Gebremedhin Zegergis: Eyewitness To Eritrean History
Editor’s Note: [the name of the author has been wrongly typed as Zerizghi, it is Zegergis. We appologize for the error] This eye-witness account by Gebremedhin Zegergis, veteran combatant with the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), was originally written in Tigrinya and published by the ELF-RC of which Gebremedhin was a member. About seven years ago, Gebremedhin kindly sent us the Tigrinya copy for publication. Unfortunately, for lack of time and resources, we didn’t have it converted to an electronic file. However, we did translate it into English and shelved it with other pending files. Today we are glad to present it to our readers hoping they benefit from it as a source of information.
The detailed testimonies contained in Gebremedhin’s report serve as a background to the article (He And His Objectives) that we published on February 13, 2012, and to the upcoming article entitled ‘Srryet Addis: Blatant Lie?’ We believe that all three documents will shed more light on the most crucial grey part in the history of the Eritrean struggle of the late sixties.
Whenever possible, the translation of Gebremedhin’s eyewitness account was verbatim so that the tone and spirit of the original Tigrinya content is not altered. While we have remained true to the content, we have occasionally and slightly reconstructed the Tigrinya sentences and the writers writing style in order to make it comprehensible to the English reader: (If a reader does not have a cultural understanding of Tigrinya, some sentences may certainly sound strange.) We have translated proper nouns of people and places phonetically.
AN EYE WITNESS
In The History of The Eritrean Revolution
By Gebremedhin Zegergis
Member of ELF-RC
I am an individual who has been, and still is, struggling [as a member] of the ELF organization in different aspects, since 1969. This written material is a true history [and] based on experiences that I was part of and I have witnessed.
This book, though it should have been issued earlier, due to different reasons, is being issued belatedly. But its issuance at this moment is positively identified.
Since I became blinded when I was [in combat] in the Eritrean field, I recorded this note on [an audio] cassette; and it was [made] possible to write and distribute it with the cooperation of my struggle-colleagues; and I feel proud.
In the Eritrean field, I was a common combatant and not someone who was a cadre. The history that I have presented in this book is not what I heared of or [what I] read in magazines, radios of television: they are truths that I have accumulated on my daily movements in the Eritrean field. I don’t have the conviction that all Eritreans would believe or accept the history that I am presenting; but, since there is no lack of [those] who replace truth with lies, and who speak and write lies presented as truth, I have no doubt that this will help the people to compare in trying to find the truth [on their own] about their true history.
I pass my heartfelt appreciation to my comrade Tesfay Teklezhgi who whole-heartedly accepted my request to have this [notes] published in a book format.
Your brother, Gebremedhin Zegergis
What compelled me to write my experiences as well as the situation of the Eritrean revolution is not an intention to pick on past wounds of the Eritrean revolution—and this, I would like to bring to the attention of the reader. Moreover, it is also not because I forgot the current objective of our people to unseat the dictatorial system and to replace it with a democratic system endowed with harmony. I believe in the truth and that revisiting our past history and investigating it would soften the grounds [to achieve] our current objectives.
It is known that, regardless of their reasons or the targets they want to hit, there are individuals and groups who say, “the history of the Eritrean people’s liberation struggle should not be mentioned negatively or positively.” When we observe closely, [we find out] that some innocently believe that there is no benefit in talking about history; but it should be remembered that some do that purposely to protect and cover up their individual and group interests.
The history of the Eritrean liberation struggle, in whatever manner, can never be changed or beautified or [its] black [spots] to be changed to white and its white [spots] to be changed to black. Who knows, even if it was contemplated that by removing the black [spots] and painting it white would [actually] make it white; but painting white over the black [spots], [will result only] in shades of grey. It is impossible to forget history and create a future history that can be identified as positive. In other words, it is only based on the past and present that one can build the history of the future.
Regarding the view that [divulging] “history that doesn’t consider timing would not deliver its [intended] message”; from the organizational perspective, I fully agree with that. But, when irresponsible individuals and groups trash and twist our past, to keep silent by claiming that, “it is not the right time yet”, be it directly or indirectly, I say, it has no meaning other than protecting the tyrannical government of PFDJ which is sitting on the saddle of authority, and is dreaming and struggling to erase our history. Because, saying “let [the PFDJ] write [what they want], but since you are [more] responsible [than them] don’t respond”, on top of it being outright opportunistic, reminds one of the saying of our ancestors: “Asha temesilka drarom wed’alom.” (Pretend to be foolish and take advantage of them).
I don’t believe there is an Eritrean who doesn’t follow how those criminals (specially and primarily Isaias Afwerki’s group), in order to cover up the wrongdoings they committed against our people and our organization (ELF), are spreading and writing, a mocking and twisted history of our organization. As the saying goes, “Adkha kzmet do Atynkha Y’emet”, hearing and watching quietly while history is being disfigured before it is told, is nothing but escaping from bearing responsibility and turning your back to the struggle—my conscience forces me to expose and uncover their lies with the history of which I am an eyewitness. It is also of great necessity that our people know this truth. It’s driven by this [conviction] that I was pushed to write about the past and the real experience of the Eritrean revolution that either I participated in person or witnessed. Since I believe very well that the experiences and history of the 30 year armed struggle for the liberation of Eritrea cannot be written in one book or in a few hours; I wouldn’t like to pass without mentioning to my readers that I will focus on the important issues… questions and historical events that took place in the period in which I was present.
The Origin Of My National Consciousness
It is undeniable that our environment has a huge impact and influence on our lives. And since the source of the national consciousness of every citizen, in different times, ages and situations, etc, is dynamic and is different, it doesn’t mean that everybody has a similar point of departure.
As for me, I was 14 years old in the beginning of the sixties and I lived in the towns of Mai Habar, Nefasit and Ghindae. Chat was being cultivated in the farms of these towns and I was moving around trading in Chat. Conversely, since there was a large Tor Serawit [Ethiopian Army] military camp in Mai Habar, I was frequently going there to sell Chat. The Army in that town enjoyed better living conditions than their colleagues [in other towns]. This is because, on the one hand, since they had fought victoriously in an African country named Congo, Emperor Haile Sellasie had given them a 1000 Birr bonus; and on the other hand, they had uncountable property which they looted and stole from the Congolese people; they were swarming around me like bees to buy Chat. And because [I frequented the camp] I used to see many wives of the Tor Serawit dressed in black crying and mourning. And I was hearing some people say that “[the soldiers] died while fighting Wedi Awate [Hamid Idris Awate] who is a Shifta [bandit] in the lowlands”. One time, I accidentally witnessed in the camp the Tezkar [wake] of Colonel Kebede, the commander of the camp who was killed in battle. The wake was extravagant and big. Though I was about 14 years old, I was aware of the fact that Hamid Idris Awate was struggling for the liberation of Eritrea in the Lowlands, and that there was an organization known as Jebha [Front].
With the passing of time, when I went to the area around the mountains of Bizen for farming, Jebha had started to penetrate the Eastern Lowlands [of Eritrea coming] from the Western Lowlands. Because of this, I was able to witness what I used to hear about. Around 1966, the Tor Serawit from the [camps] of the towns of Ghindae and Embatkala were killing and slaughtering people; burning houses and farms, and plundering properties and cattle. Flourishing villages like Ailet and Gemhot, and villages located on the foot of the Bizen Mountain had their inhabitants slaughtered or scattered by Tor Serawit. Even the inhabitants of those villages who were able to escape were not able to carry anything except their canes and the cloth on their backs; they were exposed to disease and hunger and lack of shelter. This suffering of the people and the brutal deeds of the Tor Serawit that I witnessed first hand was imprinted in my mind and it played a big role in increasing my national consciousness. When the situation became worse, even though we were lucky and escaped death, we understood that one day [death] is going to befall us; therefore, I and a few others decided to go to Ghindae.
In Ghindae, there was difficulty in finding a job. But after sometime, I was employed as an assistant in a truck that transported firewood. And by coincidence, since the truck was moving in different areas, I always had the opportunity of meeting Jebha [combatants]. To mention a few examples, by going to the direction and surroundings of Shebbah, Gedged, Selemuna, Zager, Ad Shuma (Semhar Metaat) and on the other direction, to the surroundings of Feter, Tego, Een, meeting combatants became my daily affairs. I was also recruited by the ELF and started to fulfill my obligations [Ed: This usually means financial contribution, information gathering and running errands secretly for the combatants]. It had been a long time since I thought of enlisting in the ELF to fulfill my obligation. But after postponing my plans for sometime due to different reasons, I joined the Eritrean Liberation Forces in May (Gnbot) 1969.
Thus, based on what I saw and heard when I was young, and driven by my national consciousness (positive and negative influences that were created by my surroundings) I joined the Eritrean field.
My participation In The Eritrean Field; The Prevailing Situations; And The Tripartite Unity Of May 1969.
In May 1969, when I fully decided to join the ELF, I headed towards the mountains, ravines and valleys where I grew up and which I knew. When I reached Debre Bizen, I found the ELF group that was led by Martyr Weldemariam Solomon and I told him that I came to join: he accepted me. Including me, we were eight youth who came to join in that place. But the mother of Weldekidan, the eighth person, came and pleaded, “without him we don’t have anyone to take care of our cattle and farm; give me back my son.” He was returned.
The remaining new recruits, seven of us, were first taken to Deeot Mountain and later to Zager Valley (Eastern Eritrea). There, we found out that the integration of Tripartite Unity (Wehda Sulasiya) forces was being carried out. We were amazed by the big number of the forces. The next day, they took us to a place to meet Abraha Tewelde, the commander of the fifth zone and member of the transitional leadership of the Tripartite Unity.
Abraha Tewelde asked us “how are you brothers?” and received us, but then he yelled at Solomon Weldemariam with strong reprimanding words and said to him, “why do you accept new recruits?” Solomon responded, “I cannot tell such strong youth to return to their homes, and you do whatever you want with them.” Abraha Tewelde tried to convince us to return to our homes. We refused and he transferred us to martyr Mohammed Ibrahim, the secretary of the transitional leadership of the Tripartite Unity. Mohamed Ibrahim registered our names and took us to a small training camp. After forty days of training we were assigned to the forces. I and another person were [further] assigned to a clinic that was located in Gergera.
Though we accepted it later on, we were not happy for being assigned to a clinic. We had a thought in our minds: carrying arms and fighting the foreign forces of Ethiopia; we didn’t consider working at a clinic a real struggle. The people who were at the clinic convinced us that the struggle [can be carried out] in any place. At the clinic we tended to the sick, helped, served food, water and tea to the sick and since we were given limited training on giving shots, we contributed with our humble skills.
A. The Situation Of Spies (Jewasis) In Jebha
There was no stone unturned and no tactic not tried by the occupational Ethiopian system in order to at least hinder, and if it can, to abort the Eritrean revolution with the help of spies. In what follows I will explain enemy attempts of spying during the period that I was present. I would like to note here that though I will explain regarding “Srreyet Addis” in detail [later], and why the leadership of the Tripartite Unity had decided to stop accepting new recruits; the subject [spies] that we have raised has some connections with it.
In 1969, the Government of Haile Sellasie organized an Expo in Asmara for the first time. All Eritrean ethnic groups were given instructions to prepare a cultural exhibit. Based on that, twenty youth from Ghindae aged between 20 and 25 were selected to play [in the Expo] representing the Tigre group. Mainly popular youth from Ghindae, like Wedi Kerai, Wedi Hajji, had participated at the Expo. The Government of Ethiopia, through its collaborators like Asrate Kassa and Tesfayohannes Berhe, had tried many plans to abort the Eritrean revolution. After secretly recruiting the youth, they deployed them to [secretly] join Jebha in places around Ghindae in order to spy. They lured them by promises of cash and employment positions when they return if they cause the failure of Jebha or if they brought along important secrets. Deceived by these promises, the youth traveled from Asmara to Ghindae and from Ghindae to the Tripartite Unity [forces]. Among the youth was a certain Messoud who had previously joined Jebha but later surrendered to the enemy. When Messoud surrendered to the enemy, he had exposed and caused many [clandestine] Jebha members to be shot. Messoud also abused the people and Jebha was trying hard to kill him. There were two attempts on his life. In the first attempt by Jebha Fedayeen in Ghindae, he escaped with minor injuries; but on the second attempt, the attack that targeting him resulted in collateral casualty on some bar workers, and he escaped [unharmed]. The reason I am mentioning the history of this individual [Messoud] is because he thought he was still unexposed and came to join the Jebha again. I want to make it clear here that, he was already sentenced without any doubt [and there was no need for another] judgment. Jebha had the identities of those youth from its clandestine cells and from Abdu Cavelieri Omer, the administrator (District Officer) of Ghindae. And Abdu Cavelieri Omer had other information that he got from Asrate Kassa. Therefore, after finding the detailed list of the names of those who were deployed in the Eritrean field, they were picked from their units and taken to the interrogation department. After they admitted committing the crimes [of spying], the Tripartite Unity leadership imposed on them a death penalty.
The reason why the leadership of the Tripartite Unity had stopped recruiting new people was because many such activities of spying were being discovered. And this was the reason why Abraha Tewelde angrily yelled at Solomon Weldemariam for recruiting us as I mentioned above.
On a different side, there was a spying incident of a new recruit who was on training: someone who claimed to be an Egyptian and who asked to be recruited by promising, “I am ready to pay to the Eritrean Revolution even with my life”. The leadership of the Tripartite Unity considered him a genuine person who came to help and accepted him. On May 1969, after observing Jebha for some months and discovering that he was not able to do anything, he left Gerger heading towards Massawa [to surrender]. But daylight caught him on the way before he could make it to Massawa. When the leadership of the Tripartite Unity heard of his escape, it deployed combatants and civilians to search and apprehend him. At 4 PM, when he went out from his hiding due to thirst and descended to the river to drink, he was caught by civilians and was delivered to the leadership of the Tripartite Unity. After interrogation, he admitted that he was a spy. In addition, a watch on which he recorded secrets was found with him. Information that was found later confirmed that he was not an Egyptian but an Israeli. This individual was a dangerous individual who worked in the Congo as a spy. Later on, we heard that Jebha delivered him to the Syrian government in case Syria and Israel exchanged prisoners: Syria could have use of him.
B. Internal Political Situation
Generally speaking, the internal situations of the Eritrean revolution in the field was clouded with conflicting wishes; efforts to splinter and trends of uniting. It can be said with confidence that it was divided between a camp that supported the unity of the five regions and a camp that opposed it. In time, it became clearer as these divisions led to the [formation] of forces along trends that either supported or opposed the convening of the Adobha military congress.
At the clinic where I was assigned, I observed that the leaders of the department were all from Hergigo and Massawa. To mention [a few], Alamin Mohammed Said, (currently in the PFDJ leadership) Abdulkadir, Idris Lobinet, Ahmed Hayoti, Ahmed Mantay [who were from Massawa] were on one side, and on the other side, at the clinic that was located around Gedem, its leaders were from Hergigo. During that time, we were witnessing many small cliquish meetings [held] behind the boulders and trees. Especially when it started to get dark, the holding of continuous meetings became a customary schedule. The goals of these meetings were never explained to us, be it in positive [light] or negatively. Though we had the understanding that since we were new we were not supposed to be privy of all that went on, we didn’t miss [the fact] that the excessive whispering was the seed of splintering. Later in 1970, these whispers were followed by the splintering and the formation of the Eritrean Popular Liberation Forces at Seduho Ella [Dankalia].
As for the second trend, the positive trend of uniting and integrating [the forces] of the waves of democracy, it pushed foreword and directed its focus only towards the [convening of the] Adobha Congress. The following can prove that:
1- The need for the contact delegation that was formed on 11/25/69 by the Tripartite Unity to communicate with the first and second regions was found to be important and it was accepted by all regions.
2- The decision [taken] on 4/2/69 by the First Zone in its congress to form a committee to contact the Second Zone and the Tripartite Unity, and the beginning of implementing the decision.
3- The decision of the Second Zone’s congress on 4/13/69, to form a committee to contact the First Zone and the Tripartite Unity, and the beginning of implementing the decision.
Because of these efforts, the Adobha Congress was convened between 10-25 August, 1969. Some of the decision of the Adobha Congress are as follows:
1- It elected a leadership composed of 38 members to lead the liberation forces.
2- It decided to suspend the [authority of the] Supreme Council until the convening of the first congress. It also [decided] to strip the authority of regional commanders and their deputies.
3- It decided to hold a general national congress after a period of one year; a preparatory committee was formed for this purpose.
4- It elected an 18-member committee to investigate wrongdoings committed against the people.
5- It clarified that no one and no group has the right to issue official statements on behalf of the organization without the permission and authorization of the General Command.
6- It formed a committee to collect the properties of the organization.
Therefore, without going into deep political analysis regarding the decisions of the Adobha Congress, for the forces of change—those who were interested in the people, the revolution, unity and democratic process—it was a good herald that the struggle has achieved its goals. But to the reactionaries, tribalism, sectarians and the power hungry, it made them eat their heart out and go into the muddy path of splintering and seclusion.
After the Adobha Congress was adjourned successfully on 25/8/1969, the General Command (AlQiada AlAama) summoned the liberation forces from all parts and started to integrate them. And after the integration process was carried out in Tahra and Orota, we and others were summoned and we left to convene in Saber where all members of the General Command were present in the Saber Valley. We were [in Saber] because the family of martyr Jaafer Jabir were having a memorial for their son in the surrounding of Halhal and they had invited all the members of the General Command—Isaias Afwerki was also present there. The hosts slaughtered five or six oxen because of the many guests: members of the General Command and their escorts as well as many other invited guests. We stayed in that place for two days.
After moving from [Saber] to a place called Beyan in Jengeren, the General Command held a meeting that lasted for 24 hours to draw different plans and later, many of the leaders headed towards Halhal.
C- The Seed Of Selfi Natsnet (and Srryet Addis)
As I stated earlier, there was a disagreement between Martyr Abraha Tewelde and Solomon Weldemariam regarding our recruitment and that of other new recruits. This issue should not to be considered as a disagreement between two persons only, I feel that it should be seen from a legal context and as a matter of principle. In other words, this issue was related to the splintering that followed later on.
After delivering us to the Tripartite Unity (meaning to Abraha Tewelde), Solomon Weldemariam continued to move around Ala, May Habar and Nefasit and accepting new recruits. He was specially accepting those who came from Addis Ababa and who later were to be known as Srryet Addis, and was assembling them in Seled. Solomon was doing this with the collaboration of a SATEO bus driver who was then working on the Addis Ababa [route] and who currently lives in Sweden.
Solomon was a steadfast, dedicated, genuine and resolute combatant. That is why when he was in the Third Zone, Jebha sent him to Addis Ababa to educate and organize the people; he found a special opportunity of organizing Eritrean students in the [Addis Ababa] university. But as much as he was known as a resolute combatant, Solomon was also known [to be] sly. In short, he was among those who were considered overwhelmed by a cunning [behavior]. In regards to his relations with Isaias, he was an outright puppy. This was because they had plans to split and they were considering the force [gathered in Seled] as their force and [were] trying to introduce it to a sectarian leaning.
Excessively deceitful, Solomon Weldemarian went to the extent of betraying his colleagues to the enemy; my conscience forces me to expose some of his ugly deeds. Solomon Weldemariam was in charge of collecting financial contributions through the Fedaeyeen squad that was around Asmera and its surroundings; and Martyr Arefaine who was in charge of military operations was jointly working with him. While Solomon was collecting money from wealthy Eritreans by dispatching combatants, Arefaine was taking steps of killing Ethiopian spy elements. Since in that time there was a disagreement between Solomon and Arefaine regarding the split, he caused Arefaine and eight of his colleagues to be killed by the enemy. When he was in the area around Derfo, a Commandis force approached their location, Solomon saw them first and he fled towards Gul’ee to save his life without informing his colleagues or opening fire [to warn them]. [Arefaine’s group were cordoned by the Commandis and ordered to surrender. But the combatants bravely fought, but they were all martyred after hitting some [of the Commandis]. Later on, Solomon was asked to explain the [circumstances] of how [his colleagues] were martyred. Shamelessly he reported that, “While Arefaine was trying to [hide] and avoid the Commandis, a Beles Picker [fruit vendor] saw them and snitched on them; shooting stared and all were martyred there.”
After the Adobha Congress was adjourned and all combatants were integrated, news about the new combatants who were assembled at Seled reached the General Command who sent three successive letters to Solomon Weldemarian. The content of the letters was based on the resolution of Adobha Congress and General Command’s call for the integration of the remaining forces. Regardless, Solomon chose silence and didn’t reply. After that, the General Command sent combatants and brought [Solomon] as a prisoner. As for Srreyet Addis [those who were assembled in Seled], it made temporary plans and dispatched them to the surroundings of Keren, Halhal, Asmat and Marya Tselam. It assigned Sereqe Bahta as the leader of the force and also assigned to them experienced military trainers. Sereqe Bahta was a trustworthy nationalist who is still struggling under his organization until now. After completing their military training, similar to all other forces who were integrated, the General Command called [Srreyet Addis] to be integrated [with other forces] in a place called Mai Shewa, in the surroundings of Hagaz and Aderde.
At 8 o’clock, all members of the General Command arrived at Mai Shewa where Srreyet Addis displayed its training. After the show, the General Command said, “we witnessed a good training result that is truly very successful. Today the reason we have come here is to inform you of your assignment and that is, [every] six combatants will be assigned to a brigade and [every] two combatants to a platoon”. But the trainees considered this [a plan] to disperse them and totally rejected [the decision]. [The members of Srreyet Addis] insistently refused and said, “we had a good training, give us arms and assign us as [one] force wherever you want”. The discussion about this issue continued from 8 am until 6pm. It was clear that all the excuses and smartness was not initiated by the [new] combatants; they were not its source. Isaias Afwerki was in Mai Shewa; and all the meetings was known to the members of the General Command. In addition to that, Tewelde Eyob, Maasho Kibrom, Asmerom Gerezgher and Zemichael were sitting and watching as if [they were] innocent. Some of the Srreyet Addis [members] would say they were going out to relieve themselves and would return after meeting with these people. All day whispering was at its highest. At last, the General Command became suspicious. Later on, after Srreyet Addis and their instigators assessed that the General Command had become suspicious, they decided, “All right, we will be assigned” and they were assigned to all parts of Eritrea.
Within one-month, the Eritrean field was flooded with crisscrossing letters. Members of Srreyet Addis started to communicate and correspond through letters. When there was an attempt to read letters that were intercepted, it was impossible [to read them]. Some were in secret codes, some were in numbers, some were [written] in alphabets that seemed like Russian. But after a long follow up, some [letters] containing messages [were intercepted]. Written in Tigrigna, they just read, “Hold on [Ajokhum], be brave, let’s do as we talked.”
When the General Command intercepted these letters, it recalled the spying network that was exposed [earlier] in the Tripartite Unity. Emanating from that thought and to prevent the revolution from entering into risk and pitch darkness, it passed a decision to gather all members of Srreyet Addis from wherever they were. In the beginning, the task of collecting about 17 members of Srreyet Addis who were around Barka was accomplished. Until their remaining colleagues were collected from the different places to which they were assigned, they were accompanied by a guard squad of 12 people and ascended Debir Sala. Since they had agitating thoughts in their minds, they outlined a plan to take steps against the squad that was guarding them. Their plan was to forcibly take the arms from their guards, kill whomever needed to be killed and by night head to the town of Agordat and surrender to the enemy. They agreed that one of them would go closer to a guard with the excuse of telling him he was going to go to relieve himself and then snatch his gun; and a second one was [supposed] to kill the leader of the squad while he was sleeping by crushing his head [with a stone]; and another two were to attack the two guys who handled the machine gun (Bren gun). The squad leader was then crushed [with a stone] and was martyred. One of the machine gunners was sleeping while securely rolled around his gun, and the member of Srreyet Addis who was supposed to snatch it from him was not successful. He was killed there. The remaining 15 fled and entered Agordat. When this [incident] happened, the news of the betrayal of Srreyet Addis spread all over the field. While the majority of the remaining members of Srreyet Addis who were assigned in other places fled and surrendered to the enemy, the rest joined Selfi Natsnet [Isaias’ splinter group].
I would like to point out that after the Adobha Congress, and after the integration of the forces was concluded, with the pretext, and under the cover of organizational tasks, Isaias was moving around Re’si Adi, Ad Shuma and the Red Sea Coast accompanied by some of his colleagues
Therefore, what ever is said, whatever defamation is spread, whatever is exaggerated, the truth is what I had witnessed with my own eyes, which is what I have mentioned above: the plans to split resulted in the conspiracies, whispering and betrayal. Since it is very troublesome for some individuals and groups to swallow the truth, the fact that they have always diligently tried to twist and bend the history of the Eritrean revolution, is a fact that the experience of the Eritrean revolution bears witness to. Criminals like Solomon Weldemariam and Isaias Afwerki try to cover up the crimes they committed or to direct [the accusation] to others, and they blubber saying, “Jebha [is] reactionary, sectarian, slaughterer, etc.” Whose eyes do they want to blind!
Therefore, the party that bears responsibility on the issue of Srreyet Addis is neither Jebha nor the members of Srreyet Addis; it is the conspiring leaders of the then Selfi Natsnet, and present PFDJ who purposely pushed them in order to serve their splintering designs. The cause [for the problem] were the EPLF leaders who couched the innocent members of Srreyet Addis by telling them, ‘if they say such and such tell them such and such,’ etc. They pushed them over to risks and caused their dispersing. This is a truth to which history bears testimony.
A General Picture On the Eve After the 1970 Splintering Period
A- The Adobha Congress passed two resolutions: the stepping down of the regional commanders from their positions until the first national congress and the stripping of their deputies of their authority. These were two incidents of historical importance and they aimed at the future developments. While Mohammed Ali Omaro, the commander of the fourth zone, rejected the decision and started to gloat, “there is no individual or entity that can make me step down from my position”, the commander of the fifth zone, Martyr Abraha Tewelde, supported the resolution of the Adobha Congress and said, “since this is honest and protects the well being and safety of the people and the organization, there is no reason why I shouldn’t step down, therefore I accept it.” Each [commander] clarified his stand. The substance that we can extract from these truth is as follows:
1- Mohammed Ali Omaro was either determined to splinter sometime in the future or he was [thinking to], or, he advanced his personal interest to the unity of the people and the organization. The fact that Mohammed Ali Omaro was establishing special relations with Osman Saleh Sabbe, and others who hail from Semhar, is a truth known to all.
2- Martyr Abraha not only didn’t wish to splinter, [his stand] explains that he was against what was to happen later: the splintering ideas and deeds of Isaias, Solomon Weldemariam, and their colleagues. In addition, this shows that Abraha Tewelde had a wish for unity, and that he was a combatant who doesn’t put his [personal interest and love of] authority above the interest of the people.
After the Adobha Congress, Omaro started to meet with Sabbe and began to prepare to split and to form a new organization. Abraha Tewelde requested a vacation and, accompanied by a combatant named Tekhle, went to Aala—the environs where he was born. In no time, he was killed by the Isaias and Solomon group. The reason [for killing him] was [fear] that is he is alive, their splintering designs would not be successful; they knew he was accepted by the people and the combatants.
B- Since on the eve of the conclusion of the Adobha Congress some members of the General Command started splitting movements on top of internal and international meetings, the General Command arrested six of its members who were carrying out such movements (they were all from Semhar, Red Sea). Later on, in 1971, they were freed by the leaders of the Obelyeen.
C- Osman Saleh Sabbe and some remnants of the Supreme Council, some members of what was known as the Revolutionary Leadership that was leading out of Kassala, and some ex-members of Mahber Shewate held a meeting in Amman, Jordan and formed a leadership called “AlAmana AlAma” which issued statements condemning the resolutions of the Adobha Congress.
D- They were running actively to weaken the combatants who were entering the Sudan for vocation for medication or other organizational missions by [offering] them money (assistance to them or their families), and by spreading lies claiming that the General Command went astray from the resolutions of the Adobha Congress. And in order to appear as defenders of the congress that was supported by the forces, they started defaming the General Command for acts it didn’t commit. In short, all became a feathered rooster and campaigned to defame the General Command.
E- Some individuals started to weaken the rank and file of the combatants by sending them to the Sudan, and from there taking them across to Yemen and [from there again by sea to] Denkalia.
F- Weldai Gide and Kidane Kiflu, who were collaborators of the revolutionary leadership in Kassala, establishing connections with Osman Saleh Sabbe and were working actively as part of the conspirators to splinter and form a new organization as mentioned above. They were killed in Kassala. The splinters exploited this [incident] and repeated words: “Jebha [is] slaughterer and liquidator,” something that became their catch phrase.
G- The [splinters] convened a congress in June, 1970, in a place called Seduho Ella, Dankalia, and formed a leadership owned by Osman Saleh Sabbe. Omaro, Mesfin Hagos, Alamin Mohammed Saed, etc…were members and they called themselves, the “Popular Liberation Forces (PLF)”.
H- In June, 1970, four members of the General Command who were from the Beni Amer tribe (Adem Saleh, Mohammed Ahmed Idris, Osman Ajeeb, Ahmed Omer) and some of their followers held a meeting in Obel Valley, Barka where they took a stand supportive of the Popular Forces for the Liberation of Eritrea and freed the six prisoners of the General Command as a gesture to Sabbe. They called themselves the “Eritrean Liberation Forces”.
I- And Isaias Afwerki, after staying in the surroundings of Ad Shuma, Merara, under the pretext and deceit of carrying out Jebha mission without openly declaring his splinter, he started connections with the PLF when they reached Seduho Eela on the Red Sea and began to acquire help in [the form of] combatants, arms and logistics from them. Later on, he exposed his splinter through his Christian oriented “Nehnan Elamanan” manifesto.
The Salvation Struggle: 1971-1972
As I have mentioned above, the general picture indicated that the Eritrean revolution had reached a turbulent situation. The reason is the splinter of three groups, ‘tribes of the PLF’, on one hand and the inability of the General Command to lead the Eritrean Revolution, on the other. In such a risky situation, defending the resolutions of the Adobha Congress and its legitimacy, and [the task of] strengthening the role of the democratic forces and elements, and integrating them to carry out a resilient struggle, was necessary. Without going to great length, the only choices were: either to emulate the stands taken by the three ‘faces of the Shaabya’—to take sectarian, tribal and religious stand, and to go the ravines, forests, plains, bars, churches, and mosques in one’s birthplace and be secluded [there] or, to struggle for the salvation of the revolution.
At any rate, in the periods mentioned above, the role of the General Command as a leadership was becoming weak and its capabilities were decreasing. Understanding this played a big role in ensuring the success of the Awate Conference and the support for the first national congress. First, there was an attempt to hold the Awate Conference at Kur, but since the Ethiopian government knew of the place through its spies and airplanes swarmed the place and disturbed the area, shifting it to the Awate camp became a must.
Even now, the leaders of the “Eritrean Liberation Forces” or, Obelites, devised a secret military plan to kill whoever they can and to arrest the majority of the Awate Congress delegates in order to have full control of Jebha. To further clarify this point, with the exception of Isaias Afwerki and Memher Aberra Mekonnen, all the other members of the General Command, battalion, platoon, regional commanders, and all their deputies, battalion medics, as well as individuals who came from abroad (for instance Herui Tella, Ibrahim Idris Mohammed Adem), were present. However, in spite of the fact that carrying out the conspiracy was underway, one of the combatants who was assigned to attack the congress told Osman Abu Sheneb: “I like you and I don’t want you to die, I am telling you that tomorrow morning, this congress will be attacked by the Obelites.” As we all know, the straightforward and honest Osman Abu Sheneb, he was a patriotic combatant who would not betray Jebha. He couldn’t sleep that night, and in the morning he came to the place of the congress in his customary humorous manner. Mixing seriousness and jokes, he told (Abdella Degoul, chairman, Ibrahim Idris Toteel, Arabic secretary, and Memher Ogbamichel Mesmer, Tigrinya secretary) the three persons in charge of the congress: “today is not our day, the congress will be attacked.” After that, Saleh Jemjam, a member of the General Command and in charge of the security of the congress, held a loudspeaker and announced to the delegates: “today there will not be a meeting.” The Obelite mercenary combatants who were assigned to attack the congress, were seen coming down from thier locations; but other Beni Amer like Sharoukh, Hariray, etc, who thought, “[they] can be successful,” escaped and disappeared after discovering that they were exposed. Thus the planned military attack was aborted, thanks to Osman Abu Sheneb.
At that time, information was relayed to the delegates that, at Ad Shuma, Isaias and his colleagues liquidated a six-member ELF fedayeen squad that was moving around Ghindae—some the liquidated [members of the squad whom I remember were], Ahmed Gasha, Omereddin Mahmoud, and Osman Ibrahim. But on the contrary, the criminals harp and repeat that, “the ELF started the civil war in the first place; ELF is slaughterer and liquidator.” Isn’t it amazing to those who know the true history of the Eritrean revolution! Baalom Tehanti, Baalom Ka’a lenqeTti.
Upon evaluation–considering its spirit, its patience and the cool headedness that prevailed, the responsible stands it took, and the practical resolutions it passed–the Awate Congress (though it came as a result of the resolution of the Adobha Congress), it is not less [important] than the Adobha Congress.
The 600 delegates of the Awate Military Congress deliberated from February 26, 1971 to March 13, 1971 and passed the following main resolutions:
1- Called for a national congress after four months.
2- Based on the resolution of the Awate Military Congress, it increased the members of the preparatory committee by five to reach 30 members.
3- Since the success of the national congress would depend on the success of the tasks of the preparatory committee, it was given full responsibility in managing [its] finances. In addition, it was given the responsibility of carrying out studies, present documents at the congress, conduct democratic election of delegates to the congress from all departments of the organization, and decide the number of delegates to the congress.
4- [It decided to] let the General Command continue to maintain its authority until the national congress is convened.
5- It formed a contact committee to dialogue with the splinter groups.
As the provocative activities by the three splinter groups against the ELF had reached its highest level, the ELF took a responsible position and refrained from any provocative counter reaction and spread its hands for peace and dispatched a nine-member contact committee that exerted weeks worth of efforts roaming around the Red Sea and trying to meet with the [splinters]. But on the side of the counter revolutionaries, they considered not showing up for appointments and rejecting the sacred goal, as their task. The [claim] of “we are in a narrow place between two blades…,etc.”, wrapped under Christian cover, the “Selfi Natsnet” decided to keep silent and not to respond while liquidating Jebha Fedayeen and postponing the appointments of the contact committee. On one hand the Obelites did whatever they can [by creating] hindrances to stop the convention of the national congress; on the other, they issued an official statement condemning “the congress that is being planned is sectarian.” After much fruitless roaming, the contact committee returned to its station and presented its report to the General Command. But with all of that, it is worth remembering that the preparatory committee of the national congress had sent invitations to all of them to participate in the congress.
Though the issue of splinters was one that needed resolution and clarification, it doesn’t mean there were no other problems in the ELF that needed solutions; and to solve those problems, the ELF directed its attention to the convening and the success of the congress. The following are some of the problems that needed solutions:
1- Identifying our international, zonal and regional enemies and allies.
2- Setting up public organizations to increase the consciousness of the people in order to strengthen the relations [between them and the organization], and to identify the rights and obligation of the people.
3- Finding a solution to the issue of Eritreans who were collaborating with the enemy and to find ways for them to cooperate with their revolution. This concerned the Police, Commandis, and Nech Lebash forces and others.
4- Clarifying the ideology that would be followed to lead to the future Eritrea and the type of society and system that would be built, etc.
In short, there was a need for drafting a national democratic program that the Eritrean Revolution would follow.
The first national congress was attended by about 820 democratically elected representatives of the people and the forces; it was convened at Arr between October 14, 1971 and November 12, 1971 and concluded successfully. The national congress was the highest authority of the ELF; a 32-member leadership (12-member revolutionary council and 19-member executive committee) that would lead the organization was democratically elected from among the people and the forces. With that, one chapter was closed and a new chapter was opened. With that, the general chaotic period of the Eritrean revolution, and particularly of ELF was crossed; and by holding an image and content that [firmly] rooted our struggle, we started to advance foreword. Since the splinter forces understood that the democratic trend will be established, and that its will overwhelm them with its influences, as if dialogue and unity doesn’t concern them, they hastened to consolidate their forces to confront the Jebha.
At any rate, though the first national congress was convinced of the dangerous deeds of the wing led by the Obelites within the Popular Forces, it resolved approach to them through a contact committee to ask them to return to their organization [ELF]; and if they refused, [it decided] to take steps against them.
Regarding the Popular Forces of Seduho Ella, which was led by Osman Saleh Sabbe, the ELF opened the door of contacts and dialogue [with them]; and if they reject that, the congress mandated the leadership to study their case and take necessary steps.
After a lengthy and responsible deliberations regarding Isaias and his colleagues, the congress considered the propaganda that they were spreading [which claimed] “Kebessa [combatants] do not have rights in the ELF” on one hand, and on the other the propaganda that was being spread by the Ethiopian government which was not any different from that of the Selfi Natsnet. [Therefore] it concluded that “necessary contacts would be made with Selfi Natsnet.”
This clarifies to what extent the resolution was timely and responsible; to what extent the ELF was minutely following the situation of the Eritrean society; and its interest in solving it. But regarding the fact that the congress didn’t specify what happens if [Isaias and Colleagues] rejects [the calls], it is clear that the congress had a big shortcoming.
1972, The Period of Taking Steps
After the first national congress of the ELF was successfully concluded, all the resources of the organization was spread nationally and intentionally to implement the program and resolution of the congress. And for a period of six months, all the wings of the Popular Forces were [approached] through letters and contact committees that tried to meet with them. However, true to their habit, they turned a deaf ear to all the efforts. Finally, starting from their spirit and stand, they were showing [signs] of mobilization claiming “Amma [ELF] will take action therefore let’s be ahead of it before it [does]”; and Jebha was ahead of them in starting to take steps. But this step [attack] was taken against the Popular Forces of Seduho Ella and Obelites and not against Selfi Natsnet.
In the [darkness of] the night, the ELF circled the forces of the Obelites including four of its leaders in the surrounding of Tekreret in Sheglet. Adem Saleh ordered his forces to open fire, but he was faced with the objection [from his forces who said] “we will not open fire”. And because later, Ahmed Adem ordered, “do not open fire”, no fire was opened. All of them surrendered to the ELF. However, there were other platoons that were not in the area but in Obel. An attack on which I personally participated was carried out [on them] around Herkok and Mensura. Their leader was AbSelab. Because when Jebha surrounded them we hit some of their prominent fighters, the rest fled and escaped. The third attack was carried out on Barka Laal on the platoons led by Ibrahim Gulay, Dubshik, Ibrahim Kukuy (from Ad Kukuy), but without returning fire, they fled to the mountains. After two weeks of suffering from thirst and hunger, they sent a letter: “we are coming to surrender our arms.” They came and surrendered their arms. Jebha, didn’t charge them with anything but told them, “you are free and you can continue your struggle with Jebha.” And since they said they were tired and needed vacation, they were allowed to go. After a few days, they retrieved arms they had hid in caves, they surrendered to the enemy at Agordat. Later, they committed a lot of attacks on Jebha by leading Ethiopian Forces [to where Jebha was]. But the platoons led by Al-Hassen Abubeker that were around Maria Tselam recognized that there was no benefit in a civil war and surrendered to Jebha without bloodshed.
An extensive dialogue was carried out through different committees and delegates of the forces with the section of Popular Forces that was led by Osman Saleh Sabbe; but they neglected that and continued on actions that pushed towards battle.
And a nine-member dialogue committee led by Ibrahim Mohammed Ali and martyr Fitsum Gebreselasse, members of the leadership, was sent to the section that was led by Isaias Afwerki. The dialogue committee included Tesfai Tekhlezgi, martyr Tesfai Bahlebi, Gebru Hagos, Martyr Melake Tekhle, Osman Abdulkadir, Gebru and Amanuel. They handed them a letter informing them that the dialogue committee was there to dialogue with them based on the resolution of the national congress. The Dialogue Committee waited for their answer for many weeks in Mrara and Filfil. Then it sent them another letter asking for another appointment. After delaying for many weeks without giving a reply, they replied, “we will decide a date of appointment on our own and we will let you know.” After staying around Geleb (Mensa’e) for some weeks, and after understanding that all its efforts to dialogue with Selfi Natsnet had failed, the dialogue committee went to Barka and presented its report to the leadership of the organization. At the end, what we finally deduce from this is that [the committee] had full conviction that Selfis Natsnet was not ready for dialogue; but looking at it from the legal perspective, the dialogue committee waited for the reply from Selfi Natsnet to respect and implement the resolution of the national congress.
The battle against Sabbe’s PLF started in Semhar and moved to Sahel towards Sheib, Hayet, Tombobit and Gerger. But the group of Selfi Natsnet under Isaias, which had said it will inform [the ELF] of an appointment for the dialogue, and which the congress decided it should not be attacked, descended from the surroundings of Re’esi Adi, Merara and Ad Shuma on its own will and decision, and sided with the PLF and was found fighting against the ELF.
In this manner, the civil war and bloodshed spread and exploded in all parts of Eritrea. It continued non-stop for two years.
This is the true Eritrean history that led to the splintering and to civil war. The responsibility for the [lives] of the patriots that were martyred in all corners of Eritrea, lies primarily on the shoulders of the leaders of the counter revolutionaries.
Those who bear responsibility for the splintering and civil war are Isaias Afwerki, Solomon Weldemariam, Osman Saleh Sabbe, Mohammed Ali Omero, Adem Saleh, Mohammed Ahmed Idris, Osman Ajeeb, Ahmed Omer and their puppies. In brief, since they are the individuals who took the Eritrean revolution into sectarian, tribal and regional differences and immersed it into bloodshed, they have an unforgettable history that left a negative bruise. It is because of the civil war that they ignited that our revolution was elongated for thirty years.
Since I witnessed many combatants and followers of the [EPLF], including some who claim to be researchers of history, wishfully twisting, exploiting, and partitioning the history of the liberation struggle of the Eritrean people; and since as the saying goes, “Zewaale yngerka,” [better to listen from an eyewitness] I understand that it is my national and public obligation to tell of what I know to [anyone] with ears that is willing to hear the true history. [That is why] I chose to present this true history. Those entities that are mentioned [above] and their leaders are writing and saying [unsubstantiated lies], based on the hallow spirit and belief that they have eliminated the ELF in the eighties and that there is no one to question them. But now, the ELF, with a new spirit and new approach, has managed to safeguard its sacrifices and its history by consolidating its members inside and outside [Eritrea]. Therefore, as the saying goes, “May keymetse megedi may tsreg”, [build canals before rainfall] they have to think and work for harmony, reconciliation and unity, because twisting history cannot save them.
All splinter groups, specially the EPLF, who splintered from the ELF in 1970, were explaining the causes [for their splintering] by saying that Jebha doesn’t protect the rights of Kebessa people; Jebha is slaughterer and killer; Jebha is sectarian, etc. So many a faint-heart were deceived and followed them. But that the truth of their splintering was not to protect the rights of the Kebessa people, and that they are not interested in anything but their positions, the people and their forces have now understood and identified them. As for us, since we know them from the time they started to sprout, we knew that their sickness was only [selfish yearning] for power.
Leaving everything aside, let’s see how the rights of the Kebessa people was at that time. The number of leaders who hail from Kebessa is not few. As an eyewitness I can just mention: Abraha Tewelde, Solomon Weldemariam, Isaias Afwerki, Asmerom Gerezgher, Bashay Gerezgher, Gebrehiwet Himberti, Kidane Jenubi, Kidane Gobez, etc. As for those who were on other parts and regions, they were uncountable. Continuing on the topic at hand: is the fact that emanating from the thought of developing themselves to develop their revolution forgotten? Is the fact that the ELF in the sixties sent Isaias Afwerki, Issak Jebha, etc. to China for education forgotten? Or is it that the [ELF] didn’t know they were from Kebessa and sent them to China by mistake? Therefore, the accusation of Isaias is considered like a pirate’s accusation and is ‘temeliska zbelaakalu tsahli msbar e’yu’ [thankless].
As for their accusation of “killers, slaughterers”, in which cave do they want to hide the fact that they exposed martyr Arefaine and his eight colleagues, martyr Abraha Tewelde, and the members of Srreyet Addis whom they pushed into dangers and liquidations for the sake of power? And after their splintering, in the outset, didn’t they liquidate those who asked for their rights peacefully, and by branding them “Menka’e, Chega’e”? Didn’t they liquidate combatants in the hundreds? Or those who were liquidated were not Christians?
After the liberation of Eritrea, the cause of the death of the liquidated disabled war veterans, the disappeared combatants was explained as suicide [in an attempt to up the real cause, and] ordinary citizens and combatants are kept in prison without justice, etc. But since you are watching it on your own, you [the reader] don’t need explanation from me.
As for the accusation that was thrown at the ELF, that it was sectarian and tribalist, it was not the ELF that gave instruction for [some] to go to the ravines and villages of their birthplace and unearth backward sentiments and to exploit it all day. They all jumped: those who hail from Semhar, went to the Gedem mountain; those who hail from Kebessa went to Mrrara and Aala; and the Beni Amer went to Obel. And weren’t those who tried to agitate the people, each [by touching] its raw nerves? The negative and dirty history that those criminal teachers of deceit and ugliness left behind will never be forgotten.
At any rate, the main reason that pushed them to splinter was to create an organization that they will direct, and in order to live sitting in the saddle of power, [it was] not to protect rights and to defend the wronged—it was not to realize the unity of the people. It was not so then; and it is not so now. And now this is realized by our people, Christians and Muslims alike. I conclude by calling on the people and the army to put their hands together and to struggle strongly with consciousness and steadfastness in order to uproot and expose the ugly system and its history that is soaked in lies.