On the 'satanic verses' of Isaias Afeworki
A series of articles published at Awate.com
|'Nhnan Elamanan’ Was Indeed an Influential Message |
By Woldeyesus Ammar
Feb 2, 2004, 10:32 PST
|Email this article|
Printer friendly page
Aklilu Zere, is one of the promising new crop of writers that will hopefully continue enlightening readers on more important past events that occurred around the current Eritrean dictator. Aklilu’s Awate.com article of 23 December 2003 -‘The Birth of Despotism’ - was quite informative. His 25 January 2004 article, ‘The Poison Manifesto…’, also contained two interesting observations: the first about Nhnan Elamanan and the second about a big loss that Eritrea suffered due to the defeat of the ELF in the struggle. I agree on the latter observation but have problems with his assertions about Nhnan Elamanan. I will attempt to make short comments on his views about the document and then attach a material on the same subject written three years ago
Aklilu states that it was wrong to consider Nhnan Elamanan as a poisonous manifesto in the sense that many people have come to understand it. He writes:
"The document was not distributed widely as the intention was. Thus its existence was a matter of passing through word-of-mouth, which greatly affected its influence and result expected by the author…the majority of Eritreans never read it or were never influenced by it… For me, Nhnan Elamanan was a document that fathoms the psychological mindset [..] of the author. Nothing more. Nothing less".
I insist this is not correct. In the outset, it must be clear that we are not talking about "the majority of Eritreans" or the majority of Eritrean highlanders, whom the document wanted to address and appeal to. We are talking about a segment of our people who came across the message and then got infected by it. For sure, the channels of communication and dissemination of information was not as good as we have it today. But the hand-written and typed versions of Nhnan Elamanan were copied and recopied in many forms and in many places in the neighbouring countries, in Europe and the USA. I and many others read it in Addis Ababa probably a few months after it was put to circulation, and I remember the good old friends I lost because of it. I still possess a copy of that document put under covers and produced in Italy in November 1971 by Eritreans in Europe. Therefore, there cannot be much argument about the fact that the document was made to reach as many Eritreans as possible in the early and mid-1970s.
Secondly, one did not need to read the whole text to get the venomous message the author intended to convey. As Aklilu also noted, it was very easy to pass the contents of Nhnan Elamanan "through word-of-mouth". Nor can one say in absolute terms that a message conveyed through word-of-mouth is less effective than one passed in the form of a written document.
Thirdly, the key message contained in Nhnan Elamanan was being disseminated by its author long before the text appeared in a written form. This was done through personal letters addressed to selected friends. One such letter was sent to some of my ELF cell members two years before Nhnan Elamanan was written down. I was not supposed to see that letter but a friend [now in GoE’s foreign ministry] volunteered to read it for me. Again, the main contents of that letter matched what had later appeared in Nhnan Elamanan. The author of both was the same person.
I find myself compelled to write these paragraphs because of the conviction that the message Isayas Afeworki conveyed through Nhanan Elamanan and other means has been of negative effect in modern Eritrean politics. The point of raising the issue is, for sure, not to stoke up fire by revisiting old wounds but to accept our past and present mistakes as they were/are and to try to correct them with full knowledge and understanding of what has gone wrong and how. In other words, no Eritrean should have interest in revising or distorting our history. We should not do that. Nhanan Elamanan must be understood as negative influence that it was.
While at it, I wish to mention in passing Nebarai Keshi’s long article of 11 October 2003 in Eri24.com, which I read only recently. In it, the writer (no great fan of DIA) questions my earlier description of Isayas Afeworki as "top polarizer" in Eritrean politics, and advises readers not to continue to "wrongly view [Nhnan Elamanan] as a leading vision upon which Hizbawi Hailitat was established as a splinter group". It is true that there were different reasons for the formation of the three splinter groups that later made up the PLF (Hizbawi Hailitat). However, the outlook expressed in Nhnan Elamanan remained to be the guideline and vision upon which Isayas Afeworki relied in creating an organisation in that image, and then continue attempting to impose that vision on the new state born out of our people’s 50-year struggle and sacrifices.
On the other hand, I read a number of laughable writings during the past few months referring to ELF-RC cadres, including myself, and calling us follow-goers of Nhnan Elamanan. This is another version of factual and historical distortion which serves no purpose. But one should not complain much because there were others who fully understood the truth. One of these was an anonymous observer in Shimagle.com who wrote the following kind words about me. (At the risk of looking less modest, I quote the following writing as a way of expressing my appreciation for the writer’s kind words about me and his correct and strong reprimand to wilful twisters. The nameless Shimagle.com observer wrote: "The most reconciliatory documents in the cyberspace were written by Brother Menhot Woldemariam (Woldeyesus Ammar). His analysis of the most dangerous and divisive "Nihnan Eilamanan" document was the most important piece of documents written in Eritrean cyberspace and it was an eye opener to Eritrean people in general and to many decent Eritrean Christians in particular... Had those documents [been] written by any Eritrean Muslim, they would have created endless accusations and counter accusations between Eritrean Christians and Eritrean Muslims and would have pushed us further away from reconciliation; fortunately they came from a very courageous Eritrean Christian who learned [...] how to say "Ageb/Nawri" to his brothers and sisters, and it takes a courageous and civilised man to do that. I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for that. I am very disappointed to read [..] that some Eritrean Muslims who disagreed with him and his friends have started to throw him into the dirty basket with the real bigots in the DIA camp i.e. call him "Christian Sectarian / Chauvinist". ... it is very sad and it accomplishes nothing but gives new life to the real bigots in the DIA camp. Again, why burn the bridge all the way to the ground? Calling the bigots what they are has its merit, but lumping decent and respectful Eritrean Christians like Brother Woldeyesus Ammar or the whole ethnic/religion group of those who display bigotry as bigots is outrageously indefensible act." Thanks Brother Writer of this corrective advice.
As promised in the introductory parts of this article, here below are two articles I wrote on the subject Nhnan Elamanan in November 2000. They are being reproduced for the sake of interested readers who should know what the message of Isayas and his Nhnan Elamanan has been throughout the past.
Reconciliation and National Unity
Vital Terms In Eritrean Politics
November 19, 2000
From the Satanic Utterances of Isayas
Part five and six of this writings are not going to be about a positive development in reconciliation and national unity. It is about a reverse process that had undone all what was, gradually but surely, building up from the days of Shiekh Ibrahim and Aboy Woldeab till early 1970s.
An average Eritrean nationalist fully appreciates the fact that, in spite of the presence of frightening factors for possible conflict, thanks to a 'reserve' wisdom of the people, Eritrea had not in its entire known history experienced religious or ethnic wars of any magnitude that could disrupt social relations in the variegated society. Tocca ferro, never.
And let me first address the older generation - that dwindling minority of 40+ years, which, I am told, is now less than 20% of the total population of Eritrea. Old Generation: have you ever witnessed religious or tribal war-fares in Eritrea? Do you believe there ever occurred genocide or ethnic cleansing in Eritrea? Did we have our share of mass massacres similar to those witnessed in recent years in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Liberia? I expect many Eritreans, without sinister political motives, to respond in the negative because we did not have religious wars and massacres in our life-time.
It is true that geographical differences, two major religions, and languages can be considered as factors exploitable by political actors. These same elements were in fact exploited in the past (positively and negatively relative to the Eritrean cause). In the old days, Eritrean politicians who believed in and advocated for unity with Ethiopia used religion without themselves becoming religious "fanatics". Also by his own admission, Ibrahim Sultan had to name his party after Islam ("Al RabiTa al Islamia"), not because of his religious belief but because he and his group of militants found it the only easy and feasible way of rallying the majority of the Eritrean Moslems for independence. Al RabiTa al Islamia was not a party of religious fanatics, as detractors at times insinuated. To my knowledge, Eritrean Moslems had never been fanatics, and in general, never deserved that epithet. One should be mistaken to think that it was the "long hand of the EPLF", the "invincibility" of its army/security apparatus that repressed the growth of an opposition army in Eritrea, Jihadist or otherwise, at least since 1991. It was the restraint, the care for national interest shown by the people and their political organizations that has so far averted internal catastrophe. In recent years, when political Islam mobilized masses for fundamentalist wars elsewhere, Eritrean Moslems continued to give deaf ears to any call for Jihad, a stillborn movement in our country, whose nominal existence was aided and abetted by the actions and omissions of the regime in Asmara. To stress, we never came near to religious strife save the infinitesimal incidents of 1949-50, which were the making of foreign powers, Ethiopia included.
Yet, there have been satanic writings and teachings by Eritreans repeatedly used to make believe that we had ugly mass murders, genocides and ethnic cleansing of worst degrees in contemporary history. Keep reading.
"If I were not aware of our own situation, I would have described the grisly mass murders in Somalia, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Liberia as barbaric crimes perpetrated by backward peoples. I would have said 'we are different, we are not like them'. But what we had gone through in Eritrea was not different from what is going on in other countries. We in Eritrea suffered mass murders, one ethnic and geographic group cleansing the other in a cowardly and inordinate manner. We have now come a long way from that past, and the present and future generations [in Eritrea] who had not seen what we did would be surprised of what is going on in Somalia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Liberia. The surprise comes because they did not know what had happened in our country. Seen from this angle, it would appear that the present and future generations would benefit from knowing about it. But unless done in a constructive way, making the new generation aware of a black spot in its history is a bit difficult".
If you had forgotten or if you are not aware of who said this and when, you better be reminded. The words were uttered by the Eritrean president, Isayas Afeworki, 'proudly' speaking to issue volume 1, number 1 of Reporter, an Amharic language magazine in Addis Ababa published in September 1997. The message was very clear - as clear as a similar poisonous message he passed three decades earlier. The addressee this time round was the new generation of Eritreans. Isayas has said all what he wanted to say in the interview, and it is not true that he had reluctance in telling this old tale to the new generation. Z'aKlen TiHinen ba'Elemariam yibla.
If I were born in the 1970s and had never known the Eritrean reality of that period to its full depth; if I had never known Isayas, with his worrisome mind-set reflected from early days; his impulsive character capped up by deceptive shyness; and his derogatory language full of religious slurs, I would have fallen a helpless victim to his charisma and confidently stated assertions, accepted by many as the truth, notwithstanding their being absolute distortions of the reality. I would have stood as one of his staunch supporters, right or wrong. I would have refused to accept any criticism to his sincerity in building a 'healthy' Eritrea for all Eritreans. I would have described as 'disgruntled garbage' to whoever failed to join me in praising this man, who, I would have believed, liberated Eritrea single-handedly. I would have sworn that there wouldn't have been an independent Eritrea if Isayas were not born. I would have believed that there is no nation as 'united as Eritrea is' - Hade lbi, Hade hzbi'. I would have believed that……etc
But no, I was not born after 1970. No, I was not in anyway infected by his line of thinking, his virus of "we". No, I knew more. I also assume many members of the age-group of 40+ year-olds do know that we had no religious wars. No genocidal campaigns of one ethnic or tribal group against another. No grisly massacres by "religious fanatics" with the aim of cleansing other ethnic and tribal groups. Yet, the Eritrean president affirmed as recently as three years ago that we had the type of internal conflicts he repeated in the Reporter as a cover-up of his shameful writings of 30 years ago and related utterances which were used in duping a good segment of our society. But, Eritrea could have fared much better without that type of wrong orientation and indoctrination to a good segment of the population, which is naturally endowed, and accepted, to play weighty role in helping decide the fate of the whole.
Nhnan Elamanan ('We and Our Objectives') was authored sometime in 1970 by Isayas Afeworki and a small group of followers, usually reported to had been less than 13 persons (you are amused?). The document was addressed to Eritrean highlanders, precisely to Christians. The message obtained wider circulation when reprinted in November 1971 by Eritreans residing in Europe. What did the hand-written 24-page document say? It opened by stating as follows:
"We standing in front of you to speak [the truth] are the Eritrean fighters who split from the administration of 'Kiyad al Ama' (General Command of the ELF) in March 1969. It is true that all of us or most of us are Christians by birth, by culture and by history. Those who hear about our separate existence from afar may say that we are religious [elements]".
Before engaging on rationalizing the schism, the document presented a lengthy background on the people and their country, with some errors and early attempts on revising Eritrean history, like: "the majority of Christians opted 'Andnet' with Ethiopia while the majority of the Moslems stood for 'Andnet' with the Sudan".
In narrating the weaknesses of the Eritrean revolution during its first 10 years, the document repeated what was being said by the rank and file in the front at that time. Like the language of the underground Fighters' Committee of the ELA and the Reform Movement, among whose key members included Ibrahim Mohammed Ali (the current ELF-RC chairman) and Ibrahim Toteel, Nhnan Elamanan rightly criticized the lack of well-studied programme for the launching of the armed struggle. The fighters' movement inside Eritrea and the sister reformist group in the Sudan were harassed by the leadership which did not identify its enemies to be "Christians" only. But the message of Nhnan Elamanan denied the reality, betrayed the democratic soldiers' movement and the civilian reform movement of the day and failed to stand with them to change a generally bad situation.
At that time, the group led by Isayas saw a potential fanatic in every non-Christian Eritrean. On page 10 of the "European" manuscript,Nhnan Elamanan says: "Those leaders who started this [revolution] were ashamed to call themselves nationalists and instead chose Islamic propaganda as their weapon, both inside and outside the country". The document concluded that almost all the Jebha fighters were Moslems because Christians could not join the struggle for geographical reasons, and that what was going on in Eritrea was a "Jihad fi sabil Allah".
The charges and wild exaggerations in Nhnan Elamanan, which were re-echoed and promoted to the level of genocides, muss murders and ethnic cleansing campaigns in Isayas Afeworki's interview of September 1997, include the one's listed here. (As ugly as it is, the message divided Eritrea to two: The Moslem Eritrea and the Christian Eritrea. By doing so, it sent a message worse than the actions and 'crimes' it wanted to portray.) Look at the following presentation in Nhnan Elamanan:
Those who founded Jebha (i.e.ELF) and still leading it are religious fanatics working for Jihad, and determined to harm the Christian population. They identify themselves as Arabs.
Jebha misinformed the Arabs, claiming that the Eritrean Moslems, constituting 80% of the population, are oppressed by the Christian regime of Haile Selassie and preached that the Christians in Eritrea were enemies of the Moslem Eritreans.
Jebha intends to impose Arabic as the sole official language in Eritrea. Tigrigna and other languages are suppressed by Jebha. "The fanatics of Jebha suffer headaches when they hear someone speaking Tigrigna".
Four army units were formed to strengthen the tribal dictatorship in Jebha. The fifth army unit established for Christians was led by traitors serving the interests of the Jebha leaders.
The Jebha 'Rases/Princes' mobilized the army units to steal property and livestock of the Christian people. Well over 10,000 head of cattle from Christian peasants were pilfered and sold in the Sudan. Jebha fighters became robbers, moving livestock from Eritrea to the Sudan.
Villages of civilian Christians were put to fire by Jebha.
Every Christian is described as "Kafir". Jebha killed in a brutal manner over 50 innocent Christian farmers at Sember in the western lowlands.
The Jebha "Rases/Princes" became rich merchants, bought villas and vehicles in Sudanese cities, and married and remarried up to two and three wives.
The Christians in Jebha showed concern about what was going on in the front, not the others.
The leadership of Jebha issued the order that " all Christians in the field be killed". Over 100 Christian fighters were killed in1967. Kidane (alias Kebede) Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey were murdered in a brutal manner in Kassala, and following this incident, over 200 Christians were slaughtered inside the field.
On top of a standing order to "kill Christian farmers", Jebha created armed militias to bomb and burn Christian villages and loot their property, including women's jewelry.
The narration tried to justify the group's conclusion that Christians in Jebha (or rather, Christian highlanders) had no way of continuing the struggle within the same front, and therefore decided to form a separate organization.
It is true that every point in the above litany of alleged crimes has its own history, its own explanations/manipulations and it may take volumes to tell each story in its correct perspective to be fair to the reality that took place. However, what is important is that this type of 'politicking', which continued to post-independence Eritrea, has been very dangerous to the much-wanted harmonious co-existence of the various linguistic and religious groups in Eritrea. The above noted language was put into mobilizational use by the front that Isayas created through the years. As a result, the society has been polarized.
We all know that the Eritrean struggle was not at its best in the late 1960s. The field was divided into military commands based on the Algerian model of organization (and unfortunately for Eritrea, there were no other world liberation movements worth emulation until the early 1970s). The system in general was put to scrutiny by democratic forces, starting from the ranks of the fighters. It is not true that there was an all out murder of Christians in the field. But the blown up tales told in Nhnan Elamanan sent a bad message everywhere. Nhnan Elamanan thus reversed the reconciliation and unity process that was gradually healing the scars left from the Andnet/RabiTa battles of the old days. Deepening the rift continued when the organization that grew out of this dangerous orientation took it as its mission to impose itself on the body politic of Eritrea at the highest price to the unity of the very people who are supposed to live together and build a viable state.
Therefore, whatever attributes you give to your charismatic leader, Isayas Afeworki, please also calculate the price we had to pay, are paying, and may still continue paying as a people.
Part six of this series will try to explain the fact and fiction in the list of "Jihadist crimes" recorded in Nhnan Elamanan,the efforts exerted at that time to mend cracks on the edifice of unity of the Eritrean people, and indicate a possible way-out from the ongoing division and polarization in the Eritrean society.
November 27, 2000
More on Nhnan Elamanan
This is a follow up of the essay started under part five. It will make a sweeping review of the situation in the field preceding the publication of Nhnan Elamanan; try to cast some light on the overstated and allegedly 'planned crimes' listed in the document, and, more importantly, highlight a few of the genuine efforts exerted to stop separatism in a fragile society. Also as a concluding remark or two, it will be appropriate to state how a successful rebuilding of reconciliation and national unity can be started in order to ensure our survival as one entity. I will have two points to make, and I will not keep you waiting till the last paragraph to know one of them, which is: Isayas, Go!!
But before delving into the complex historical issues, let us have a quick look at post-independence Eritrea with its provisional government declared on 29 May 1991.
- Eritreans are the living witnesses of the all-round awkward and painful commencement, which has not yet ended.
- In spite of the esteem, awe and respect proffered to the new rulers, the people were denied respect in reciprocity, and an existing bad civil administration had plummeted to nil.
- One can cite the economic fiasco requiring every Eritrean to "develop" his own ancestral locality.
- Crisis management (read: mismanagement) led to shocking decrees and measures like the massacre at Mai Habar against harmless handicapped veterans of the liberation war.
- What was stated at the football stadium on 20 June 1991 by the head of the new state, rendering all political forces 'illegal', was an outrageous declaration of war on the people's aspiration for reconciliation, national unity, democracy and prosperity.
- Peace was among the first victims. War was declared against 'internal enemies' and in no time extended to the entire neighbourhood.
- No need to mention the word diplomacy, which did not exist. (The list is endless and the reader will confirm that by attempting to make his/her own complete list).
Some members of the GoE and its apologists have started conceding those mistakes, although they plead fairness in judgement arguing about the regime's newness to the business of statecraft.
Now think about those young student leaders of 40 years ago who plunged into the untested waters of liberation struggle, with little backing and virtual dearth of funding from any quarter. They had no support or feedback from an intellectual reserve, like the one that can be availed today. They were among the first generation of 'intellectuals' themselves, and pioneers in everything. With all fairness, therefore, one cannot expect a smooth growth of an 'exemplary' liberation movement in the hands of those young men and a small army in the field, mostly composed of illiterate peasants and semi-literate former soldiers of peasant/pastoral origin. That was what we had. The unfairness was calling that genuine start for national liberation by other names.
Allegations in Nhnan Elamanan
One cannot provide full answers to all questions raised regarding the events mentioned in the interview of the Eritrean president in 1997 and in Nhnan Elamanan, the source of his power and inspiration of his politics. Full answers must eventually come from the entire people concerned through a suitable process. But the urgency for action to salvage our severely affected cohesion as a nation would deem it necessary to review now parts of the story told and retold by Isayas Afeworki, the Eritrean head of state.
I will categorize the allegations into four and try to provide a general picture of the major incidents raised in the interview and the old document, namely: 1) the ELF leaders were propagating Islamic holy war (Jihad) and pulling Eritrea into an Arab identify (NB: ELF was mentioned in its Arabic rendition, 'Jebha', for a purpose, as was the case for ‘Kiyada al Ama’);
2) Division of the army into five zones was contrived to satisfy the interests of the "tribal" leaders of Jebha; 3) The leaders of Jebha were inimical to Christians and passed an "order" to kill them all; 4) The non-Christians did not care of what was going on; thus, the Christians had no choice other than forming "their own" organization.
There should not be any disagreement on the fact that those who founded the struggle always dreamt of unifying and stirring the entire nation to join the revolution, and believed that the struggle won't succeed if any important segment of the population remained outside the orbit of the struggle. The founders of the ELF, like those of the ELM, saw unity as the only way to victory. Therefore, any claim to the contrary is a fabricated lie. That is why Nhnan Elamanan was a lie also in this regard. The document under review was talking about Jihad which did not exist except in the perception of the author(s). There is a writing confirming that Isayas Afeworki strongly talked about his fears of 'Jihad in Jebha' way back in April 1966, and long before he joined the fighters in the field. This should assist one's understanding of the preconceived perceptions of the author of Nhnan Elamanan.
As to Arabism, I remember reading Osman Saleh Sabbe's early writings which tried to show the closeness of Eritrean languages and history to the Arabian Peninsula. We understand that, at that time, there was no conviction or aim of creating an Arab Eritrea per se, although "diplomacy" and the absolute isolation of the Eritrean struggle could at times have had forced Sabbe and his colleagues of the day to node appreciation to their hosts talking of "brother Moslems and Arabs from Eritrea". The first Eritreans who claimed they were Arabs appeared with the birth of Adem Saleh's Obelites (the latter-day PLF-III, the allies of PLF-II) who charged the ELF of being anti-Islam and anti-Arab identity. They talked of 'venomous infiltration' of non-believers into the front. (Anyway, this issue may no longer remain controversial in light of the continued attempts for rapprochement with the Arab region by the old authors of Nhnan Elamanan.)
Five Zonal Commands
The division of the ELA into zonal commands was severely criticized in Nhnan Elamanan as well as in post-Adobaha (1969) writings of the ELF itself. But what the early Jebha leadership did in 1965 can be easily equated to what the GoE did in 1991 by calling on Eritreans to care only about their ancestral localities. No?
As noted in the previous essay, the year 1960 is generally considered as the period when the third world liberation movement started. The organizers of the ELF thus lacked helpful past experiences. The only available example was Algeria. When the ELA did not grow as expected during 1961-64, a young law graduate, Idris Osman Gelaidos, proposed at the Khartoum Congress in 1965 that the front should establish zonal armies, like the 'wilaya' divisions of the Algerian liberation army. They thought appeal to regional identities would assist a quick mobilization of human and material resources. Each regional command was to recruit only one third of its fighters from the region. The remaining two thirds were to come from outside that region, through the help of a central recruitment and training service. In balance, the experience proved harmful but the claim that it was based on evil intention to serve the interests of Jebha "Rases/Princes" was a distortion of the reality that existed. One should leave it for history to judge.
Religious Wars/Ethnic Cleansing?
Until proven wrong, I am of the conviction that there were no religious wars in Eritrean history, and that no Jebha leaders were engaged in "ethnic cleansing" at any epoch during the years of our struggle. The distortions in Nhnan Elamanan of unfortunate events of the time were harmful to our unity. The incidents of 1967, and 1969-1970 had background totally different from what people had been informed and taught through Nhnan Elamanan and other versions of the same message in the form of political 'guides' like Poletikawi temihrti ni tegadelti of 1975 and Isayas' interview of 1997. The following paragraphs may help explain the sensitive issues presented by Isayas in a manner with lasting damage: (read the ugly material by supplanting the wisdom of: 'kab behali'us degami'u' with an equally convincing adage, 'Quslu zHabi'E fewsu yHabi'E'.)
a) 50 peasants killed at Sember in 1967 because they were Christians?
It is true that armed peasants were killed by gunmen at Sember - a locality not far from Badme and the graves of our new 50,000 martyrs. But the explanation presented in Nhnan Elamanan was not true. 1967 was a year of major crisis in Eritrea when Ethiopia intensified its scorched-earth policy to wide out the revolution. It was a year the Ethiopian army and the Israeli-trained Commandos devastated the countryside. Ethiopia also thought it was taking advantage of the Arab defeat in the six-day war of 1967. The first wave of Eritrean refugees crossed the border to the Sudan. In their places were settled armed peasants from other parts of the country. Sember was one. The circumstances are still to be verified, but can any action taken against armed settlers, say, by young survivors of the Ethiopian mass killings and evictions in places like Ad Abrihim and Sember be seen as genocidal "massacres of Christians by the Jihadist leaders of Jebha", as Nhnan Elamanan put it?
A clear example of what was going in 1967-68 was summarized in a statement by ELM dated 17 March 1968. Entitled "Return to the old game", the ELM accused Ethiopia of trying to incite civil war in Eritrea. The statement cited an incident which left 36 houses burned in a village near Senafe and that the Ethiopian government made people talk as if the incident was the work of "Christians". The statement, reprinted in Nawd's 1996 book, said that an investigation conducted by ELM members at that time concluded the incident to have had been planned and executed by agents of the Ethiopian government. The plan was not limited to the environs of Senafe. But the unfortunate thing was that Nhnan Elamanan had echoed exactly what the Ethiopians wanted in Eritrea.
b) Over 100 Christian fighters killed in 1967:
A number of ELF fighters were killed in one or two units of the liberation army during the crisis year of 1967. We will not know the final truth until we rigorously investigate the past, but the numbers will never tally with those wild claims in the said document. There are in fact strong arguments against the sectarian tone of the allegations in Nhnan Elamanan. Hishal Osman of Bogu, near Keren, was one of the "demons" in the claimed "genocides" and "ethnic cleansing" in Eritrea. Hishal grew frequenting both churches and mosques in an environment where religion was not a factor of identity, and he would be the last to be considered "a fanatic" Moslem. Hishal was asked in the late 1980s if he (Hishal) did indeed kill Christian fighters in 1967. His answer was: "Christians? no, but people who were taking our guns back to Ethiopia, yes. I did not care what religion they belonged to. They were Christians and Moslems. But I was shooting at whoever attacked our night guards and ran towards the enemy taking away our hard earned guns. I cannot regret having done it. It waswajib watani." Hishal Osman passed away this year and was buried in Kassala alongside Ibrahim Sultan, Sabbe, Said Saleh, Woldedawit Temesghen and others.
During the late 1960s, the Ghibi of the Emperor's representative in Eritrea housed a well-funded security apparatus which was said to have had recruited many jobless youth from highland Eritrea, mostly Christians, and sent them to the ELF. Their mission was to stay in the field for a number of months, and return to Asmara with at least a gun and lots of anti-revolution propaganda. The reward for a gun from ELF and radio/press interviews about the "Jihad" of the "Moslem Jebha" was a relatively good monthly salary for indefinite period. An Ethiopian friend who worked in that Ghibi is still alive and confirms that he closely knew young Eritreans who were rewarded with such payments after "desertion" from Jebha. In short, although the damage to the unity of our struggle and nation had been done, the irresponsible allegations of religious/ethnic killings reported in Nhnan Elamanan continue to cry for investigation and exposure.
c) The events of 1969-70:
The death of Kidane (alias Kebede) Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey in 1970 in the hands of lousy kidnappers in Kassala was a very tragic incident. It was true that the struggle was still bedevilled by crisis. Those who opposed schism considered anyone who wanted to form his own organization as a traitor, anti-unity and counter-revolutionary, irrespective of religion and village of origin. Kidane Kiflu and Wolday Ghidey were victims of that struggle. Other fighters were also victims of the same conflict. But we will not know the whole truth until the period is studied anew and until the authors of that document show the "mass graves" of those victims of a perceived "ethnic cleansing", as was rightly demanded in an editorial of Democrasiawit Eritra, issue No. 27 (an organ of the ELF-RC). But one can stress that the alleged figures on victims, which at times went ten-fold, should not be accepted even before investigations are made.
Anyway, the death of Kidane Kiflu and others was as shameful and as shocking as the death of Said Saleh in 1983 in the hands of trained EPLF killers who crushed his skull with iron bars in the centre of Kassala. It was as uncalled for as the bestial assassinations in the 1980s of Woldedawit Temeghen, Idris Hangela, Mohamoud Hassab, Haile Garza and many others. All the killings, old and new, were irrational. But more damaging than the brutal killings in both periods was the manipulation of the tragic incidents to promote narrow political ends which do not serve the people.
d) The others did not care?
Nhnan Elamanan was wrong to bluntly state that only Christians were concerned about what was happening in the field in those difficult years. This was unexplainable denial of the efforts and contributions of other fellow strugglers. Ignored by the infamous sectarian document were the genuine struggles put by the Reform Movement ('eslaH') and the Soldiers' Committee (Lejnet a’jnud), some of whose activists, from all faiths, are still alive although some were buried in unmarked graves in Hafera.
The concern and the care of the "others" for the unity of the fighting forces and the society continued, as affirmed at the Awate Conference of March 1970, which established a preparatory committee independent of the leadership so that trust could be cultivated among fighters. For a long time, the committee ran after Isayas and his group to beg them to stop sectarian politics. They wanted them to understand that the mistakes of the preceding period were unavoidable outcome of a struggle between old and new forces, and the new force belonged to all regions and religions in the country. In June 1970, the preparatory committee (chaired by Ibrahim Ghedem, with membership of Ahmed Nasser and others) met the future author of Nhnan Elamanan and begged him to attend the congress. They received pledges that his groups would attend the congress or at least send a written message. The pledge was not fulfilled. Instead, the document under review (backdated to 1970) was distributed a few weeks after the First National Congress of October 1971. The congress decided the possibility of military measures against two factions of the old leadership but excluded any armed resort against Isayas and his colleagues.
After the congress, a special committee headed by Ibrahim Mohammed Ali and Dr. Fitsum Ghebreselassie started another chase to locate and dialogue with Isayas. The peace messengers were evaded. As records show, Isayas and group tried a number of provocations to pull the ELF to armed clash. It killed all five of a small team of innocent ELA fighters at Ad Shuma. Action was refrained in this and related provocation. When the front refused them, Isayas and group decided to join the other two splinter groups and were found attacking ELA units in northern Sahel. That was how action against 'Isayasn bitsotun' could not be avoided.
These efforts are retold to show that the care, the interest for dialogue, reconciliation and rebuilding unity in the society was always there. Many cared except Isayas. The compromise he could offer at anytime during the years of the struggle was "united front", and that only when he could feel to be the unchallenged top man. (A good illustration is what Ali Said Abdalla and Mohammed Ali Omaro (both top GoE officials) had to say about Isayas in February 1972 when he refused unity of the three splinter groups. Both accused him of being "promoter of sectarian divisions and a violent person prone to assassinations" and requested their organization not to reconsider unity with Isayas and his group. I think this much is enough.
This essay (parts V and VI) tried to tell that Nhnan Elamanan was extremely harmful to the unity of the Eritrean people. It created perceptions of exaggerated fanaticism and talked of non-existent genocides in Eritrea. The document partly succeeded to present the ELF as a Moslem organization, with a backlash on the EPLF. Until the publication of the document and its propagation, Eritrean nationalists did not worry much about religious composition at a time when the ELF was 100 percent ‘Moslem’ in compostion (minus 'Abdalla' Tsegai). They did not care when it became over 60% ‘Christian’ in the late 1970. They always took it to be a nationalist organization which gradually grew to become a microcosm of Eritrea in its entirety. But the inculcations based on Nhnan Elamanan spread a different message, which made further strides after the ELF was weakened militarily.
Whether you one sees it or not, Eritrea is in danger because of the politics of division, arrogance and exclusion. The harmful legacies and the structures of Nhnan Elamanan are, in a way or the other, still in intact. They were the sources of division, the causes of civil wars, the cause of our continued disunity as a people and as political forces.
A way out? They must be dilapidated and all the people of Eritrea with their political forces - of course including the EPLF - must come together and plan a new start. This cannot be done while the guardian of division, hate and exclusion - the author of Nhnan Elamanan - is at the helm of power. And for the best interest of Eritrea, Isayas must go, and most immediately.
Once this step is agreed upon and taken, the form of a transitional government will not be a difficult task to work out. The structures had already been hinted at one way or the other in the numerous proposals put forward within the past few months of newfound democratic dialogue and discussion through the electronic media.
The other task which will have to follow the fall of the regime of Isayas (and the legacies of chauvinism and division embodied in Nhnan Elamanan) is engaging in the investigation of our past without fear (Kagnew Station and all that) so that trust can be built by distinguishing fact from fiction, and leaving all charges and counter-charges behind us. The best process will be the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission à la Mandella's South Africa to revisit our past, at least since 1 September 1961.
That will be a day to celebrate. I trust Eritreans will bring about that day.