A Requiem for Our Tegaru Martyrs
By Dawit Seyoum
Tigrai Online Feb. 18, 2021
Why do they hate us? Why do they want our subjugation and possible elimination? Where did we go wrong?
Were we wrong to be responsible for and to be the original center of Coptic Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa? To have Axum Tsion in our midst, and such a historic place to be our own and offer it as a place of worship to others? Maybe sharing our history, sharing who we are and who we have been for time immemorial with the utmost pride was our downfall; or maybe our downfall was wanting to make our history theirs.
Did we make a mistake by owning the Ge’ez Script and expanding church literature, poetry and all the traditions of the songs of Yared (6th Century)? By being the owners of so many manuscripts that depict our contribution to humanity?
Were our ancestors wrong as Axumites to welcome (7th century - the First Hijrah) Prophet Mohammed’s followers, the Sahabah, who were being persecuted by the Quraysh around Mecca? To be civilized enough to not only welcome them, but also build their place of worship, a mosque at Al Nejashi that is the second Islamic place of worship in the world and the first on the continent?
Perhaps we were wrong to be responsible for the building and preservation of over 120 rock-hewn churches and places of worship dating back to the 5th century like those found in Gereáltá (ገረ ዓልታ )? Sacred locations like in Tembien and Atsbi, and so many other age-old places of worship are spread across our homeland of Tigrai (ትግራይ ዓድና).
Where do you, who dislike us, think we went wrong?
Were we wrong to defend our homeland from foreign invaders, against the Egyptians, routing them at Gundet (1875) and Gurá’e (1876)?
Or was it because Yohannes responded to the pleas of Gondar when it was ransacked, burnt, and looted by the Mahdists? Or when he fell fighting gallantly at the battle of Metemma/Gallabat (1889), a battle that saw his forces rout the Mahdists in Metema as they defended Yohannes’ domain?
What did we do wrong?
Perhaps is it because we allowed our family and land to be split in half by Menelik who with his intent to harm the Tegaru, conspired with a foreign force and disposed of Bogos, Hamasien, Sheketi, and Segeneyti to the Italians as part of the Treaty of Wuchale (1889); and then at Feres Mai where he ceded more territories up to Mereb that led to the creation of a colony called Eritrea. Or is it because we allowed Menelik to forcibly take our land up to Metema Yohannes and give it to that expansionist force in Begémder?
Was it because we destroyed the Italian imperial army at Dogáli (1887) near Massawa, and Amba Alaje (1895)? Or was it because Ras Mengesha Seyoum and Alula with Aw’Alom and Hailemariam’s help made the mistake of absolutely annihilating Victor Emmanuel III’s army along with his ‘askaris’ at the Battle of Adwa (1896)? All of this while the so-called ‘Emeye‘ Menelik was attending a service at St. George’s church asking for the almighty’s deliverance and support.
Perhaps our cardinal mistake was that we tolerated and allowed the brutality of Menelik that rained upon the captured Tegaru, our Eritrean brothers, a brutality which saw chopping their arms and legs, while we let thousands of captured Italian prisoners of war go scot-free. Or was it also that we failed to protest and expose when he, with barbarism, chopped off the genitals of male Tegaru toddlers in Tigrai.
Why do they hate us? Where did we go wrong?
Was it because we revolted by declaring the First Woyane against an Emperor who had earlier fled the country as it was invaded by Fascist Italy and who was later brought back to power by the British Imperial Army? Perhaps defeating his trained army and the British forces in the mountains and valleys of Amba Alaje was not particularly appreciated. So much so that the traitor had to invite the British Royal Air Force based in Aden, Yemen to bomb Mekele, Hintalo and Corbeta (1943) killing thousands of Tegaru.
Perhaps it is because we tolerated for a while Haile Selassie taking our land up to Al Wuha and giving it to his son Asfa Wosen, just letting it be. Or was it because we accepted when Haile Selassie banned modern education but allowed limited church education for the Tegaru, and appointed Ras Abebe Aregay to brutally pacify the Tegaru? Perhaps we as people failed to object to the collective punishment exercised on our people.
Or is it because we, as a survival mechanism, allowed ourselves to migrate because of locust invasions or other natural calamities north to Eritrea and south to the rest of the Empire State in search of opportunities to have ends meet? Begémder in the 50s did not even want Tegaru migrants, accusing them of bringing the locust havoc along with them. Hundreds of thousands of people perished but it was not a problem as they were Tegaru, the expendable. Perhaps Thomas Malthus had an ally among the Ethiopians.
Were we too tolerant when they called us destitute Agame (ችጋራም ኣጋመ), “locust eating Tigré,”(ኣንበጣ በሊታ ትግሬ) and enquired what we were doing amongst them? Or perhaps, as migrants to the south, we should not have tolerated listening to the denigration of other nationalities, including calling the Oromo, “Galla stink like excrement” (“ጋላና ሰገራ እያደረ ይገማል”), or listening to kids sing “Galla eat lice, while the Amhara eat wheat” (“ጋላ ቅማል በላ አማራ ስንዴ በላ”), or calling the Welaita people ‘stinking slave’ (“ጥምብ ባርያ”). Perhaps we also failed to expose the mayhem unleashed by Menelik’s land grabbing expansionist forces on the Arsi, Wolaita, Hadya Kembata in his quest to create his empire state.
Where did we go wrong? And what was our crime?
Was it because we tolerated and stayed in the rest of Ethiopia in pursuit of opportunities and attending school despite being seen as ‘the others.’ When as a result of clandestine actions taken by the ELF, including hijacking Ethiopian Airlines airplanes in Rome and other places or conducting bomb explosions in Addis Ababa, all were saying “Out with Tegaru’‘(ትግሬዎች ይውጡ) in the 60s in Báhre Dar, Djimma, Ambo and even at the Be Ede Máriám Lab School located at Haile Selassie University Sidist Kilo. Could that be where we went wrong?
Was it because finally our people decided that enough is enough and took up arms and started their Second Woyane for justice, equality and self-determination? Perhaps we went wrong getting rid of the Derg for the ungrateful national chauvinists at the expense of our people who lost their lives in the thousands with the bombardment of Hawzen and sacrificing over 60,000 precious Tegadeltis’ lives and thousands more wounded.
Perhaps the most identifiable wrong was to be a prime actor in the writing and promulgation (1995) of the first ever voted upon constitution that guaranteed the rights of nations and nationalities to inhabit the country, speak their own languages, promote their distinct cultures, and control their own economy. Or were we wrong to be the harbinger of a socio-economic movement with the objective of fighting poverty, registering a hitherto unseen growth rate and bringing the country onto the world map? Not to mention, the skillful diplomatic movement by its Tegaru children that led the country to be respected among its African brethren and which resulted in unmatched recognition on a global level.
We were wrong, I guess, to be responsible for initiating the construction of health facilities, higher education institutions and industrial production centers. These were perhaps unacceptable to the land-grabbing settler chauvinists whose main slogan and motto may be “better to beg and survive than to toil” (ሠርቶ ከመኖር ለምኖ መብላት ይሻላል). It appears as though hard work (the great equalizer), which is in the DNA of the Tegaru is anathema and blasphemy to this land grabbing criminal being.
What did we do wrong and where did we fail as people to be hated as much as we are sacrificed? Was it because of our culture of tolerance strengthened over centuries, being a society that never invaded others, sacrificing its children in defense of peoples, never confiscating or appropriating land that rightfully belonged to others? A people that never traded humans as slaves like the extremist Neftegna who possess an inhuman practice of cutting the limbs of their captives and keeping their captives as enslaved laborers. In fact, we as a people have no place in a criminal Neftegna extremist land grabbing chauvinist culture. Perhaps the innate Tegaru culture that hugged and gave safety to all the country’s peoples when they resided in its territory was amiss. This basic and intrinsic warmth was not appreciated.
Where did we go wrong that our errors were so massive that they enticed the criminal Amhara Neftegna barbarians to come and murder, rape, and hack to death our people for simply being Tegaru. Pillage, ransack and destroy our churches and mosques that belong to all beyond our borders. And willfully destroy our infrastructure. Subject us to ethnic cleansing. Invite foreign forces in the form of Eritrea, Somali and the UAE, unheard of in the empire’s history and perpetrate horrific crimes upon our people of all ages with the goal of eliminating us from the face of the earth. They came officially blessed by their ‘religious’ leaders to invade and destroy us with extreme brutality.
We must be hated so much as we failed as people not even to garner any support from past and present so called progressive forces whose core issue one would expect could have been humanity. What a betrayal. This perhaps will become the determinant betrayal that finally tells us that we will never be appreciated and that we do not belong to them and we are not part of them. Oh how often they told us so and we failed to understand with our dogged interest to fight for equality for the Empire’s nations and nationalities? Complete betrayal—absolute hatred allows you to watch as a spectator while for the past three years the process of eliminating the Tegaru was being orchestrated and unleashed.
Perhaps in the end our cardinal mistake was to be them, even more so than they are, when we are not them and to try and solve their problems when they were not particularly interested in doing so. We sacrificed generations and we are scarifying more now in our homeland for our survival as people, as Tegaru.
Oh Eritrea! Where did we go wrong with you? You came with a vengeance to destroy a people that are part of you and your history despite being separated by a border. Perhaps we made a mistake to persistently remind you that the land you inhabit was sold to the Italians by the notorious Menelik that led to the creation of a colony named Eritrea occupying a land that hitherto was under the descendants of the Axumites. A land where your parents and grandparents were forced to live separated from their brothers and sisters in Tigrai.
The deep dislike you engendered towards us, where does it come from? Perhaps we were too tolerant when we were called filthy (ረሳሓት) , lice infested Ágame (ቆማል ኣጋመ) by those ignorant “Asmarinos” - who enjoyed being colonized and loved being servile to their Italian masters. Asmarinos who lived as non persons, and loved to be seen and heard speaking bastardized Tigrigna, which was mixed with some unintelligible and mispronounced Italian and spiced with some Arabic words. Or them accepting the Italian divide and rule and accepting their non-Tegaruness, bragging ‘we taught them how to use forks and knives” as an achievement and an indication of being civilized. Longing for the life they lived under Italian colonialism as non-entities. Sometimes you wonder if Franz Fanon’s book “Black Skin, White Masks” was about the Eritrean colonial subjects instead of the Algerians or others colonized by the French.
Perhaps we were wrong to critique a revisionist history that was being crafted, i.e. popularly known as “chains of colonialism”(ሠንሠለታዊ መግዛእቲ) propagating the notion that there was a country or nation state called Eritrea before the Berlin Conference of 1884. As the narrative goes, claiming and suggesting that that phantom Eritrean state was under the Turks, Egyptians, Italians, British and finally under the Ethiopians. As if such a narrative would strengthen the justification for and motivate the just struggle that the Eritrean people were waging against the governments of Ethiopia. Maybe we were mistaken to tell you the historical truth that the manufactured new Eritrean history, which portrays us as separate emphasizing your differences from the Tegaru in the south, is just that, manufactured and holds as much water as a strainer. Maybe we should not have tried so hard to indicate the irrelevance of creating a dichotomy between Eritreans and Tegaru—a dichotomy that seeks to justify that the two people have no common history and heritage. You kept this untruth as an indoctrination tool to maintain the dislike of the Tegaru, presenting them as something disposable and as perennial enemies to the Eritreans. You were so immersed in this untruth, educating the Tegaru in Eritrea to hate, working relentlessly to have a meaningless identity called ‘Tigrigna’ that expressed nothing but your inferiority. Trying to negate your own rich history of being Tegaru, and by working so hard through your education and propaganda system you created that criminal force that only knew how to dispose of the Tegaru in Tigrai.
Should we have tried to combat a mindset engineered with hate and brutality by the consistent effort of “Dear Leader” Isayas and his lackeys, which wiped out a generation of Eritrean Intellectuals who were fighting for the liberation of their country? Giving those democrats a derogatory name, Menkáe (መንካእ) and swiftly and inhumanly eliminating beautiful minds like Yohannes Sebhatu, Mousé, Afeworqi Tekhlu, Geologist Eyob and hundreds of others. Indicative of an accumulation of experience in callousness and brutality, contributing to the elimination of the future brainpower of Eritrea was just an entree for the brutality that was to befallen upon others in the future. A brutality that imposed auto-censorship on a multitude of EPLF fighters, limiting the extent to which their cerebrum can think, and setting an invisible barrier to the quest for knowledge.
Perhaps our mistake may also have been when we ignored, without negating, the efforts of the EPLF that was determined to create a new Eritrean mindset in its training centers for the “Red Flowers”(ቀያሕቲ እምባባ). Constructing young minds like building blocks, flooding the recipients, children ten years and under in Zager, Sahel and other areas, with an inaccurate historical narrative. The main thrust was creating ruthless beings by delivering those inaccuracies including hate to other organizations and individuals fighting for Eritrean independence. They educated their youth to hate as was observed in Sawa, eventually impacting their actions as can be seen in their barbaric actions when deployed as invading forces in Tigrai.
Perhaps the first congress of the EPLF in January 1977 gave Isayas, the budding but sly dictator, the platform to consolidate his power by opting to be ‘second in command’ as he presented Ramadan Mohamed Nur to be a nominal leader. ‘The mover unmoved’ became a virtual dictator, and he was actively and knowingly promoted by his cadre of supporters, some whom he later eliminated while others, his enablers, survived to tell their stories by luckily fleeing and residing abroad across the various continents.
What did we do wrong?
Did we fail to take note of their sadism when they blocked the Eritrean border preventing thousands of Tegaru fleeing to Sudan escaping Mengistu Hailemariam’s bombardment?
Why have our brothers and sisters from the north in Eritrea who have been engineered to hate become so brutal to commit massacres and engage in total destruction of what the Tegaru paid a heavy price to build? Destroying your own heritage and the heritage of humanity. Training the people from the Metahet, the Tigre and the Rashaida, to hate the Tegaru and come with vengeance and massacre our people in Tigrai with unparalleled inhumanity?
Brutal. Was it EPLF’s history of creating an army that was imbued in and practiced hatred towards their brethren in the ELF, another front that fought for liberation against the Ethiopian government, that formed its innate brutal character? Conducting a brutal civil war in the 1970s where hundreds perished despite the urging of the Eritrean peasants for a peaceful resolution.
Where did we go wrong for the EPLF with its barbaric military force to invade our domain and wage war against our people? Or is it possible that we were wrong to have a strategic relationship with the EPLF in our fight against the military dictatorship of Mengistu Hailemariam? Or was it the help we offered to the EPLF in its fight against the ELF in Barentu, Barka, Akele Guzai, Serai and other battlefronts? Should we not have martyred and been buried with them fighting in Sahel, in many other battle fronts and in the liberation of Massawa?
Perhaps our biggest sin was to recognize Eritrea’s quest for independence from the Ethiopian Empire state and our support of the referendum that led to their independence. This was regardless of the quest by the national chauvinists whose interest was the land that Eritrea occupied, not the people that inhabited it. Despite the hatred that this brewed on the Tegaru by the rest of Ethiopia, was our cardinal sin to take a principled and correct stand for the aspiring people of Eritrea who deserved to form their own space and who won their right with their sacrifices? We never flinched on this and we are dearly paying for it.
Was our mistake not to abandon our principled stance on Eritrean self-determination, disastrously failing to predict a future alliance between the extremist inhuman national chauvinists and their enablers on one hand and the new barbaric Eritrea owned by a megalomaniac leader raised devoid of humanity but canonized with brutality and hatred towards its own being and others?
Not without precedent, the Tegaru are being attacked by a coalition of Ethiopian armed forces, the brutal Amhara land grabbing expansionist and settler chauvinist Neftegna, and by a foreign force. What a historical irony. Defending against enemies from the north and south as history is our witness. We however remind you all who are engaged to eliminate us to take note of the crimes you are committing for which we, as Tegaru, will undoubtedly seek unwavering justice.
Tegaru are fighting for survival as people. And in doing so, are fighting for the people of Eritrea as well, an Eritrea that is currently allied with its mortal enemy massacring our people at will. It may be long and will cost many Tegaru lives, but Tigrai will Triumph. We will have our nation state and our own space.
ዓወትና ናይ ግድን እዮ ትግራይ ትዕወት
About The Author:
My name is Dawit (ወድ ሥዩም ኣጋመ ). I became a student activist at an early age. I was an USUAA activist between 1967 and 71, and was then a member of the EPLO and EPRP/EPRA until I left the empire state in November 1979. During this time, on several occasions, I met some of the ELF and EPLF leadership for work in Eritrea.
In our struggle, I lost very dear friends like Yohannes Birhane, Tekalegne Wolde Amanuel and my cousin Tselote Heskias in Ethiopia and Yohannes Sebhatu, Tesfu Kidane and Afeworqi Teklu murdered by Isaias Afeworki in Eritrea. Beautiful and dedicated democrats who were willing to die for the rights of nations and nationalists. No doubt they are all rolling in their graves as the people of Tigrai are being betrayed by the remnants of the EPRP/EPRA, their comrades and those of MEISON.
The betrayal is palpable as we are confronted with silence from our former comrades as ethnic cleansing and a genocide is underway, and war crimes are being committed. As they have left the fight to the Tegaru and those conscious Eritreans who have come to their senses, and Oromo intellectuals and activists.
I have come out from the bitterness, and have never felt so free from those who hate my people. Oh how I wish I was visiting Tigrai when the invasion was underway.