation of the population similar to the Black Death in Medieval Europe. My great grandfather was a victim of that. He was from a wealthy family of high rank. However, because they fell on bad times, he and his siblings had to migrate to Keren (which was then newly occupied by the Italians) because they had heard that food was available there. My great granddad quickly enlisted in the Italian army as an askari. They say that he looked really great with his uniform, darkish skin colour and bright twinkling eyes. My grandmother was born in Keren. That is why I like the city which I have visited several times. Anyway, when the Italians mobilized for the Battle of Adowa, my great grandfather was one of those who fought on the frontline. However, he was captured by the Ethiopians and put on trial. He and several hundred of his ERITREAN fellow ascaris (not the Italians) were condemned for their one hand and one foot to be amputated. My ancestor lost his limbs this way. Unfortunately, he could not take it, and he jumped into a well and killed himself – poor man. He was a Tigrean from Adowa but he died as an Eritrean.
A few years ago, I re-established contacts with my great grandfather’s remaining family in Adwa Awraja. I actually went to the village in a valley where he hails from. I talked to my old relatives there who had been in touch with my parents when they were still alive. There was especially one old debtera who seemed to know everything. He told me in detail the origins of our family in Adowa. I was surprised to find out that the family fathers were actually originally from Agame Awraja, not Adowa. Ok, folks, in your face, I am AGAME!! Let the sky fall, but I have to speak the truth. All the same. I am an Eritrean!!!
I used to live in the City of Birmingham in the English Midlands long ago. The city has a big portion of its populations from many parts of the world, especially from the Indian sub-continent. The motto of the city if : “Out of many, we are one!!” I think that this motto also fits the Eritrean situation very well. Just look at my background. I hope that this settles the question of genealogy and as to who can claim to be a genuine Eritrean. As far as I am concerned, so long as you believe in Eritrea and you have its interests in your heart and mind, you are an Eritrean wherever you may come from. But, do not tell us that you are an Eritrean simply because it suits you and then turn against us, and even become our executioner when you think that you can get away with it. We can’t accept that.
Why is it then that many respondents put aside the central issue raised in the two articles and chose to concentrate instead on what they thought were false or unverified rumors about Isaias Afwerki’s genealogy or what percent of Tigrean blood there is in Eritrea? In the later stage of the argument, Isaias was completely forgotten as an issue. In fact, the discussion degenerated into an accusation of the Eritrean people for cowardice, opportunism and being a nation of runaways.
If not anything else, Eritreans cannot be accused of three things: cowardice, stupidity and laziness. Eritreans are well known not only for their group courage, but also for their personal courage. The stories of Zerai Deress and Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom speak volumes for that. The courage and skill of Eritreans in battle is also very well known. The Italians were using Eritrean regiments as crack troops. We can give many examples of Eritrean courage and skill in battle. Yes, Ethiopians are also brave people and nobody can take that away from them. But, it sometimes looks as if that courage might come as a result of numbers. They will fight to the death as long as they think that they are winning. If the leader or king is killed or if they think they are losing, that courage seems to disappear in thin air. Mengistu Hailemariam himself used to say that Ethiopian soldiers perform well in victory but that they cannot handle defeat or serious possibility of defeat. Consider how they lost the battle of Metema. At the point of victory, Emperor Yohannes was hit by a stray bullet. Once his troops knew this, they started to run away. My be this has to do with the way Ethiopian armies are organised. But, all the same, it would somehow surprise me if an Ethiopian were to have the courage to try to kill his enemies in the middle of a parade amidst a strange people and a strange place like Zerai Deres did. We, thus, cannot accuse Eritreans as a whole for cowardice. Sorry, I brought in the case of the Ethiopians because one of the commentators was comparing Eritreans much less favourably with the Ethiopians. Anyway, there are many factors which make a fair comparison between the two very difficult.
How is it that our young people have failed to fight against the dictator and win instead of running away? You need to understand the anatomy of the Eritrean state, army structure and its security system. I don’t blame the gentleman from Harar Teacher Training Institute for not knowing much about how the Isaias regime operates and controls the people because of a dearth of information around him. But, in the future, he should refrain from making such accusations about things he knows very little about. It is really like turning the victim into a villain.
The Eritrean society was not like this in the past at all. It has already been pointed out in the two long articles already mentioned how the Isayas regime has eroded the moral of the Eritrean people, especially the young, how the dictator has made any opposition very difficult or impossible, how the state has become just the instrument of one man, how corruption has engulfed the nation even having links with human trafficking and organ harvest and sale in the Sinai, how opportunism has become a culture, how our young people have been forced to free their home and hearth out of desperation, etc. It is wrong really, very wrong to now turn around and accuse the victims as if they are the villains. It is Isaias Afwerki who has to primarily bear the responsibility for all the evil in the Eritrean society today. Why do you let him off the hook by ignoring the central issue of the matter?