Renewed Spirit of Peace, Friendship, and harmony Between Ethiopia and Eritrea
This year’s September 11, 2011 Ethiopian New Year, was an auspicious occasion for many reasons. The reason that is the focus of this writing is what the date means in terms of Ethiopian- Eritrean relations.
Twenty years ago, at this time, Zalambesa was under Eritrean occupation along with parts of Adi Erob, and Gulomakda. People in these areas were displaced; their homes were destroyed, their fields were laid waste, and the once bustling border town of Zalambesa brought to its knees. Little was spared; buildings, churches, places of worship, schools, and health centers were all negatively impacted if not destroyed. Residents fled for their lives abandoning their hard-earned properties and means of livelihood. Those with means fled to Addis Ababa and Mekele, while the others fled to Adigrat.
Notably, neither Adigrat nor Mekele were spared and were also bombed by Eritrea’s war planes causing the death of many students in Ayder school, Mekele.
Trying to make sense out of this unexpected war and the suffering it has caused for Tigreans has been beyond challenging, especially since many Tigreans gave their lives to fight against Derg’s rule and in support of Eritrea’s independence. Clearly, in light of the circumstances, Tigreans have felt a deep sense of betrayal and anger.
Nevertheless, there were a few upsides in retrospect. Here in Washington DC, Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds gathered at the Capitol Hilton on K street for the first time in many years to rally together in support of defending Ethiopia’s sovereignty and war-displaced Ethiopians. One outcome was that in June 1998, Committees were formed in the area to mobilize resources for the war- displaced people.
As one who hails from the affected Gulomakda Woreda area, what had transpired was particularly heartfelt. I found it impossible to stand by and watch the bad news without taking action. On a personal level, many of my relatives in Sebeya had to abandon their farms and homes to seek refuge in faraway places. Furthermore, my father, a Tigrean, was trapped on the Eritrean side as a member of the Catholic clergy who served across the Ethiopian border in Kolete-Graana, which is in Eritrea.
I recall that a year earlier in 1997, I had traveled from the U.S. to Ethiopia to see my father. I had to cross the border of Eritrea without a visa or other required documents. It was an hour’s walk on foot from Sebeya, my home village. Little did I know at the time that within a year a war would break out between these closely related lands on the border towns between Ethiopia and Eritrea and that because of it, I would be unable to see my father for the next three years. My siblings and myself were not sure if we will ever see our father alive. My father was in his seventies at the time and he was there serving the Catholic church.
In an effort to do something to help, I worked on two committees: Save Ethiopia which was formed by the members of the Tigray community and another one which brought Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds together. Serving on these committees was my way of trying to tell my father that I did not forget him, in addition to being a dutiful citizen of Ethiopia.
In this Ethiopian New Year, my heart was filled with joy to see that Zalambesa, all of these years later, was hosting the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea, members of the army of both countries and the people. Watching on YouTube the people from Ethiopia and Eritrea greet their relatives and friends after twenty years of separation was a triumph of love and unity over the cruelty of politics.
It also shows the triumph of courage and power of the notion and meaning of unity. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embraces these values and traits and I am grateful to him for ushering in an end to a senseless dispute. His actions exemplifies not only leadership, but “good” leadership.
I wish for continued “good” leadership and “good” followership down a path where the people are united in peace founded on mutual interest, brotherhood, and common destiny.
Happy New Year and Lasting Peace for the brotherly people of Ethiopia and Eritrea!!!