Srryet Addis: Blatant Lie?

Posted on March 24, 2012 by

This is the last of a three part series. On February 13, 2012 we presented the article (He And His Objectives) and on March 7, 2012, we presented the detailed testimonies contained in Gebremedhin Zegergis’ eye witness report which serves as a background to our two article. Today we present to you our third and last article of the serie entitled ‘Srryet Addis: Blatant Lie?’ We believe that all three documents will shed more light on the most crucial grey part in the history of the Eritrean struggle of the late sixties. In this article, we present a challenge to what has become almost a myth in the modern Eritrean history: the alleged killings of Srryet Addis.

Since its inception has proclaimed its slogan: “inform, inspire, embolden, reconcile.”  Throughout the years, we have heard questions of “who reconciles with whom? We are not fighting, so why are we reconciling?” And we have attempted to answer such questions with words to this effect: the history of Eritrea, like the history of any people, is a history of winners and losers, of vanquishers and vanquished, of accusers and accused and, throughout our history, those who feel they have been wronged have never had an opportunity to tell their side of the story. And the wound is an open sore which never healed: “…and the only way out of the vicious cycle is for people to be open to listening to other’s grievances.”

In other words, information—blunt information, when necessary—and the ability, the willingness to listen to a different point of view, is a pre-requisite to reconciliation. It is one of the reasons we published the martyr’s album, the names of those killed in action in the “Badme War,” in 2004. When people were speculating that there were 50,000 dead, 60,000 dead, we listed the names and ages of the nearly 20,0000 Eritreans who perished in that senseless war so we can at least know the SIZE of the pain, before we discuss the CAUSE and the RESOLUTION to the pain. Those who thought it would be politically advantageous to exaggerate the number were not happy with us; and those who knew that the next question would be “why”—the regime supporters—were full of hatred and rage towards us. But we persisted and we shared the information with you.

Without specific information—what, when, where, how, who, why—it is difficult to have reconciliation and closure. This is why police states like the one in Eritrea monopolize information: they have calculated that if we don’t have the precise detail of those it has incarcerated, killed and made to disappear, then our demands for accountability will be dismissed as “exaggeration” or “fabrication.” But even without having the answers to those questions, we should have a conversation.

How many Eritreans were massacred in Ona and what are their names? How many Eritreans were massacred in Sh’Eb and what are their names, gender, age? How many Eritreans, the so-called MekaE and Yameen were killed by the EPLF? How many Eritreans were killed in the so-called Falul chaos within the ELF? Haw many were the victims who were branded Yameen in Denkalia and were killed by the ELF? How many Eritreans, and what are the specifics of these Eritreans, who were summarily executed by PFDJ officials? How many Eritreans have been exiled, arrested, tortured, and made to disappear? What are the names of the Eritreans who have been dispossessed and whose properties were taken? What are the precise grievance of the Eritrean Kunama and Eritrean Afar, and others? 

There are many more questions.

And one of the questions that has not been answered to-date is the case of Srryet Addis: the claim that the Eritrean Liberation Front killed hundreds of Christian Highlanders.  

The Allegation

In November 1971, the Eritrean field saw the emergence of a political manifesto known as Nehnan Elamanan. As was the custom of the era, the manifesto had no byline other than to a collective “we”—the “we” later identified in the manifesto as “we who are predominantly if not totally Christian highlanders.” It is a testimony to the polarized Eritrean polity that to this day many Eritreans (and many foreign political scientists, particularly leftist intellectuals) considered the document a brilliant treatise whereas many others saw it as a poisonous seed with its repeated references to the Muslim combatants of the Eritrean Liberation Front as butchers (always with a knife), reactionaries, tribalists, womanizers, bigots, shiftless bandits “shooting their guns aimlessly” and lacking any sense of nationalism, but pledging allegiance to Jihad and Arabism. 

The most sensation claim of Nehnan Elamanan was that, during a two-year period the Eritrean Liberation Front had killed over 300 Christian highlanders. Some of those killed, it claimed, were a group that had arrived from Addis Abeba to enlist in the field. And since then, those alleged victims were collectively referred to as Srryet Addis (Addis Battalion). Here is how Nehnan Elamanan describes the incident:

“…The [ELF leaders] ordered those who were in Sudan to air their complaints, to return to the field. The complainers, instead of following the orders, because during their stay in Sudan they were imprisoned and angered by the Sudanese authorities, they surrendered to the Haile Sellasie [Ethiopian] consulate in Sudan. Using this as a pretext, the viceroys of Jebha [ELF] passed orders to the field to kill all Christians, without any crime, they unjustly brought over one-hundred combatants from the Highlands and killed them in ravines. After the combatants from the Highlands surrendered [to Ethiopia, and others] were killed, there remained in the ranks of Jebha only a few that can be counted with the fingers of a hand.”

“Later, believing that if they killed the wise the others have nothing to do, they killed Kidane Kiflu and Welday Ghidey” It continues further and states, “After the death of those martyrs [Kidane and Welday], similar to 1967, [the leaders of ELF] passed orders to [combatants in] the field to gather all Christians and to slaughter them. Over 200 innocent combatants were slaughtered and thrown away. And over 200 escaped and surrendered to the enemy [Ethiopia]… Due to this and worse deeds of injustice, those Christian combatants who were in the ELF were lost to surrendering and killing…”[i]

To date, there is an important question that has not been answered ever since Nehnan Elamanan saw the light of day. One would expect those who consider the document flawless to have come with more names in addition to Kidane Kiflu and Welday Ghide. Why not? It shouldn’t be difficult if there are over one-hundred and fifty “Christian university students… massacred by the ELF”!

So far, the only account closely related to the Srryet Addis incident that was later to become a catchphrase, is the eye witness testimonies of Gebremedhin Zerezghi. 

“…members of Srryet Addis were being recruited by Solomon Weldemarian (an ally of Isaias) in the Highlands against the order of the ELF leadership that had passed orders to stop recruiting. Solomon kept recruiting specifically select people in violation of the orders. At a later stage, the new recruits were sent to the surroundings of Debr Sala where they attacked other ELF combatants and “the squad leader was then crushed [with a stone] and was martyred. One of the machine gunners was sleeping while securely rolled around his gun, and a member of Srreyet Addis who was supposed to snatch it from him was not successful. He was killed himself there. The remaining 15 fled and entered Agordat. When this [incident] happened, the news of the betrayal of Srreyet Addis spread all over the field. While the majority of the remaining members of Srreyet Addis who were assigned in other places fled and surrendered to the enemy, the rest joined Selfi Natsnet [Isaias’ splinter group].”[ii]

The student population of Haile Sellasie university in the late sixties is open for research; and the possibility that at the university there were several hundred Eritrean Christian students who would all decide to join the ELF en masse in a short period of time, and who would all be killed in the same incident, begs for a serious explanation. In short, the perpetrators of the allegations, Isaias and his colleagues, and their satellites, haven’t produced anything for over forty-years. Unfortunately, humble challenges by some Eritreans was not enough to expose the allegations as utter lies; and sadly, there are many who still believed the lies and act upon it.

Alleged Victims: 300; Names Produced: 2

There are many victims of the Eritrean struggle for independence, all liquaidated, jailed and abused based on the norms of revolutionary justice. Some of the victims of the political crisis are well known others are not. For example: the combatants that the ELF labeled as Yemeen and liquidated in Dankalia[iii]; the names of those whom the EPLF labeled Menka’a[iv] as well as those it labeled Yemeen and liquidated[v]; others victims who were killed by the EPLF whose names pop up here and there;[vi] and the victims of the Haraka[vii] that the ELF liquidated at Ela Tsaaeda in 1965[viii] are well known. But the causalities of 1977 who perished after the ELF attacked “Fallol”, rebellion by a mish-mash of small groups which included the rebellious reform-minded youth; the insubordinate troublemakers; the  anarchists; and those who were misguided and misdirected by their political idols whom they wanted to bring to power, are less known. Most of them had either surrendered to the EPLF or to the Ethiopian garrisons. Those who joined the EPLF were allegedly decimated in the battle of Massawa in 1989. Their oral stories are told in many versions, each looking at it from a different perspective, but the victims are relatively better known though no serious research has been conducted to explain the events properly.

In the entire Nehnan Elamanan manifesto, it is alleged that 300 Eritreans (Christian highlanders) were killed but only two names are ever, and repeatedly, produced: Kidane Kiflu and Welday Ghidey.

Four decades later, no other names have been produced:

(a)   Alamin Mohammed Saeed, the semi-retired PFDJ Secretary, says:

“The Eritrean Liberation Front executed 250 individuals based on religion and regional affiliation. Kidane Kiflu and Weldai Ghidey were two of them.”

(b)   Brig General Ghirmay Mehari  confirms:

“the previous word of mouth account of how the two (Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey) were murdered in cold blood in Kassala.”[ix]

(c)   Naizghi Kiflu [ex-Internal Security chief who died in London on the 6th of February, 2012)] confirms:

“The split from the ELF had already started before the martyrdom of Kidane. Basically, Kidane was in Kassala with the understanding reached between him and Isaias Afwerki and Abraha Tewolde. Isaias and Abraha had already split with their respective comrades. Kidane Kiflu was in Kassala to coordinate the activities outside of the field. From Kassala he used to correspond with me [Niazghi], Aboi Woldeab Woldemariam, Hiruy Tedla and others about the conditions and situations of the field.”

(d)   Mesfin Hagos, in a recent interview (translated to English here) also mentions the two:

“…at the Adobha Congress…a transitional leadership, what known as Qyada AlAma,  was established. There, two committees were formed 1) a preparatory committee for a congress and 2) a committee that would investigate [the cases] of those who say they were wronged by the ELF and the mistakes that were claimed to have been committed by [the ELF], a committee  to investigate and scrutinize was formed. I worked as a member of the investigative committee. After the congress I went straight to Sudan—it was to supposed to [investigate] if there were [people] who claim to have been wronged by the ELF. It didn’t work out as wished. Those who were in the field and even their section who entered into the  Sudan, maybe some who remained in the field might have worked, but those of us who came to the Sudan couldn’t do anything. That is because the leadership of the time didn’t want us to work, it didn’t want us to meet with the people, it didn’t want us to ask the people, and they didn’t want the people to give us their views or tell us the wrongdoing that befell on them.  Therefore, we were immediately pulled back and entered the field.  This happened in the end of the seventies; similarly when we entered the field in the end of 1969, we were scattered everywhere, I was told that I was appointed to the engineering department, but shortly…I went to the Sudan. There were some books in Sudan that I brought along with me from China, and that would  help us in my appointed position {engineering ….when I entered [Sudan] there was disharmony among the leadership, when chaos ensued and we entered Sudan, those who were in Sudan, specially those who were closely cooperating with us, Welday Ghidey and Kidane Kiflu were killed by the ELF, and since there were [in Sudan] many who came from the field—those who came from Eritrean towns, also those who came from Sudan, there was no one to organize them, it was those two [Welday Ghidey and Kidane Kiflu ] who were organizing them. There was also imprisonment and there was, and there were many escapee combatants [in Sudan]. [x]

A pre-condition to reconciliation is truth-telling. There are only two possibilities here: The ELF killed 300 Christian highlanders and nobody knows the name of the 298 Eritreans killed. This seems an untenable argument but could be possible: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is another possibility and, indeed, a higher probability: the claim that 300 Eritrean Christian highlanders were killed was a fabrication, an invention to mobilize people by appealing to their baser instincts as well as a means to justify what was then considered an extreme measure: splitting.

In the Eritrea of 1971, which had a recent and bitter memory of how its internal division in the 1940 had led to its eventual federation with, and annexation by, Ethiopia, there were two taboos: (a) splitting the Eritrean resistance; (b) surrendering to the Ethiopian army. Nehnan Elamanan argued that in 1971 Eritrean combatants from the highlands had only two choices: to surrender to Ethiopia or to be butchered by the ELF. Therefore, it argued, since neither were its choice, it had to split and found a separate organization. 

The only way that its justification to split the organization could be politically palatable was to argue that the ELF hadn’t killed just a few or a dozen: it had to argue that the ELF had killed hundreds of Eritreans, and all these hundreds of Eritreans were Christian highlanders. And this is precisely what the document strongly alleged. 

To support the latter allegation, we presented an English translation of a long piece written by veteran ELF combatant Gebremedhin Zegergis, a man who has lost his eye-sight in the struggle for liberation.

We hope the detailed testimonies contained in Gebremedhin’s report will serve as a background to the topic that we have addressed so far. Together with other sources, it sheds more light on what we believe is the most destructive document ever authored by an Eritrean. Using several sources, we have modestly challenged the ‘Nehnan Elamanan’ lies that have been crippling our society for over forty years. In short, the divisive document authored by Isaias and his colleagues can probably be compared to Hitler’s Mein Kompf. Both messages served as tool of agitation to rally the people for sinister motives and both messages succeeded in creating a megalomaniac.

[i] Nehnan Elamana

[ii] Gebremedhin Zegergis, An Eye Witness In The History Of The Eritrean Revolution

[iii] Yemeen combatants killed by ELF in Ibbi, Dankalia on 22 May 1978: 1) Saed Hussien 2) Omer M. Suba, 3) Ahmed Ibrahim 4) Omer M. Omer 5) Haji Saleh 6) Ibrahim Mahder 7) M. Mansur 8)  M. Shedeli Ismail 9) Abdu Idris A., and 10) Adem Ibrahim Al Haj, and an Arabic  booklet called Shuhada’a Al Teshis (Martyrs of Reform)

[iv] Menkae killed named by Meharenna Hadgu (from his video narration):
1)Mussie Tesfankiel (Tsina’a Degle)
2)Yohannes Sebhatu (Gura’e)
3) Russom pharmacist (?)
4) Afeworki Teklu (Atekelezan, Anseba)
5) Tareke Yehedego (Himbirti)
6) Habteselasie Gebremedhin (?)
7) Aberash (?)
8) Dehab Tesfatsion (Gura‘e)
9) Tewelde Eyob, a member of the leadership  (?)
10) Berhe Mesih (Possiblly from Mendefera)
11) Gebreamlak Isak (Mai Cha’eda)
12) Michael wedi haketay (HImbirti)
13) Goitom Berhe, SerE(Akeleguzay)
14) Alem Abraha, (Akeleguzai)
15) Habte (?)
16) Aba Samuel (?)
17) Teklemariam Rashaida  (Wedi  Keshi  Gebremeskel) (?)
18) Petros Kahsay, student from North America
19) Girmay Bahri, Asmara university student, (?)
20) Amare Tekumurach (Digsa)
21) Araya Semere, (?)
22) Abraha Seyoum, (Tsina’a Degle)
23) Haile Ameso, wedi ameso (Aala)
24) Estifanos (?)
25) Debessai Gebremichael, Mendefera
source for the above: (, the site has other related materials.)

[v] in 1976 Isaias Afwerki authored a booklet titled, “Destructive Movement” to prepare the ground for the purging of the “Yemeen” who were executed at Arrag in 1980:
1) Dr Eyob Ghebre-leul, educated in the USSR
2) Mehari Ghirma-Tsion
3) Ghebre-Michael Meharizghi, Addis Abeba university graduate
4) Hibret Tesfa-Ghaber
5) Kidane Abeito
6) Fissehaye Kidane (Germen)
7) Haile Jebha, former EPLF interrogation section chief
8) Araya Semere,
9) Ammanuel Filansa
10) Solomon Woldemariam.

[vi] in 1976 Isaias Afwerki authored a booklet titled, “Destructive Movement” to prepare the ground for the purging of the “Yemeen” who were executed at Arrag in 1980:
1) Dr Eyob Ghebre-leul, educated in the USSR
2) Mehari Ghirma-Tsion
3) Ghebre-Michael Meharizghi, Addis Abeba university graduate
4) Hibret Tesfa-Ghaber
5) Kidane Abeito
6) Fissehaye Kidane (Germen)
7) Haile Jebha, former EPLF interrogation section chief
8) Araya Semere,
9) Ammanuel Filansa
10) Solomon Woldemariam.

[vii] Eritrean Liberation Movement

[viii]  Mohammed Saeed Naud, AlHaqiqa Weltarikh, self-published Arabic book. ELM combatants attacked and killed by the ELF at Ela Tsaada in 1965:  1) Mohammed Saleh 2) Mahya-El Din Ali 3) Ahmed Salih Ali  4) Idris Mahmoudi
5) Ali Mahmo

[ix] October 1, 2003, the PFDJ newspaper Haddas Eritrea had a n interview with Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari, who confirms this.

[x] Mesfin Hagos in an interview with Radio Erina Dec. 1, 2011