June 20 Series No. 5 I know that Eritrean Martyr

I know that Eritrean Martyr
Sophia Tesfamariam

On 20 June, Eritreans around the world will be commemorating Eritrean Martyrs Day as they have been doing since independence in 1991. It is a time when every single Eritrean family remembers a loved one, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister who gave his or her life for Eritrea’s freedom-because almost all have one in the family that has done so. They will search deep in their memories for the image, the last words, the day of their departure, and remember the longing that swelled after independence, when they did not return. The deep loss and pain linger deep in all hearts, as Eritreans celebrate freedom and independence-gifts of a loved one.

June is a solemn month for Eritreans, a month to reflect on the solemn promise made to Eritrea’s Martyrs, to build a nation worthy of their sacrifice-and love. Yes, it takes love to sacrifice one’s life for a greater cause; it takes extraordinary love to put Eritrea’s liberation first, and one’s precious life a distant second. It takes love to leave everything behind and head for a life where danger and death persist. It takes extreme courage to fight in pursuit of liberation and peace, but it takes greater love of a people to sacrifice one’s own life. Many separated from their loved ones, to die in the service for all, leaving behind memories in the hearts and minds of those who mourn the loss, while celebrating their gift. I too mourn many, but is grateful for their eternal gift.

And so they fell, where? On every single inch of Eritrean territory. So with every step we are reminded of who laid their lives for the people. It is no wonder then that there are Martyrs Cemeteries in every village and town in Eritrea. It is a reminder of the solemn oath bequeathed on the living-to develop Eritrea in fulfillment of the aspiration and dreams of the people-to defend Eritrea’s sovereignty And territorial integrity. Eritrea’s enemies know well what Eritrea’s Martyrs mean to the nation, and have targeted them in their vilification and defamation campaigns. The minority regime in Ethiopia showed its disdain for Eritrea’s patriots when it attacked their resting places.

On 8 June 2001, the BBC reported of the Ethiopian regime’s evil:

“…most of the damage was inflicted during the nine-month Ethiopian occupation. As with other towns, the administration, schools and clinics were systematically destroyed. The houses have all been stripped bare….But what has shocked and angered many people was the desecration of the town's Martyrs Cemetery. The burial place of soldiers who had fought during the war of liberation, and who had fought alongside the Ethiopian rebels who now lead the Ethiopian government…Even the bones of the soldiers had been dug up and left strewn on the surface…”

The cemeteries destroyed by the marauding TPLF army in Tserona, Shambuquo and others have long been rebuilt by her generous sons and daughter, and will stand as perpetual reminders of Eritrea’s steadfastness and resilience. Each cemetery carries the long and yet to be told in full history of a gallant people, a history of extreme courage and valor. Each cemetery carries remains of a life lived in heroic feats of bravery, and life lost in the service of a nation. Each cemetery bears the remains of Eritrea’s heroes, each belonging to an Eritrean family. I know the Martyrs in mine.

I hail when Eritrea’s name is mentioned, especially by those who spent fortunes to erase Eritrea from the world’s conscience and memory, as it was the sacrifice of the Martyr that forced her name to remain. I celebrate Eritrea’s challenges as it is a constant reminder of the courage it would take to overcome them, it is a chance to pay respect to the Martyrs, who have set high standards of commitment and proved to all what can be achieved when love is at the center. So for all the roads traversed and obstacles overcome, for the daunting days which linger into the nights, no sacrifice is bigger, no pain more than the life given in love, a gift of freedom given by an Eritrean Martyr.

Life interrupted, many gaps in our memories, shades we cannot imagine fade in and out in the thoughts that race through the crevices of our minds. We piece together snippets from the past and fill the rest with our imagination, we calculate the years and yet they all remain the same in the shadows of our hearts, never aging. Life takes on a renewed purpose, of living it in fulfilment of a promise, bestowed with love. Awet N’Hafash, the whisper that comes at the end of life, yes, victory to the people, as the struggle was theirs, not to be stopped, but to be born again in the light that the Martyr shines in death…

So when June 20th comes around, we seek comfort in the cockles of our hearts where the memories of the Martyrs linger to comfort and fill the void in all. We travel down memory lane with each commemoration and celebration of Eritrea’s history and each Martyr becomes our own and in sharing, give ours to all, as they belonged to the nation, the nation that keeps them in her bosom as life flourishes above. Eritrea rejuvenates the memories of the Martyrs…and warms our longing hearts.
I know that Eritrean Martyr…

Zelealemawi zKri n’semaetatna
Awet N’Hafash