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Remembering Dehab Tesfatsion and her comrades On the Martyrs' day 20th of June.

Compiled and researched by Resoum Kidane{20/06/2018)

Introduction.

Looking back on the  history of the Eritrean revolution, many educators and students after joining the ELF and EPLF saw conflicts erupt between the veterans who wanted to preserve their old identity and the new members of the Fronts who joined with high revolutionary aspirations and clear vision to see a future democratic Eritrea based upon freedom and equality. As a consequence during the armed struggle both EPLF and ELF leaders who did not want to hear about freedom and justice used violence to eliminate those who challenged them by labelling them as regionalists, ultra-leftists, spies etc Many educated fighters from both Fronts became victims of imprisonment, physical and psychological torture and execution that in no way served the Eritrean cause. According to Case and Maner (2016) when leaders think their power is threatened, they start using strategies such as threats and intimidation to protect their power.

The intention of this compilation is to provide a brief background information about Dehab and her comrades who were member of the clandestine Eritrean Marxist group (Tihisha) at the Haile Selassie I University and joined the EPLF in early 1970s.  It also provides an overview on the ELMclandestine group which was formed by  Eritrean students at Ababa University and  Haile Selasillase I University in the early 1960s, and the clandestine Eritrean Marxist group (Tihisha) which was formed in the early 1970s. The overall purpose of this piece of work is to honour those innocent fighters who were executed under different pretexts (Falul, Serya Addis, Menka, Yemin etc) by the former revolutionary leaders (ELF & EPLF). Dehab was one of those who became victim of the EPLF leaders.

Dehab and her comrades are never mentioned by the Diasporas human rights activists, civil society, youth associations, and women associations etc which are either affiliated to the opposition groups or independent associations/organisations. On Martyrs' Day, it is very painful for the families of the fallen martyrs to be reminded that they were never officially told about the deaths of their loved ones when, in 1993, the then Provision Government of Eritrea announced their names.  Hopefully, Dahab and her comrades will be remembered in future by the young generation.

Background information

Dehab was one of the first generation of students from the post Italian colonisation who received her education between the 1950s and 1970s. Dehab was taught in her mother tongue in primary school before the imposition of Amharic as the language of instruction in 1957. After completing her primary education she transferred to junior school, according to the date of a picture taken of her by Ms Madonna Rauscher a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher. Dehab was in the 8th grade in 1962


source Decamhara 1962 8th Grade students

In 1963 Dehab was one of the first students to attend Decemhara secondary school following its opening immediately after the abolition of the Federation. Other five secondary school were also opened in 1962/63, the opening of those secondary schools contributed to the increasing number of high school students in Eritrea and those entering the university.

Date of opening

Name of the School

Location

1963/64

Prince Mokonnen Sec/School

Massawa

1963/64

Keren Sec/School

Keren

1963/64

Adi-Ugri Sec/School

Adi-Ugri

1963/64

Decamhire Sec/School

Decamhire

1963/64

Adi Kehie Sec/School

Adi-Kehie

1973/74

Agordate Sec/School

Agordat

Source Statistics Office, Department of Education, Asmara [Taye :107]

Regarding this Taye(1990) states that  the enthusiasm of Eritrean children and youth for education and learning was very high, they seemed to be able to excel in national and other examinations. Taye adds that taking the number of students of the Haile Selassie I University from various provinces of Ethiopia, Eritrea was one of the top sources of student intake for the university through the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination (E.S.L.C.E). 

However in the 1960s the Ethiopian government introduced a calibration of examination scores for entrance to the university according to the province of origin.  Students from provinces with poor educational endowment needed only low marks to gain entrance to the university compared to those with better schools in  Eritrea. The intention of this policy was  to reduce the number of Eritrean students. This policy was not applied to Addis Ababa   which had a higher number of foreign teachers as compared to Eritrea. The proportionately greater number of the Eritrean students’ entering  that university didn't decline even after the Ethiopian government had introduced the calibration of examination scores for entrance.  The results of 1968, and 1969 academic years of the E.S.L.C.E reflect this clearly as shown in table 2.[Taye 105]

Provinces

1968and 1969
E.S.L.C.E Passes

Rank order of passes

Arussi
Bale
Begemeder & Semen
Eritrea
Gomu Gofa
Gojjam
Hararhe
Illubabor
Kaffa
Shoa
Addis Abeba
Sidamo
Tigre
Wellega
Wollo

7
1
9
118
2
5
31
-
3
74
431
7
30
7
18

8
13
7
2
5
11
4
14
12
 
1
9.5
5
9.5
6

Source: A historical survey of state Education in Eritrea   p.106

Negus say Adele (p.6 states that over the years some University faculty members had been observing certain disturbing and unchanging patterns in the results of the exams. He adds that the highest numbers of University entrants for much of this period were Eritreans. Virtually 90% or more of those who took the exams and eventually qualified for higher education came from Eritrea and some large towns like Harer, Dessie and especially Addis Ababa, the table above showed that Addis Ababa and Eritrea contributed maximum number of students on feeding the university . Those students who passed the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination (E.S.L.C.E) continued their higher education in Ethiopia. Dehab was one of those students who passed the E.S.L.C.E and pursed her higher education between  1968 and 1973 in Ethiopia.

Eritrean students at Addaba University and Haile Selasillase I University


Dehab passed the E.S.L.C.E  in 1966/67 and pursed her higher education at  Haile Selassie I University  between  1968 and 1973  When Dehab joined the university there was a clandestine group of Eritrean students at AAU university who had link with Haraket in early 1960s. According to Hueri, in 1963 the clandestine group was founded by Tekie Mebrahtu, Tsige Asfaha, and Herui (the author) from the University College, Girmay Gebremeskel from the Engineering College in protest to the Emperor's policy of annexation of Eritrea. 

Their early meetings were held in Dr Nerayo Tesfamichael's room. During the same year, they organized cells in the Building and Engineering and the Agricultural colleges. In 1963, they merged the cells in the mentioned colleges into one organization; at which point they were joined by Naizghi Kiflu and Girmay Bekhit, who functioned as contact persons with other cells in Addis Ababa. The aim of the university cell was to write leaflets and distribute them in Addis Ababa and Asmara during their vacation period.

After the demise of Hareket, member of the clandestine ELM cell affiliated with the ELF, since then there was a growing number of Eritrean university students from AAU university who joined the ELF. Despite this fact those students who joined the ELF were not welcomed by its leadership. Conflicts erupted between the veteran ELF leaders to retain the old Jebha identity and the new members of the Front who were influenced by Haraket principle that Moslems and Christians were brothers, and that their unity was what made Eritrea a nation.

In consequence of religious prejudice and regionalism in the ELF, those educator and student fighters were badly treated  by their commanders. Regarding this  there was a report that Osman Hishal, deputy commander of the fifth zonal division,  summarily executed twenty-seven Christian fighters alleging poor performance or for the military setback that they suffered (Paice 1994, ; Mar kakis, 1987; Sherman, 1980, Human Rights Watch (1991:47).   Amar (1997:82) adds that Ghilai who was a political cadre in the 5th Zone was also killed by ELF unit leaders in 1967.  He was probably one of the 27 victims who were executed by Osman Hisha. Furthermore Usman Saleh Sabbea in his interview mentioned that Osman Hishkal from the Beit Juk was appointed after Weldai left. He had 27 Christians and Jabartis killed in 1967 as they left a store unprotected and the Ethiopians seized their arms.  According to Pool (1985) between 1966 and 1969 about 400 to 450 were either killed, surrendered to the Ethiopian authorities, or fled to the Sudan

A large numbers of ELF fighters gave themselves up to the Ethiopia government during 1967-1968.The severe mistreatment of the fighters by their commanders caused many mostly from Zone 5 to defect to Ethiopia.  On 29/8/1967 the Tigrinya and Arabic newspapers, ‘Hiberet and ‘Al Wihda’ published the name of 19 ELF fighters who surrendered [ ]. As can be determined on the basis the list, most of them were students. Among them was Hailed Duru who pursued his studies at Haile Selassie I University and became one of the organizers of a student group in the early 1970s.  Haile Durue in his interview with Dan Connell in 2001 also expressed his feeling  how the group felt disappointed by the ELF and to leave the ELF to pursue their studies.

1  Abraha Habteley, 24 years joined the ELF 4 years ago, was 9th grade in Keren
2   Negussie Hizbay 22 years, spent 2 ½ years, student at Teachers Training Institute (TTI), Asmara
3   Woldai Tefai Yohannes, 22 years, spent 14 months
4 Yemane Tesfay, 20 years, spent 1 year, merchant
5 Andeberhan Andemariam, 23 years, spent 2 years
6 Yohannes Liban, 24 years, 2 ½ years
7 Zere Senai Tekle, 22 years, spent 13 months, 12th grade student at General Wingate
8 Haile Woldemichael, 25 years, spent 1 year, was 11th year student at Prince Mekonen Secondary School in Asmara (PMSC)
9 Tesfay Asfaha, 25 years, spent 5 months, 9th grade PMSC
10 Debessay Asfaha, 26 years, spent 3 months, student PMSC
11 Musie Tesfamichael, 20 years spent 7 months and was 2nd year at Haile Sellasie University in Addis Ababa (HSIU)
  2 Habtu Tecle, 19 years, student at 12th grade at PMSC
13 Solomon Gebrehiwet, two years, was a farmer
14 Haile Wolde Tensae, 21 years, spent 7 months, was Student at HSIU
15 Yihdego Berhe, 19 years, spent 2 months, student at Hibret School in Asmara
16 Yohannes Mebrahtu, 21 years, 18 months, was 1st year student at HSIU
17 Teklemariam Gebreyesus, 18 years, spent about a year, was student at TTI
18 Wolde Araya, 19 years, spent 19 months, was student at TTI
19 Zeray Tikabo, student at PMSC

The problems within the ELF and mass defections, almost all of whom were students, led to a total but temporary collapse of the student movement in Asmara and Addis Ababa. Ammar (1997:74) also states that during 1967, the student movement was weakened by arrests of key members in Asmara an several fighters from the ELF.   Consequently Kidane Kiflu sent a letter to the Eritrean students studying at the university in Addis Ababa to explain to them the circumstances of ELF fighter and advised them against joining the ELF. Despite Kidane Kiflue advice,  in the late 1960s hundreds of students who were at the time referred to as " Sriya Addis" joined the ELF from Addis Ababa and were executed on mere suspicion of being Ethiopian agents. Consequently Kidane Kiflu sent a letter to the Eritrean students studying at the university in Addis Ababa to explain to them the circumstances of ELF fighter and advised them against joining the ELF

Source kab riqe -hefeneti Tekie Beyne (2009: p.123)

Despite Kidane Kiflue advice,  in the late 1960s hundreds of students who were at the time referred to as " Sriya Addis" joined the ELF from Addis Ababa and were executed on mere suspicion of being Ethiopian agents. 

Kindane Kiflue who was one of the active member of the first clandestine group at  the Haile Selassie I University also became a victim of the ELF leaders. He was brutally murdered in Kassala. Ibrahim Berhan (2001) states that Kidane was not only a heroic fighter who relentlessly opposed the sectarian and backward political outlook of the then Jebha, he was a decent person with exceedingly pleasant personality.

According Emnetu (2015) Kidane played a major role in the growth and  development of the underground movement.  The University campus was a springboard for his intensive political activities and it was while he was there that Kidane threw himself, body and soul, into the liberation struggle. Kidane Kiflu who acquired the love for his country from an early age dedicated his life to Eritrea until the moment he was killed on the 5th  of March 1970. He was one of the devoted university students who struggled to emancipate Eritrea from Ethiopian occupation [http://emnetu.com/2016%20update/Biography%20of%20kidane%20kiflu.pdf]

The death of Kidane caused much disillusionment among the ELF fighters.   For example Tuku Yehdego who was one of the founders ofMahber Mahber Shew'ate (Union of Seven) in Asmara in 1959 became disillusioned and he left the ELF. After Tuku left the ELF, he sent a letter to the Eritrean students and other former members of Haraka in the Diaspora to inform them about the unstable political situation in the ELF and about the Kiada Al Ama conspiracy to kill Kidane Kiflue and other fighters. His letter might have contributed to the split among the Eritrean students in the diaspora at the meeting of the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES) in Munich in the summer of 1970.  One group, which had Dr Fitsum Ghebreselassie, Aregai Habtu, Habte Tesfamariam etc condemned the Kiada al Ama action and the other group, which had, Herui Tedla Bairu, didn't condemn the killing of Kidane Kiflue and Wlday Giday.

Eritrean Marxist Group (Teihsha).


This section provides basic information on the Eritrean Marxist Group (Teihsha) and its members. Dehab Tesfatsion and her comrades who joined the EPLF in 1973 were member of this clandestine Eritrean Marxist Group (Teihsha) which  was founded by Eritrean progressive student  following Kindane Kiflue assassination in the early 1970.  The killing of Kidane Keflue considerable contributed to dividing the Eritrean students in higher education. The Eritrean students in North America, Europe and inside Ethiopia became supporters of the EPFL, condemning the ELF leaders for their role in killing democratic fighters. Thereafter the Eritrean students inside Ethiopia formed a clandestine Eritrean Marxist Group (Teihsha).  Temsegen Haile and Petros Yohannes were the first English editors of the journal struggle (Teihsha) which was published by  the clandestine Eritrean Marxist group.

 

Before the formation of this group, the University Students Union of Addis Ababa (USUAA) was founded in 1967 which played a key role in developing  a strong solidarity between Eritrean and Ethiopian progressive students  in the campus. These students were strongly influenced by revolutionary internationalist ideology as well as by African student who were on scholarship at the university college of Addis Ababa from other African countries. According to Balsvik, Emperor Haile Selassie had offered 200 students to join higher education in Ethiopia at the Conference of Independent African countries in Ghana in 1958.  Those scholarship students from different parts of Africa, helped the Ethiopian students to free themselves of their traditional fear of participating in politics (37)

By and large, between 1967 and 1974 many Eritrean university students played a key role in the student movement, including Temesgen Haile and Petros Yohanees Adgoi, Yohannes Sebhatu  etc.  According to Petros,  the Eritrean progressive students came to realize that if the oppressive feudal system was replaced by a socialist Government the problem in Eritrea could be solved peacefully based on the right of people to self-determination The Eritrean university students saw a light at the end of the tunnel and became very active in the Ethiopian students’ movement. Thus the Addis Ababa University  became the melting pot of revolutionaries. It brought together students from different nationalities. (Petros  Tesfa Giorgis (2007))

Bahru Zwed (2010) in his book mentioned that in one student demonstration in protest at government policy, the students were met by the President of the Senate General Abey Abebe. Bahru Zwed  recalls Temesgen Haile shouting: “Is poverty a crime“.  Petros also states that in late 1960s the Haile Sellasie 1 University students were extremely concerned at the poverty and lack of development that prevailed in Ethiopia. Progressive Ethiopian University students were inspired by the teachings of Marx and Lenin and started to see in socialist ideology as a way out of poverty and oppression. Temsegen Haile died quite early on. He was apparently arrested in Addis Ababs on suspicious of developing secret links with the Eritrean Front. It is believe that he either committed suicide by jumping off a tall building or was thrown off by security police (25). Temsgen was also one of the founders of the clandestine Eritrean Marxist group which affiliated to the EPLF. According Petros, Temsegen Haile used to travel to Eritrea and distribute the Eritrean paper “Tihisha” in Asmara to members of EPLF cells. Mesfin Habtu was also one of those Eritrean progressive students.  Petros describes Mesfin Habtu as follow:

”Freshmen students like Mesfun Habtu gave the student movement a new revolutionary culture. Mesfin was exceptionally gifted at concocting revolutionary songs during demonstrations and rallies in the university campuses. Songs such as “Fano Tesemara en’de Ho Chi Minh en’de Che Guevara” became popular. Mesfun Habtu had been a rising star and left for the USA during the crackdown.  Some observers said that he was not welcomed by the Ethiopian Students Union in North America (ESUNA) because of his radical views. He was found hanged, under suspicion circumstances, in his room in the States. Sadly the death of Mesfin was a  great  tragedy for  the Eritrean progressive students and for the Eritrea revolution in the 1970s


Yohannes Sebhatu who was one of the great revolutionary students in1960s early 1970s should also be mentioned. He joined Addis Ababa University in 1962-3. He was studying economics. Unfortunately, there is not much information about him apart from what Petros  and Aida Kidane briefly mention.

Yohannes Sebhatu joined Addis Abeba University in 1962-3. He was studying economics, and was a brilliant student. He was suspended from the university because of his political activities.  Yohannes was also imprisoned a day or so at Kolfe as was Sendafa when he became involved in the university demonstration (Aida Kidane, 2005). Yohannes was described by other source as the first student in Ethiopia’s education history to be expelled from Haile Sellasie University, for political agitation. He was the president and founder of a leftist political society at university. One of the best students to ever come out of any Ethiopian University (R.R Balsvik Haile Sellasies student: the intellectual and social background to revolution.
Petros Tesfagiorgis(2007) also states that Yohanes Sebhatu, was a brilliant Marxist thinker. He was a reporter in an English daily paper in Addis Ababa during the two years of his suspension from the University. Yohanes Sebhatu and Mussie Tesfamicael were executed by the EPLF for being part of the “Menka uprising”.

Meles Gebremariam was also one of the progressive students at the Haile Sellasie 1University, Petros  Tesfa Giorgis (2007) recalls that in one of the student demonstrations, ‘Meles  joined the EPLF with  Petros Selomon  from the Haile Selassie University  through Somalia in 1972.

Last not least  the other  progressive student in the campus was Martha Mebrhatu. According her father, General Mebrhat’s autobiography, she always argued against her father.  General Mebrhatu recalls that  once when bought land and started farming her reaction was negative and she said: “We struugle to change the system and give land to the tiller but you try to posses it. When I think of her ideas in retrospect she was right. “
Martha wrote (roughly translated from Amharic):
We, women of Ethiopia and Eritrea, have made our life ready to participate in a struggle, and we would like to explain the nature of our struggle to our sisters and brothers all over the world.
Our struggle demands a bitter sacrifice in order to liberate our oppressed and exploited people from the yokes of feudalism and imperialism. In this struggle we have to be bold and merciless. Our enemies can only understand such a language.

We, women of Ethiopia and Eritrea, are not only exploited as members of the working classes and peasants, we are also victims of gender inequality, treated as second class citizens. Therefore, our participation in this struggle must double the efforts of other oppressed groups; we must fight harder, we must be at the forefront.
We must equally participate in the struggle for economic and social justice that our brothers have waged. We have a responsibility to become a formidable force in the revolutionary army.
It is believed that Dehab Tesfatsion, Werku Zerai and Aberash Melke were strongly influenced by Martha, and other revolutionary students such as Walele who was killed with Martha and others by security  when they tried to hijack the Ethiopian plane in 1972. Aberash who was in her final year studied Geology. She might also have been  influenced by Temsegen Haile who graduated from the Geology department  Dehab and her comrades joined the EPLF in May 1973
.

In the autumn of 1973 when Muse led the challenge to the ELF-PLF leadership, Dehab Tesfatsion with other her comrades took side with Muse . As a consequence Dehab and other educated fighters were arrested at the end of 1973. In the history of EPLF purges, the first victim was Meles Gebremariam a graduate student from the Haile Selassie University; he had passed with distinction and honours in Economics. Meles had joined the EPLF in 1972. Regarding this Zekere (2004) states that Meles after serving as a Platoon (ganta) commissar, was suddenly apprehended in 1973 and executed. Nobody raised a finger for him. 

Following Meles, Dehab Tesfatsion and others progressive students were physically eliminated on the orders of the EPLF leaders. Welde Mariam, (2004) provides brief information regarding how they were arrested. According to Welde Mariam, the ring leader of the Menka group were arrested on 1st February 1974, exactly on the date when the Derg rose up against Haile Selassie. Was it a coincidence? 

Dehab Tesfatsion and Aberash Melke were reportedly discharged (terefiten). However, there has not been any news about them from their friends or relatives since then. According to a reliable source both of them refused political indoctrination and self-criticism and consequently both were executed at Gorger (Belekat) in 1979, This was when Wodi Woldu and others who participated in the Menka movement were released from Halewa Sewra[the EPLF’s prison ] after their self-criticism in 1979. Dehab Tesfatsion, was not honoured with a Martyr's Certificate, which she and all the others deserve for their duty and sacrifice to their country and the same as their male compatriots

Glory To Our Martyrs:

 

Michael Berhe June 22, 2018

What a tragedy, Dehab’s father the honorary Abboy Tesfazion was a great patriot in his own right. He challenged the Ethiopian Parliament by demanding that the amnesty to release political prisoners should also include Eritreans. When his motion was rejected, all members from Eritrea resigned enmasse. This triggered the closure of the Emperor’s last parliament and later the downfall and demise of the Ethiopian Imperial regime’!!!

 

መን ኢያ ደሃብ ተስፋጽየን ከምኡውን ኣበራሽ መልከ
1973 ከባቢ ግንቦት ኣቢሉ ኢዩ ድሃብ፡ ወርቁ፡ ኣበራሽ፡ሃይለ ምሕጹን ክሳብ ናይ BA ዲግሪ ናይ ምምራቕ ከይተጸበዩ ንሜዳ ተሰሊፎም። እዚ ድማ ተመሪቕካ ኣይተመሪቕካ ንሜዳ ምስላፍ ኩሉ ሓደ ስለ ዝነበረ። እዘን ደቂ ኣንስትዮ ናይ መጀመርታ ተሰለፍቲ ናብ ህዝባዊ ሓይልታት ክኸውና ከለዋ ሃይለ ምሕጹን ድማ ናይ መጀመርያ ምሩቕ ሓኪም ኔሩ።
ኣበራሽ ኣብ geology ፡ ድሃብን ወርቁን sociology ፡ ሃይለ ምሕጹን ድማ ሕክምና ኔሮም።
ኣነ ኣብቲ ኣበራሽ ዝነበረቶ ኣራት ኪሎ ዩኒቨርሲቲ 1ይ ዓመት ኔረ። ብዓል እዚ ሕጂ ናይ ማዕድን ሓላፊ ዘሎ ተጋ/ኣለም ክብረኣብ ምስኣ ኔሩ ሽዑ ተመሪቑ። ኣነ ብድሕሪኤን ኣብ ነሓሰ 1973 ተሰሊፈ ኣብ ሜዳ ድማ ረኺበየን። ድሃብን ኣበራሽን ስለ ፍትሒ ተቓሊሰን ተኣሲረን ተቐቲለን በቲ ገበነኛ መሪሕነትን ተሓባበርቱን።
ወርቁ ኣብ 1979 ድሕሪ 6 ዓመት ማእሰርቲ ወጺኣ ሃይለ ምሕጹን ድማ ድሕሪ 2 ዓመት ማእሰርቲ ብ 1975 ተፈቲሑ።source Tecleberhan Tesfamicael

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