To state that
most Eritrean elite were victims of their fellow guerrilla
leaders, and not the Ethiopian regimes', is not an
overstatement. The dirty war in the Dejen is largely
responsible for it. The modest effort to give names and faces
to the unknown multitude that has lately begun is an eye
opener, and should be commended. The series of anecdotal
evidences submitted so far by this writer will continue.
in Ethiopia was a terror decade for all sorts of opposition
groups. The military junta's Ethiopia Tikdem Yale menem
Dem remained a hollow slogan. The urban dwellers, and
particularly the intellectuals, were the disproportionate
victims. According to some historians, Ethiopia lost a
generation of intellectuals during this mayhem. It is often
compared with the Italian Fascist onslaught after the failed
assassination attempt on Graziani in the 1930s.
Luckily, Eritrea's armed
struggle had by then already established semi-liberated areas
in the countryside. When the terror was unleashed in Ethiopia,
hundreds of them were able to escape either singly or in
groups. Unlike their counterparts, the Ethiopian elites, they
were spared the ignominy of facing the military courts, and
the firing squads. They were, according to the Tigrigna
phrase, Wtsa?e Me?at.
A weird reception awaited
them in the Dejen areas of the Selfi Nasnet. After trekking
for several days, emaciated, they arrived at the training
camps in the Sahel. They then had to
put up with the rigorous military training and the grueling
criticism and self-criticisms sessions (denunciation) for
weeks. To instill fear in them, propaganda about the "Menkae"
was not excluded.
enough, they would be visited by the Halewa
Sewra [Revolutionary Guard] heavies. They were often
interrogated by Solomon Woldemarian, Haile Jebha, and Tekle
Aden. They would be questioned about people they know in
the ?Meda? (field), books and pamphlets (Tehisa
is often mentioned) they read. This was a trap
to isolate the educated types. Most would soon be demoralized
and submissive; the rest were dealt with.
Prior to the Halewa
Sewra, Selfi Nasnet "security" concerns were largely handled
haphazardly. A list of peoples name under suspicion in folded
notes will reach the ganta leaders and
commissars from Isaias. Envelopes were scarce. The suspects
are then singled out from their platoons, and led to the
valleys before dusk. The platoons leave for Teshkil or
Defa?e at the mountains. Then the executions begin.
To stifle the unfortunate victim's cry, empty cooking oil
drums are beat incessantly in lieu of a Kebero.
incident is worth mentioning here. Asmerom
Ghebreegziabher, a member of the five-man leadership then,
arrived with a large sized cassette player. Meanwhile, I saw a
column of unarmed fighters being stealthily led to the
riverbed in the proximity, at Tegih. An "impromptu"
guayela [dance] followed accompanied by the loud blare for a
couple of hours. It reminds me now of the violins that were
being played in the Nazi death camps.
The Selfi Nasnet, a
totalitarian organization since its inception, had some sort
of cubbyhole for everybody. In the beginning, suspects and
victims were mostly from the semi-proletariat class, according
to the Marxist lexicon. Intellectuals appeared immune from the
witch-hunting. This temporary reprieve did not last long.
victim from such group was Meles Ghebermariam, before
the bell tolled for many. I believe he was a former university
student, and joined the Selfi Nasnet from overseas. After
serving as a ganta commissar, he was suddenly apprehended in
1973, and executed.
Nobody raised a finger for him. Fear and conformism
reigned then. Everything was hushed up, except for dubious
rumors. He was allegedly a foreign agent, and particularly the
CIA. The fact that his father was a high-ranking officer in
the then Emperors' army (possibly from Digsa village) was a
factor thrown around.
victims of Halewa Sewra and its predecessors were not solely
intellectuals. The series of purges carried by Isaias: the
"Menkae" movement, the "Desawi" group led by
besay Goitom, and the "Yemanawi gugele? under
Solomon Woldemariam are lately getting publicity. To
dwell on the fate of these victims only is, to me, elitist and
biased. Halewa Sewra's victims were from all walks of life,
and include hundreds who did not subscribe to any opposition
politics in the meda. They have remained faceless, and
nameless, among the thousands of our disappeared.
therefore, to "confess" a thousand times without any moral
compunction, notwithstanding the advice from some corners to
refrain from doing so. For
some of the current victims were victimizers too. Eritrea's
recent history has lately been a gruesome scene of successive
victimizers turned victims. Except for the supreme victimizer,
Isaias, who has still remained unscathed.