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The Making of EPDM (Now Known as ANDM)[1]: An Abridged Firsthand Historical Account

 

Adal Isaw

adalisaw@yahoo.com

November 29, 2015

 

In the1970’s and from the verge of idolatry and fanaticism, millions of Ethiopians began singing tunes from borderless revolutionary songs.  They did so with peerless alacrity in support of their political organization—EPRP/A[2].  EPRP/A’s red and yellow flag suddenly replaced the horizontally stripped green, yellow, and red flag that many Ethiopians died for; quelling foreign aggressions.  The sickle and hammer, displaced the flag-carrying “Lion of Judah” of King Haile Selassie.  The choice of machinegun of that time, AK 47, took refuge in the symbol of peace and progress.  And instead of brewing measured steps, a major misstep in these profound steps of change gave birth to a misguided revolution that sucked itself to death; engorged with the blood of its own followers. 

 

The reason was this: Unknown to them and ready to die, millions of Ethiopians showered the EPRP/A with untapped political capital—a capital redeemable in absolute terms of confidence anywhere in Ethiopia. The eccentrically molded vote of confidence intoxicated leaders of EPRP/A.  As a result, conceit replaced confidence; arrogance framed very important issues; time became the enemy and knowledge disposed the major misstep of EPRP/A to the dust bin of history; once and for all.

 

The major misstep started when leaders of EPRP/A concocted a short plan to dethrone a military junta—as if only a massive political support is what it takes to do so.  In doing so, the strategy became the tactic and, what should have been a protracted struggle was cut short to become a shortcut plan for few elites to pounce on political power.  The focus to dislodge the military junta as soon as possible mutated the eye of the struggle from a farsighted vision of a fair, just and democratic form of government into a shortsighted vision of satiating power hungry elites.  To fulfill the shortsighted vision, cells operated to execute those who were active in the political affairs of the military junta.  And very much aware of the blood bath that may ensue, leaders of EPRP/A were willing to sacrifice thousands if not millions of Ethiopians for political expediency. 

 

Needless to say, the policy of seizing political power sooner than later rocked EPRP/A.  And the struggle for a fair, just and democratic form of government was lost.  Dissenters within EPRP/A regretted a shortsighted policy of urban warfare and start to advocate for rural-based protracted struggle.  Few months later, they were labeled counterrevolutionary and summoned for execution by a firing squad in Asimba[3].

 

By executing those who dissented on issues of tactics and strategies of the Ethiopian struggle, EPRP/A inflicted a lifelong political injury on itself.  The political injury was compounded by the unilateral approach of EPRP/A to characterize, analyze and resolve issues that Ethiopians cared for.  For example, peoples struggle for equality that emanated from different nationalities was characterized as politics of the undesirable kind that unduly enervates the class struggle.  Aware of this and hoping for a better outcome nonetheless, TPLF literally begged to coordinate its struggle with EPRP/A—only to be shunned away denigrated as “narrow nationalist.[4]  Consequently, the only-way-or-else-the-highway doctrine of camaraderie of the EPRP/A, perverted and prolonged the demise of a dictator while it antagonized and frustrated TPLF and other political organizations.

 

Meanwhile, on/or around 1977, a peculiar political phenomenon took hold of Tigrai in places where TPLF and EPRP/A fighters operated.  A democratic contest between gun-toting guerrilla fighters became a Sunday morning special event.  The event was special for no other reason than vying for the vote from the very people that both political organizations would like to lead into the future.  Few fighters from EPRP/A and TPLF would join the parishioners at a given orthodox church to speak, agitate or propagate their visions about Ethiopia.  Turns were allocated with simple rule; a fighter will describe and explain in detail the political program of

his own organization—often comparing and contrasting it with the program of the contending organization.  When she/he is done, a chance is given to the other organization to do exactly the same.  After that, the parishioners would ask questions and, after the question and answer session is adjourned the parishioners would raise their hands in support of the organization that they found cogent and dependable.  The vote count determines the winning organization—to endow it with the authority of administering the region where the parishioners live.  The procedure takes hours and through it all guns and machineguns remain silent.  But whenever a gesture of unhappiness is sensed through the eyes of one or two assertive fighters, machineguns run to the closest hill on the shoulders of their operators to give cover for those who debate their case in front of the parishioners.  This was democracy at work under gun-toting guerrilla fighters beyond the compound of an orthodox church—the nature of which can only be characterized—simply amazing.  This was also an unseemly political phenomenon that gave machineguns the inevitable transient duty of silently guarding democracy.  Quite expectedly and in spite of the willingness by TPLF and EPRP/A to democratically resolve their differences, what the machineguns guarded at the end became what the machineguns killed firsthand. Democracy lasted only for few weeks among contending gun-toting guerrilla fighters—for the obvious reason that the winner and loser grew further apart as a result. 

 

The organization on the losing end had few places to administer and quite few people to lean on for support[5].  The democratic contest that followed after few rounds of losing and winning by then had no room for tolerance.  Fighters from both sides grew very suspicious and were in a ready-to-shoot mode.  Emotions overtook tolerance and the silence that guns gave to guard democracy started to muffle the life out of young and older fighters.  Who killed first counted less, since the threshold for tolerance was beyond its breaking point. 

 

Few weeks after the democratic contest had begun, locking himself inside his house that EPRP/A fighters couldn’t open, a TPLF supporter and a resident of a village not very far from Adigrat rejected to surrender.  A tragic course of action followed; EPRP/A fighter jumped to the top of the house and threw a hand grenade through the smoke outlet—killing him instantly.  Few days later, an EPRP/A fighter and a native to a village close to Asimba was gunned down by TPLF fighter.  His funeral service was grinding to the bones for fighters who almost have forgotten paying tribute to the dead.  As a result, many of his comrades were convinced that revenge was inevitable. 

 

In early morning hours, on/or about 1977 at about 6:00 AM, a platoon of EPRP/A destinedto Asimba was leading the way ahead of two platoons, crisscrossing a gorge.  Suddenly, a rapidexchange of bullets filled the air—right after a password being sought by two contending guerrilla fighters fail to satisfy either side.  It was the beginning of a war—the fate of which might have contributed towards the struggle for a fair, just and democratic form of government.  The fight persisted through dusk till the company of TPLF withered away to the mountains.  Few weeks later and after few skirmishes, hell was about to engulf the mountains of Bizet[6].  With interest, an idle Derg’s military contingent was fortunate to become a witness to a tragedy unfolding from afar.   A battle broke; machineguns, hand grenades and RPG’s roared—muffling the life of selfless fighters and the sound of their handguns— mostly AK 47’s.  EPRP/A fighters hold their ground, countering the assault of very daring TPLF fighters.   The heavy fight continued until reinforcement came from all directions, it seemed, breaking EPRP/A fighters into disarray.  The mountains, gorges and valleys of Bizet literally swallowed blood socked TPLF and EPRP/A fighters.  At the end, in a retreat that avoided the whole of Tigri, TPLF pursued EPRP/A out of Asimba and destined it to Begemidir under the custody of ELF[7]. 

 

While in the custody of ELF, EPRP/A gave up the partial essence of its existence—the need to bear arms for survival.  And at the time of the retreat, moral within the rank and file of EPRP/A was at a freezing low point.  And yet, the conceit and arrogance of EPRP/A leaders never abated for a second.  In the briefest rectification movement ever to be held in the history of any movement in Ethiopia, Abebe Debteraw[8] (the equivalent of Mao Zedong of China) stood in front of tired and confused fighters to ascertain the uncertain.  Following the briefing by Colonel Abeje as to why EPRP/A lost the battle to TPLF, Debteraw with angry deep voice and raising his hand avowed EPRP’s invincibility—declaring it as the ablest party with the skill to start the revolution all over again—with only one, two, or three devout followers. “If there is any doubt in you,” he ascertained to the tired and confused fighters, “you go ahead and leave and that’s the route,” he declared pointing towards the Addis-Asmara road.  Such a political behavior was made possible by the millions of young and old Ethiopians who over-bestowed their allegiance to EPRP/A.  These Ethiopians adamantly believed in EPRP/A more than anything political and hoped that it will turn into a fair, just and democratic form of government.  No blame is warranted toward those who stood by EPRP/A.  The time was ripe and most of the political wishes that most Ethiopians had aspired for their beloved country were reachable.  It is for this reason that millions of Ethiopians entrusted their life to EPRP/A more than they entrusted it to their own family.  But what these millions of Ethiopians didn’t know was the fact that their beloved EPRP/A was about to bungle this huge wealth of political support in just few years—much like a gambler who loses his fortune of untold proportion with uncontrollable adrenaline rush for gambling.

 

After retreating from Tigri, EPRP/A started to operate in four regions of military fields in Begemidir and, the leaders had a “great plan” thereafter to recreate EPRP/A anew.  And amazingly, their “great plan” was a revisionist one.   They merely cooked another plan to executeeight seasoned fighters for dissenting like the previously executed scores of fighters in Asimba[9].  This time, they misread Belesa for Asimba, and yet, they managed to detain four fighters for execution in the first seminar—with hope to detain another four fighters in the second seminar[10].  Leaders of EPRP/A thought the second seminar would be easier, and thus, they planned to detain four fighters in just two days[11].   But the second seminar dragged on for more than two days and Fasika Belete[12] was uneasy about it.  The four accused and few other fighters managed to change the outcome of the second seminar.  Unlike what happened in Asimba and the first round seminar in Belesa, the result of the second seminar in Belesa had a political twist that qualifies as yet to be told political history of EPRP/A.

 

The result of the second round seminar in Belesa freed the four fighters detained in the first round seminar while it ordered the detention of some regional leaders of EPRP/A.  The result of the second seminar also paved the way to a change in political attitude for some EPRP/A fighters in Belesa.  The change in political attitude was more evident especially on those who from the very beginning had questioned the strategy that EPRP/A had deployed from the get-go.  Thorough discussion and analysis of friends and foes of the Ethiopian people, also created a change of heart even on those staunch EPRP/A fighters who fought TPLF in bloody battles back in Tigri.  In spite of the change in political attitude within the rank and file, leaders of EPRP/A continued their war-footing policy toward TPLF.  To this effect, a company from Belesa was ordered to travel, of course on foot, to Tselemt[13], Begemidir, for undisclosed mission.  The company arrived in Tselemt as ordered. 

 

The same night it arrived, some fighters of the company had a casual discussion about the enemies and friends of the Ethiopian struggle.  During the discussion, a very specific question was raised about TPLF.  “Is TPLF the enemy of the Ethiopian people struggle?”  And the answer was astoundingly “No.”  The fighters then agreed that it would be wrong to categorize TPLF as the enemy of the Ethiopian struggle and vowed not to fight another bloody battle against what they considered is a democratic movement of a people.  The fighters asked for a meeting with the leaders of EPRP/A and they were hoping to talk to Abebe Debteraw in particular.  Instead, Gayim[14] showed up.  The very first two questions posed to Gayim by the fighters were “why are we here for?  And “where are we heading?”  Gayim replied, “…this is uncharacteristic of you guys; only those who are in charge know about where you guys are heading and for what purpose.”  “If there is a military operation, you will be informed as always hours before the operation.  Other than that, it will be a violation of our own rules to tell you ahead of time.”  The fighters replied that their case is special; that is, if they are asked to fight TPLF, they will refuse to do so since they have agreed that TPLF is not the enemy of the Ethiopian people struggle against Derg[15]. Gayim was very upset, and quite obviously, the meeting with him was adjourned followed by a very simple question from him: “Are you with EPRP/A or are you not?”   An eerie moment was sensed by those whose answer was “no we’re not members of EPRP/A anymore.”  Two lines were created to separate those who would stay with EPRP/A and those who would not.  A mesmerized group of fighters from Tselemt and Belesa were there to witness at arm’s length a history unfolding.  Nineteen fighters created their own line refusing to continue as members of EPRP/A, and by that they began a yet to be told historical call to unite all democratic forces of Ethiopia.   

 

The nineteen fighters stated their stance on vital Ethiopian political issues via a manifesto that was disseminated to EPRP/A fighters.  The manifesto was written by the nineteen fighters and it was lauded by many[16] as a masterpiece while few with remaining political love for EPRP/A called it extreme.  The manifesto detailed the strategic and tactical failures of EPRP/A, especially the failure to coordinate the struggle with democratic forces of Ethiopia such as TPLF.  The remedy sought by the nineteen fighters was to dismantle EPRP/A, at least in Belesa, so that a coalition of democratic forces can begin the Ethiopian struggle anew.  The political stance was premised on the belief that EPRP/A had impeded the emergence of a democratic coalition, and had also become undemocratic and thus unsalvageable.  

 

Fighters in Belesa eagerly waited for the return of the nineteen comrades[17], which by then have named their platoon Haiil Asrazetegn[18].  Haiil Asrazetegn chose to go back to Belesa for safety reason and to plan what to do next.  While in Belesa, a contradiction arose within Haiil Asrazetegn; some comrades wanted to stay as independent democratic movement for a while, while some argued in favor of assimilating their struggle with like-minded fighters in Belesa.  Few discussions later, the nineteen fighters agreed to be part of the struggle that which later became a partner with TPLF.  They were also among those who were welcomed by Meles Zenawi (the late Extraordinary Prime Minister of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) and had the chance to listen from him about the strategy of TPLF.    

 

During his welcome speech to the former EPRP/A fighters of Region 3 (Belesa), Meles underscored the need to struggle for equality and hoped to create a political partnership to bring about a fair, just and democratic Ethiopia.  All that we’re struggling for is nothing more than to create a political environment in which people of Ethiopia participate equally to determine how they wish to live; Meles accentuated.  Few months later and after a thorough rectification movement, there came the time to elect leaders of EPDM.  While in the process of nominating the leadership, a concealed contradiction arose and few comrades left for various reasons while few remained with conviction to continue the struggle[19].  The remaining few fighters from Belesa persevere and formed EPDM (now known as ANDM)—in order to create a front with TPLF and to pave the path to what Ethiopia is today—a commendably developing Federal Democratic Republic.



[1] EPDM (Ethiopian People Democratic Movement), the precursor of ANDM (Amara National Democratic Movement) was founded in 1982 by former EPRP/A members from Belesa, Begemidir, also known as Region 3 by EPRP/A.

[2] EPRP/A (Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party/Army).  I used EPRP/A only for convenience purpose.  But in fact, the party and the army wing are abbreviated separately.  The army wing is called EPRA (Ethiopian People Revolutionary Army) and, the party wing is called EPRP (Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party).

[3] Over twenty dissenters were executed in Asimba (military base of EPRP/A in Tigri) and the

news of their execution was conveyed by Abebe Debteraw to EPRP/A fighters while they were in the middle of a retreat in Eritrea.

[4] Depicting TPLF as “narrow nationalist” was and is a shared political misconception, especially by members

of Derg, EPRP/A and contemporary opponents of EPDRF.

 

[5] EPRP/A was on the losing end.  And what was alarming about the loss was the fact that the

villages lost to TPLF were too close to Asimba—EPRP/A’S military base.   

[6] Bizet is a town in Tigri, located on the main road, somewhere between Adigrat and Adwa.

[7] ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front), according to Wikipedia, was founded in July 1960, in Cairo, Egypt, by Idris Muhammad Adam and other Eritrean intellectuals and students.

[8] Abebe Debteraw was the political commissar of EPRA and also a member of the Central

Committee of EPRP.

[9] The plan to detain and execute eight fighters entails many issues and events that led to it.  A

detailed history requires great deal of time and the contribution of eyewitness fighters. 

[10] Asmare Kobelew, Bereket Simon, Dawid, and Mahdere were detained after the first seminar.

[11] Leaders of EPRP/A hoped to detain Adal, Dillie, Kogaw and Kibebew in the second seminar but failed.

[12] Fasika Belete was in charge and chaired both seminars in Belesa.  He was also Adal Isaw’s (one of

the comrades to be detained in the second seminar) 5th grade teacher in Wukro, Tigri, for a school year.

[13]Tselemt was one of the four military and political regions of EPRP/A in Begemidir.

[14] Gayim acted as a vice political commissar at least for that given day.

[15] Derg was founded on June 28, 1974, by military officers.

[16] One notable admirer of the manifesto was Mahdere (Tewedros)—one of the four comrades detained for execution in the first round seminar in Belesa.  

[17] For example, Bereket Simon sent a letter in support of the nineteen fighters and Hilawi Yosef had a poem in support of the newly found political enlightenment—the fact that we shouldn’t over entrust EPRP/A.

[18] Haiil Asrazetegn means Company Nineteen. 

[19] A collaborative effort is needed to write the details of this particular event.


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