Ask Not A Pardon Print E-mail
By Zekre Lebona - Oct 02, 2006   

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 message.

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 hornet?s nest.

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 killings?

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.

Last Updated ( Oct 02, 2006 )
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