A few months ago, while listening to a BBC
program, found myself dumbfounded. A former activist of the
Tamil Tigers was on the interview. This disillusioned but
courageous lady had a lot to spill about the organization. She
discussed about the terror of the organization both at home
and in the Diaspora. While her fellow countrymen live in
terror under the Tamils, the people in the Diaspora, and
particularly those in Europe, and North America are often
forced to cough up money for this secretive organization. She
begun by relating the death of her physician and militant
sister at the hands of the Tamils for simply dissenting. The
ordeal of herself and her immediate family was not her sole
Her bombshell announcement was this: in the
still going war in the island of Sri Lanka, Tamils killed by
their own organization are far bigger than those by the
Sinhalese majority regime. Their ideology eludes me but they
manifest all the trappings of communist organizations such as
the youth and the women?s. Good cannon fodders for their
lethal suicide bombers. When it comes to terror, they are kith
and kin of the familiar communist movements we know. I realize
applying this to our home turf is an uphill battle and a
Not long ago, Saleh Younis lamented the purge
of fellow leaders of the Eritrean armed struggle by Isaias
Afewerki (George Washington and some of the Founders of the
American revolution were mentioned as the opposite example),
whom he considered as a liberator. Outraged some of his fellow
columnists either critiqued him or asked him to retract his
statement. Recently another compatriot said that, had Isaias
died in his bed a decade ago, his ?fame? would have been
cherished. I choose to disagree.
For rarely do mass purges among left
organizations remain only within the confines of their
organizations. Unlike military coup d?etats, the surviving
strongman of Marxist oriented organizations has always been
the author of mass murders of countless people in either the
base areas or the rest of the theater of war. Isaias and his
ilk can be put in this category.
During the twilight of the 19th
century, a group of Russian revolutionaries were assassinating
leading figures of the Tsarist regime. During one incident
they had to drop an assassination attempt on the Grand Duke of
Russia temporarily, when the saw children in the horse
carriage. The predecessors of the Bolsheviks, the Socialist
Revolutionaries were squeamish about killing innocent children
of the nobility. Who would have thought that their worshippers
of the Stalin type would later commit millions of
In comparison with the Bolsheviks, their
contemporary Tsar and the Kerensky government can be
considered very lenient. Stalin?s rival Mao was even more
ferocious than Chiang Kai-shek. Not only did he commit untold
crimes during the guerrilla years on innocent people , but
also was responsible for the death of close to seventy million
people in peace time.
One of his students, Pol Pot having
terrorized and cowed the Cambodians in the ?liberated areas?
later forcefully drive millions of people into rural areas and
to kill millions of people in the collective farms. The
Sihanouk and Lon No regimes were by far less brutal.
Isaias, another pupil of Mao did a similar
dirty job. What then did transpire in Eritrea? It is not much
to say that the managers of Eritrea?s guerrilla years might
have killed more people than the successive Ethiopian regimes.
You might say, how dare you this? Where is the evidence for
it? But I would still not blink. Readers who browsed Awate?s
Branna section might recall my articles. Almost the entire of
them are memory driven and anecdotal. Can one then extrapolate
from these and assert the direct victims of Eritreans in the
hands of their ?liberators? could be far bigger than what the
Emperor and Mengistu did?
It is a good question. But if an independent
enquiry were to do an investigate this subject in a open
Eritrea, the resulting figures would be close or more. You
will forgive my temerity when you consider this situation.
Alemseged Tesfai, the veteran EPLF fighter, fiction writer,
and government historian did not choose to say a single word
about the past He was the winner of the Raymoc Prize (a
government owned lottery entity), worth thousands of Nacfa for
penning the war story Kilte Kine Ab Defa?at.
A few years ago, this gentleman traveled all
the way to Dover, England to interview an old and senile going
British police officer, who was stationed in Eritrea during
the British rule. Alemseged asked the poor man and blamed him
for negligence about an atrocity that took place in Asmera by
Sudanese colonial soldiers. This same guy has so far lacked
the gut to write about the countless murders carried out in
the mieda by the organization he served under.
His political opportunism has even sipped
into one of his fictional writings written more than a decade
ago. Wedi Hadera Kab Badme Nab Sahel was partly based on a
real character, who roamed as a bandit in the now contested
Badme area in the 60s. Wedi Hadera soon quit his shifta
colleagues, and joined the EPLF in the Sahel the story
relates. The protagonist subsequently was transformed and
turned into a model citizen by the EPLF. Nowadays, the word
bandit an shifta of often liberally thrown at the regime. It
is incredulous that this same lawless organization/regime
would have been a good mentor of a former bandit.
On the other hand, Adhanom Ghebremariam, the
veteran fighter and excellent writer is of a different
caliber. Readers are already familiar with his expose of the
infamous warsay-yeakealo project. His recent essay about the
ideology of the EPLF/HIGDEF is another great contribution. A
litany of secret plots, purges and killings were disclosed.
Unlike others, who absconded the regime, fled abroad, and kept
mum, Adhanom has stayed combative.
In this essay, veteran EPLF fighters are
termed as ?old slaves?, while the warsay are described as the
?new slaves?, and the public (gebar according to lexicon of
the EPLF/HIGDEF) are simply ?beast of burden? for the regime.
And yet the essay does not come up with any estimate of the
number of the victims. When you live with a secretive
organization for your entire adult life, does its culture of
absolute silence do something to you? We recall that, royal
chroniclers of the European medieval era were very generous
with figures. You often read about the thousands of enemy
combatants slain and booty captured. Adhanom appears to be
very stingy with any sort of data about the unfortunate
Eritrean victims. This distresses me, and I expect it to
addressed in his next writings.
The essay?s other weakness seems to me that
it dwells mostly on the fate of the combatants. The magnitude
of the killings carried on the poor gebar who were either
abducted or marched to the Sahel dejen was possibly much
higher than the fighter victims. Adhanom?s paper is therefore
a little biased. To redress this problem, the gebar would need
another chronicler. When an insurgent group or regime started
treating the public/gebar as beasts of burden, mass atrocities
often accompany it. The Collectivization campaign of Stalin,
and the Great Leap Forward of many are a few among some
examples. Pol Pot?s killing fields have followed them.
Isaias, unlike Pol Pot did not evacuate the
entire city people and force them into the malaria infested
forest soon after the capture of the Phnom Penh. But he had
the intentions. In an interview with his propaganda outlet
Hidri during the mid 90s, he regretted his inability to stop
the spontaneous rush of the fighters and the camp followers
towards the urban centers in 1991. Frustrated with the post
independence period?s ?ingratitude? of the public, he harked
for the ?romantic? ghedli times. His wish has not remained
unfulfilled. Our cities and villages have now been emptied for
his insatiable army and dubious projects.
We are in a bind. Every coming June, when the
government decreed day for the war dead arrives, some of the
opposition groups observe their own little ceremony, while the
dissenting websites question the purposelessness of attending
such rituals organized by the war mongering regime. Toeing
their line, we are kept in a defense position.
If my assertion on the number of victims
killed by the rebel turned into government gets some
acceptance, and people are willing to remember them or observe
a day in their name, wouldn?t the ceremony for the
?sacrificed? appear bizarre in such context. This is not a far
fetched thing for many families in Eritrea.
There are countless Eritreans households who
public mourn the war dead, but grieve privately for the
disappeared. This condition will surely unsettle thousands of
families, and the public in general. Summing up, I kindly ask
Selam Kidane not to ask for a pardon to anybody but to also
remember the other victims. And to Saleh I say the EPLF does
not bound itself to any limits.