“I Thought We Were Friends…” : A Lesson From History

The rioters were small in number when this entire melee begun, around midday in the city of Urmqui, Xingjian Autonomous republic, China. But their number and their fury started to swell by the day and things become more dangerous and out of hand In that otherwise peaceful dull city of some two million. Lee Dao Ming, a middle aged merchant with a wife and two kids, knew for some time that things were not right and some thing is brewing, but was not sure of what it is and was clueless like many fellow Han Chinese men in Urmqui, Xingjian Autonomous region in China. His best friend and family  acquaintance, the Native Uyghur Mansur Al Kashgari, still comes and drinks tea with lee and they are still good friends, or so thought lee. But lately, Al Kashagri changed a little and started to exhibit some characters that were not typical of him. He starts talking about and raising some sensitive issues and was combative, and some times showed anger when debating and discussing certain things with his Han Chinese friend Lee Dao Ming. The other day, he was outspoken about the subjugation of the Native Uyghurs by the newcomers,  the Han Chinese and the destruction of his people’s land, religion, culture, language and lifestyle by the occupying Red Army of the People’s Republic and the ever growing Han Chinese population. Lee and his wife thought, that Al Kashgari was mad about the arrest of some Uyghur rioters, among them his brother in-law, or he was having  a bad day or he was just not happy , as  his restaurant business was not going well or maybe because of some trivial reasons and that he will be fine in few days. After all, he is not only a trusted friend and acquaintance, but he was also like a family too, so there was nothing to worry about. He just needs some counseling and some rest, or so thought, Mister Lee and family.  


The rioters were getting larger in number and there was a rumor that the police and a division of the people’s army have just fled the city for safety. Many Ethnic Chinese were fleeing and hiding for safety in every place they can. Some bunkered in their houses and decided to fight to death, others tried to flee the burning city by cars and Lorries, and many run to the mountains with their families. Initially, Lee thought it was a scuffle between the police and some unruly ethnic Uyghur youngsters (as usual) and things will return to normalcy. After all, the people are protected by the great patriotic people’s army and there is no need to worry much. But the city of Urmqui was burning and the rioters were rampaging every thing in front of them. He received a call from his friend’s wife that her husband has just been killed and many others were being murdered on the streets. Lee, his wife and his two children decided to flee the city by car leaving their belongings and their shop behind. As they were headed towards the gate of the city, they were stopped by knife welding and armed Uyghur Militia and rioters. Lee tried to explain that he is a peaceful Chinese merchant and has a lot of Uyghur friends, that he never harmed any one and he was a law abiding citizen and considers Uyghurs as his brethren . “Kill them”  shouts were heard, “Kill the Chinese bastard,” Kill the pig eating Chinese invader “Kill them right now.” The rioters were hungry for blood and were about to slaughter the Lee family. Suddenly, a black mask covered man appeared and calmed the rioters and took Lee and his family aside and put them inside a nearby house and asked the others to leave the house. When the black masked man uncovered his face, he was Al Kashgari, lee’s long time friend! There he was in front of him armed with AK 47 and with power to kill or set Lee and his family free. Lee and his wife couldn’t believe their eyes. Lee said “I thought we were friends, I thought you are a patriotic Chinese and you always said you love the fatherland………….why Al Kashgari, why?” 


Al Kashgari replied as following: “Yes I thought we were friends too, and it is because of that friendship that I am saving your life right now, and all these years I was pretending, Lee, I was just pretending. How can I love a regime that literally destroyed my people and land? How can you expect me to love you and your people when you consider me and my people as dirty, uncouth, barbaric and backward?  You think I don’t know? You and your people were pillaging and stealing from my land and at the same time you treat me and my nation as a dog and you expect me to love  your so-called fatherland?  After taking my land, made my people landless in the land of our forefathers, and  if any one dares to ask for justice or complains, he would be considered a traitor and a threat to national unity and many Uyghurs were massacred  and their hands were broken for just demanding justice. Go to Central Yulin Prison and army Garrison and you will find How many Uyghur youth are incarcerated and treated worse than an animal…and you taking about the fatherland? All these years I was pretending just to survive and to provide for my family…but the humiliation and the suffering is getting too much and we have decided to fight. I have nothing against you Lee. You are a good person with a good heart and you have been gracious to me and my family all these years. That is why I intervened and saved you from these mobs. Right now, I will accompany you to the gates of the city and you should leave Urumqi and go somewhere else. I have to defend my dignity, my land and my people and nothing is more important than this so just leave…” 


Esteemed readers, the above story is a true happening and it didn’t take place 10 or 100 years ago. It happened less than a year ago in June 2009, in China of all places. The image of China many of us have is a prosperous, harmonious and stable nation with no ethnic or tribal problem whatsoever. The picture of China for many years and to many observers, including this writer, was, an economic giant with 1 billion people, with miraculous economic leap and spectacular growth and unbelievable results. But deep inside the Chinese nation, many ethnic groups are resentful and furious at the way they were treated and handled by the ruling Chinese communist Party and the majority Han Chinese population. The major minority ethnic groups are Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 million), Miao (8.9 million), Uyghur (8.3 million), Tujia (8 million), Yi (7.7 million), Mongol (5.8 million), Tibetan (5.4 million), Buyei (2.9 million), Dong (2.9 million), Yao (2.6 million), Korean (1.9 million), Bai (1.8 million), Hani (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.2 million), Li (1.2 million), and Dai (1.1 million) etc( source encyclopedia Britannica). There are some 55 officially recognized smaller groups too, but the main ones are the above mentioned. 


The issue of land, religious and cultural rights, language and population distribution issues were brewing for long time and many ethnic groups were seething with anger for many years, unable to peacefully lodge and complain their grievances. Then, things suddenly exploded in that hot afternoon of July 2009 and countless people were killed or injured. Though the Chinese army restored order, and normalcy seems to have returned to Xingjian, many observers think it is only a matter of time before riot will explode and unless the issues of ethnic and minority rights are handled in a democratic way, China is heading into a dangerous and unknown path with unpredictable consequences. Dear Readers, the purpose of this article is not to comment or discuss ethnic and other issues in China and am not going to take your time on this vast and intricate subject. But, I urge you to read and study some books and look on the Internet to know more about this sensitive, timely and important topic, since it has a lot to do with our current Eritrean predicament and complex dilemmas. 


The issue of religious, ethnic, tribal, linguistic and cultural groups and societies in Eritrea and their place and role in Eritrea proper has a long, complicated and unsolved history. Many Eritreans, including prominent politicians and civic activists were reluctant and even adamant to discuss these issues for many years. Some religious figures, ethnic rights activists and followers of certain faith have been slaughtered mercilessly by the Asmara regime till this very day. Though the current Eritrean regime in Asmara favors no ethnic group and spares almost no one from killing and arresting, that is no comfort or excuse to many fellow Eritrean ethnic and religious groups, and rightfully so. As they say” two wrongs don’t make it right” and it is like when you complain to a friend that you were having a migraine or a severe headache and your friend replies that it is no big deal since he is having a toothache too. To use an American slang, these all is Aint right, YES, IT AINT RIGHT at all! 


Respect for other’s values other’s religion, culture and language is the most important ingredient for a nation’s survival as a political entity and continuity. Many naïve and impractical politicians and leaders thought that if a certain group of people are provided with food, housing and job, everything else is secondary and people will live in harmony, will love the fatherland as their own and  even die defending it. This notion is proved, time and again, as not only wrong, but even a dangerous one. The Kosovars of former Yugoslavia were under much higher living standard and their quality of life was way better than their cousins in Albania and for long time, no one suspected them of waging a rebellion against the central government let alone that one day  they will vie for an independent homeland. Despite warnings and pleas by veteran Kosovo politicians like Ibrahim Rugova and many other Serbian and Kosovo journalists about the imminent danger. For a long time, the regime in Belgrade ignored the problem and the warning signs outright and considered many as traitors, anti national unity spies and was jailing those concerned citizens for just raising ethnic and religious rights issue. For many years, the attitude of Yugoslav leaders was, as long as food, job and economic and education rights are respected and people’s stomach are full, everything else is imperialist and reactionary propaganda intended to destabilize the motherland. But they forgot a very important factor of the equation namely –DIGNITY. 


Human beings are not animals that they will live only just with food and water. People have emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural needs to be fulfilled and unless these and other needs are respected and guaranteed by law, it is natural to see an uprising and opposition, and sadly but truly, history has many such examples. The Yugoslav officials and leadership, not only was unable to stop Kosovo from seceding and become an independent nation, the whole Yugoslav republic was fragmented and  the one time prosperous and stable Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia becomes a relic of history, found only in old books, literatures  and some old-time movies and manuscripts and all these is a recent memory. 


We Eritreans shouldn’t be afraid of debating and discussing religious and ethnic right in the motherland. There is nothing wrong in that. Injustice against one is injustice against all, everywhere, and this should be our guiding principle. When a member of an ethnic group or an adherent of a certain faith speaks against injustice and violations against himself or his ilk, we should all support and stand for justice. We should stand in solidarity with anyone whose right’s been not only severely violated but violently crushed too as in most cases back home inside Eritrea. If you want to live with dignity and want your family to live peacefully and your children to grow without any fear of discriminations and without the pain of being fatherless, then respect the others too, as they are the same human beings like you with the same aspirations and desires in life. Respect the dignity and the rights of others and you will be respected and live peacefully thereafter. Try to play with the emotions of others or disrespect  their way of life, religion, custom and above all God given dignity and I guarantee you that you will witness history being repeated in front of your own eyes.  


Today, millions of people are demanding and fighting for their rights, dignity and honor for themselves and their families. Ask the South Yemeni why he is rioting and demonstrating almost daily. It is not because he lacks food or there are no houses for his family to live in or the price of sugar is high after unity with the north. He and other South Yemenis are demanding to live with respect and in dignity and not as second class citizens. Ask the Karen ethnic groups in Burma and why they are fighting for almost fifty years. It is not because they couldn’t get jobs or because of lack of affordable housing or shortage of playground for their children. They are fighting and spent more than half a century in the jungles of South East Asia, for their honor and for their rightful place in the Burmese society and for dignity and respect above any thing else. History is full of examples of people and societies who prefer to fight and die with dignity than to live like a dog or a slave with no right whatsoever. Our neighbors the Tigreans fought and died all these years not because they  were not able to live in Addis Ababa and buy houses, or because they couldn’t get a chance to join a University in Ethiopia. They were ready to fight and die in the process, for honor, respect and their rightful place in the larger Ethiopian society and to live a dignified life after many years of abuse, suppression and degradation by the ruling Amhara elites. In our Eritrea too, countless gallant heroes were prepared to sacrifice their life even, not because they couldn’t find a job or because they couldn’t afford a ticket to go to Europe or other countries to live and thrive. Eritreans were leaving behind their comfortable and more else secured life in Europe and America to join the fight for liberty, respect and the right for self determination of their land and people, another name for dignity. 


So we shouldn’t be scared when someone raises the issue of ethnicity or national identity or religious and cultural rights. We all want to see a united, democratic, law abiding prosperous Eritrea. But that Eritrea shouldn’t be built with the price of other’s right and at the cost of infringement of anyone’s pride and identity. As Anwar Sadat used to say” there is no happiness at the expense of others…” 


Many Eritreans been duped or choose to intentionally ignore the plight of their fellow Eritrean nationals for long time. When thousands of Muslim Eritreans were dragged from their home in the middle of the night and when thousands of other Muslim Eritreans were disappeared into the thin air, very few highlanders raised their voice to oppose this fascistic act by the Isaias Regime. These Eritrean Muslims, who were and still are subjected to countless acts of atrocity and crimes and who were subjected to be killed and thrown in to unmarked graves all over the country, is not because they were members of Hezbollah or Hamas organizations. The owner of Sahel Grocery in downtown Asmara, Mohammed said Abdullah, who was kidnapped by the terrorist Shabia murderous gang in 1994 and disappeared till this day, is not because he was a member of Lashkar  El Taiba or was caught red handed planting a bomb near EDAGA IKHLI or for any other offence at all. A pious, hard working family man with five children and an extended family to take care of, he was suspected, yes only suspected of helping Islamic insurgent groups and was thrown into the black hole of HIGDEF, with no chance of return and seeing his beloved family. His wife was forced to leave their house and flee to Saudi Arabia to live with some family members and most of his kids are living in exile, waiting in vain for their beloved father. Go ahead and tell this family and others about national unity. They will spit in your face! There are numerous examples of innocent Eritrean Muslims being taken away from their homes, business places, schools and even mosques. I was there and I was a witness of unimaginable crimes being committed against Eritrean Muslims; from Keren to Maichehot in Asmara. You don’t have to be an extremist Muslim to be arrested and disappeared in Africa’s North Korea. A jealous or a prejudiced neighbor can report you to the security forces and your fate will be sealed forever, without investigating or a day in a court. 


Members of the peaceful, decent and law abiding Jehovah’s witnesses were being dragged and beaten in the streets Asmara by unruly mobs everywhere and almost no one protested as far as I know. From the University student to the highlander elites in the Diaspora their reply was “HERAY GEBEROM, BHAGER IKO TSWETA YELEN”  (They deserve it, there is no joking in the  mother land….) They (Jehovah’s Witnesses) were and still are brutally suppressed and some are still in prison in containers in the deserts of Eritrea since 1994!! Yes this is our Eritrea and there is even more to our tragedy and the conspiracy of silence by many highlanders for many years. There is nothing wrong when and its writers demand the rights of some Eritreans to be respected. Life without a right and dignity but with so called unity is like a life without eyes, hands and a kidney. Yes you still are a human being, but that is not what life is supposed to mean and you know better than I do.


I have a great reverence and admirations for anyone fighting and demanding his/ her rights to be respected and for injustices to stop. On the other hand, I have a great hatred and despise those low-lives who are ready not only to sell their body, but are willing to sell their soul even without any price, for free! Even a prostitute demands a price for her services, but to see some Eritreans selling their body and psyche for free to the God Less HIGDEFITE  Kingdom is really repulsive and unfathomable  to me. No one lives forever, and in this short life span of ours, to see some cowards ready and eager to be shoe lickers for the HIGDEF tyranny just to be able to build a house some where in Tiravolo or so that they can sleep with some poverty stricken bony girls in Asmara, is one of the most disgusting and immoral scenes I have ever seen. 


As to our friend Mister Michael Abraha, sir, I have few words to say. You can come to America in the 1980s or 1880s and be a lawyer or attorney even in the Supreme Court. Who cares? If you don’t have the courage or moral strength to admit your mistake and utter the easy word, ‘I am sorry,’  then all the degrees and diplomas of the world you are boasting about are nothing to me.  You can be an attorney with LLM LLP LLD LLC LSD LLTT and with some other unknown prefixes. Who cares! If you claim to be a journalist and a writer and failed to see the pain and suffering of your people and others, you are nothing to me sir! If you claim to be an attorney and a lawyer and failed to defend the rights and dignity of your countrymen, be it Muslims, Bahais, Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else, you are simply an opportunistic journalist, with no credibility whatsoever. I respect and think highly of great journalists, writers and lawyers all over the world including Eritrea who steadfastly stand with the oppressed and defend the rights of others, even if it means death and imprisonment.  My heroes are the likes of Iranian Journalist Akbar Ganji, who courageously fights for the sacred right of free speech and freedom for his people. Ganji was willing to go for hunger strike for months and was on the verge of death, till the Iranian government relents and released him. I have great respect and admirations for the Valiant journalists of Zimbabwe who despite innumerable crimes against them by the Mugabe Regime, unwaveringly stand for freedom of the press and with the Zimbabwean people. I have a huge respect for heroic journalists and writers from Algeria to Venezuela, who despite grave risks to their life and the possibility of imprisonment and death, refused to budge an inch from their principles and core believes. Mister Michael Abraha, before bragging about your interviews with the Mandingos and the Okelos and other African blood thirsty tyrants, read about the life and struggle of selfless Eritrean, South African, Russian and eastern European writers under communism and many more. There is a big difference between journalism and an interviewer. You are an interviewer and not a good one at that. It is a journalism 101 that you were violating when you interview Mister Habtom Yohannes. If you want to cite or write only part of what Habtom was saying, you should say” Excerpts”  from the interview with Habtom… But instead you stated in your introduction as an in-depth interview and choose to delete and ignore what Habtom was saying or feeling and that is a professional mistake sir and you should be man enough to apologize to Habtom and the readers of the website you were writing for. You stated that “…..I could have chosen not to post Habtom’s interview at all…..” What a poor argument and defense is this? ( For your information , I was an attorney in the town of Tera Imni after I successfully passed the bar exams of Zoba Debub, and anyone who knows how difficult the bar exams of Zoba Debub, will not underestimate my achievements) It is better not to post one’s interview or statement at all, than posting it in broken or mutilated form. If some one said to you, “I will go to Europe,” without being more specific, it is better not to write at all than saying some one is traveling to Finland! As this is misleading the reader, though Finland is part of Europe. At least be humble for one day and admit your mistakes and don’t repeat and talk about your resume time and again. I also want to inform you about Mister Habtom Yohannes I knew. Habtom is a well-known Eritrean journalist living and working in the Netherlands. He was an ardent supporter and sympathizer with the independent press in Eritrea for long time. I remember him coming to Eritrea and personally meet many of Eritrean independent journalists including this writer and we discussed ways to help and bolster the free media and he was generous in many ways. There were other Eritreans in the Diaspora too, like Mister Tesfalidet A Meharenna who did a great deal in helping and encouraging the nascent Eritrean Independent press for long time. Despite your claim and impressive résumé, we never heard from you Mister Michael Abraha, journalist and attorney and I have never seen a statement or an article about the suffering and the plight of Eritrean journalists anywhere. Where were you all these terrible years? Maybe you were busy interviewing the presidents of Equatorial Guinea or Guinea Bissau? You accused me and Habtom as being used by Awate’s Saleh for his end? What a funny person you are! For what end is he using us, as if we are robots. What is Awate’s plan you and your fellow rabbit hearted people are so fearful of? Fighting and demanding justice for wrongs and crimes against Eritreans? Let alone here in the United States, in the land of freedom and vast liberty and constitutional rights, I was not shy from speaking what I feel even in the hellish Kingdom of Enda Isaias, if you know what I mean. and others websites are doing a great job in being the mediums for free press and freedom of speech that Eritreans are denied in their homeland. If I see a wrong and something to be corrected, I will not hesitate to write or comment, in my limited capacity and ability. Every time I see a good and commendable act by anyone, I will be glad to honor and thank the person for his great deed and announce about it to my readers. You may have read about my article, regarding the good performances by and its editor Amanuel Iyasu that I feel should be praised for. It doesn’t mean that we have no differences with Amanuel or other people and this is only natural. The same goes with and its editor. I saw time and again, articles that are not only against Awate and its writers, but some are harsh articles with some strong worded statements; and seeing such articles being posted and given a chance and a space is a cordial and brave act, despite all your accusations and name callings Mister the honorable attorney and esteemed interviewer Michael Abraha of sunny California. 


As to your mentioning of the malicious accusations and defamation by the HIGDEFITE comical Sophia as if it is a breaking new, against Brother Saleh (Gadi) Johar; it only showed what kind of person you are. I even knew some ardent PFDJ supporters who were not happy by Sophia’s spiteful and baseless accusation against a fellow journalist Saleh Gadi, and to see you, the so called democrat, activist and attorney mentioning it with glee…I better stop here.   


In conclusion, the fight for right, dignity, free speech and freedom to live as honorable normal human beings, both inside Eritrea and outside, will continue and will never cease till all Eritreans are proud of their heritage, their nation and nationality and exercise their rights without fear of being ostracized, arrested or even be killed for being members of a certain national group, religious organization or political affiliations. It is time for every Eritrean to get up and stand up for our right.


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