March is an important month in Eritrean history and Eritreans around the world have been glued to Eritrean Television as rare documentaries of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) are being broadcast. It was in March 1977 that the historic town of Nakfa, which served as the base for the EPLF, was liberated. March 1984 brought the demise of the Ethiopian Wikaw Command, and the liberation of Afabet and the demise of Ethiopia’s Nadew Command in March 1988, each one of these battles carries a history of unparalleled heroism and sacrifice-yet to be told in full. Interviews with veterans of the 30-year liberation war, conducted in commemoration of some of the greatest battles that led to the liberation of Eritrea in 1991, are the most riveting, as they are recounting an unparalleled saga in the struggle of a people, their just cause, and the vanguard Front, the EPLF.
March 2014 will be remembered as the month that took a hero of the liberation struggle, Major General Gebrezghier Andemariam (Wuchu) who died on 6 March 2014. The bereaved nation also lost three more of her beloved children, Brigadier General Mebrahtu Teckeab (Vaynac), Brigadier General Amanuel Haile (Hanjema) and Kubur Tegadalay Desu Tesfasion on 20 March 2014. H. E. President Isaias Afwerki led the multitudes of thousands as a grieving nation bed farewell to its beloved sons at the Martyrs Cemetery in Asmara, Eritrea on 26 March 2014.
The magnitude of the loss to their families and friends, but most importantly to their beloved nation is not one that can be easily explained. Each one of them carried a part of Eritrea’s gallant history, and their contributions and experiences during the liberation struggle and in post-independence Eritrea has yet to be told in full, as only they can tell it. A devastating loss, especially to the future generations of Eritreans, who are robbed of a huge part of their history, with the burial of these gallant gentlemen.
These heroes are of the generation of freedom fighters who defined the Eritrean Revolution-its vision, its values and principles. It is the generation that brought Eritrea’s independence and transformed Eritrean society. As we listen to the interviews and watch the rare footage of the liberation war and its many components-social, economic and political- we are introduced to a Front whose members carried a singular focus-not of life, but of being prepared each day, each minute, to give theirs, for Eritrea’s liberation. They sacrificed their lives for Eritrea’s freedom. Nothing in Eritrea can be taken for granted as the cost of these achievements-from the struggle to independence to post independence rehabilitation and reconstruction of the nation-cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
The law of sacrifice says that you cannot get something you want, without giving up something in return. In order to attain something you believe is of greater value, you must give up something you believe is of lesser value…Eritrea’s beloved martyrs believed that Eritrea’s independence was of a higher value than life itself-their own lives. They achieved the ideal of moral perfection for they sought no praise, no profit, no reward-except to achieve the dreams and aspirations of their people. Facing death, their last words were always, “Awet N’Hafash”-Victory to the People.
These days, much is said about nations and their resources. In Eritrea, the people are the most precious resources. These gallant heroes served an average of 41 years and served with dignity until their untimely deaths. Human beings with needs just like any other in our world, but they put personal needs aside and put their nation and their people first. Exemplary citizens in the service of their nation, equipped with, not expansive military hardware, but rather with selflessness, incredible courage and bravery.
Over 65,000 of Eritrea’s finest and brightest sacrificed their lives for Eritrea’s independence and another 20,000 in defense of Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in Ethiopia’s 1998-2000 aggressive war of invasion and occupation. It is said that almost every Eritrean family has lost a son or a daughter, so it is no wonder that most Eritreans feel a moral and historical obligation to fulfil the solemn promise made to Eritrea’s Martyrs-to maintain Eritrea’s independence and strive hard to work together to develop Eritrea into a prosperous, peaceful and stable nation worthy of their lives. This solemn promise is a responsibility- Hdri.
To betray that trust would be to deny my own sense of being. In this sitting, I want to remind myself of why I can proudly proclaim to be an Eritrean and have a citizenship that not only affirms that, but also confers upon me a solemn bond with those who paid with their lives for me-an unbreakable bond cemented in selfless love. Some treasonous individuals have tried, in vain, to undermine its meaning and its place in Eritrea’s history and future. Those who cannot walk a mile in their shoes will always complain the shoes didn’t fit. Hdri is part and parcel of Eritrean culture and tradition-it is an Eritrean value that will be passed from one generation to the other, as it belongs to all. Knowing the price that is paid for your identity, dignity, and pride goes a long way in helping one fulfill the solemn promise made of Eritrea’s bravest and finest.
When Eritreans bow their heads and begin their meetings and national events with a solemn moment of silence, they are not merely exercising perfunctory motions and words but rather they are reminding themselves that nothing they do or say could equal the sacrifice of life. Eritrea’s beloved martyrs-S’wuatna-are not just the moral compass that guide our actions, but are in fact a source of indomitable courage and strength-almost a perpetual fount of dignity and pride. Those few who have fallen prey to the anti-Eritrea propaganda and convinced themselves that it is somehow okay to betray that trust, that solemn oath to Eritrea’s beloved martyrs, are destined to live in infamy and perpetual shame.
The struggle was not only for an independent Eritrea, but also for a liberated, conscious Eritrean, proud of his/her hard earned identity, long and illustrious history, and most of all, a nation to call our own. Today, Eritrea is independent and her people liberated because of those values and norms inherited from our forefathers, honed and refined during the long and bitter armed struggle. These valued together, instilled in the people, a fundamental human necessity-responsibility- Hdri. It is the opportunity to make decisions, which sometimes included matters that affected interests that were distinct from what they personally wanted or needed. “Kulu Dihri Hager” became the peoples rallying call.
Hdri is not just about promises to our martyrs, nor is it only about preserving their memories, it has instead, everything to do with responsibility. This responsibility is not emotional, rather it is practical, and none is better equipped to define and secure it than the Front and the people of Eritrea, to whom it has been bequeathed. Hdri is about Eritrean culture, defined by time tested and true principles and values- let’s keep, cherish and nourish them…and most importantly, let us do our best to pass it on to future generations-so that Eritrea will remain the beacon of hope for all peoples.
A proud nation bids farewell to its beloved sons with a heavy heart-but as sad and solemn as it is, it is also at the same time of great reflection as it is an opportunity for all, friends and foe, to realize the true value of Eritrea as a nation. Each of their heroic histories of valor and sacrifice adds to Eritrea’s dignity as a nation, and pride to the people who they sought to serve.
Zelalemawi z’kri n’semaetatna-bihilinan bigibri!