BY BEREKET KIDANE
One of the most amazing aspects of Eritrea is how its calendar comes to life during the national holidays season. Eritrea’s national holidays cycle is not just a series of individual holidays. The national holidays – Independence Day, Martyrs Day and September 1st Revolution Day – are linked to one another in a way that strengthens the connective tissue of the Eritrean people.
Independence Day in Eritrea has a certain sanctity to it because of the realization that it was achieved with the sacrificial blood of its sons and daughters. Most Eritreans are cognizant that Independence Day is made more powerful by its link to Martyrs Day, a day that is deemed sacred on the Eritrean calendar.
Martyrs Day is deeply embedded in the Eritrean psyche. The average Eritrean intensely relates to Martyrs Day because war and sacrifice have been a perpetual reality to the Eritrean people for the past 60 years. Virtually every Eritrean has a family member or close relative who has paid the ultimate price either during the War of Independence or Werar Weyane, TPLF’s invasion to Eritreans, which can really be described as a second war of Independence because it was fought for the survival of the Eritrean State.
Even when it was not in formal war, Eritrea has faced constant border skirmishes, air bombardments and invasions during TPLF’s reign in Ethiopia. In fact, TPLF had a nasty habit of launching border attacks during Eritrea’s national holidays season for no other reason than to kill more Eritreans and drive up the tally. The TPLF border attacks and skirmishes kept adding to the list of Eritrea’s martyrs from the Warsay generation each year, which now exceeds 20,000.
This year in 2019, however, for the first time in a long while the Ethio-Eritrean border has remained seemingly quiet during the national holidays season, owing in part to the rapprochement between Eritrea and the Abiy Ahmed-led coalition government of Ethiopia.
One of the unforgivable sins the TPLF has committed against Eritrea – knowing full-well that the Eritrean people hold their martyrs in the highest possible regard – is vandalize the graves and desecrate the corpses of Eritrea’s martyrs in the towns that it captured during the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean War. An unpardonable sin!
Martyrs Day, a day which has a sacred feel to it in Eritrea, was initially declared to honor the fallen heroes of the War of Independence (1961 to 1991) but the day has evolved to also include those who paid the ultimate price in defense of its sovereignty since the State of Eritrea’s miraculous birth in 1991.
One hopes that the newly found peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia will preserve for all time and that the Horn of Africa will eventually reach a state of stability and good neighborliness that Eritrea no longer has to face threats of invasions and border skirmishes.
Wouldn’t it be great to see Eritrean children grow up without losing friends and family to war? Assuming national service will always remain necessary given Eritrea’s small size, the optimist in me sees a possibility down the road where military service in Eritrea will feel more like military service in Greece or any other European country – an exercise of vigilance rather than preparing for the inevitable loss of life in war. War and bloodshed will someday stop being inevitable in the Horn of Africa.
During the month of May, Eritreans celebrate. In the month of June, Eritreans commemorate. The uninhibited joy and dancing of Independence Week is replaced by a somber reflection in late June.
Martyrs Day is a sacred day like no other on the Eritrean calendar. This coming Thursday (June 20) we will be part of the six million Eritreans at home and the diaspora who will gather to commemorate the sons and daughters of Eritrea we owe so much. We will come together to remember, and to promise.
The deepest lesson of Martyrs Day is in the responsibility it places on all of our shoulders. Martyrs Day reminds us of the heavy responsibility we bear as Eritrean citizens. The task of all Eritreans is to build a society and a country that our martyrs can be proud of.
Eternal glory to our martyrs!
Awet n Hafash!