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Has the Word Martyr (ስዉእ/ስዉእቲ) Cheapened the Lives of Eritreans? By Yonas Araya

 Has the Word Martyr (ስዉእ/ስውእቲ) Cheapened the Lives of Eritreans?

The Humane Culture of the People of Eritrea
For thousands of years, human life used to be very precious among those living in what we now call Eritrea, and the death of every human being was mourned by the relatives, one dead at a time, and in some cases, for many years. Here is how many Eritreans honored and remembered the dead and comforted the relatives of the deceased:

  • When someone dies, relatives from near and far get notified immediately. Many messengers would travel all night to remote villages to break the sad news to loved ones so they could attend the funeral.
  • An official funeral would be held for the dead, which relatives from near and far attend to honor their loved ones.
  • Suppose there was no time to notify all loved ones in time. In that case, the families of the deceased hold a simulated funeral called Second Funeral on another day so those who did not attend due to unforeseen circumstances pay their due respect to the dead and calm or keep the grieving families company.
  • The dead would be mourned by everyone who knew and did not know them.
  • The surviving immediate family members would be surrounded and comforted by relatives and friends day and night for at least twelve days.
  • Depending on their age, the deceased would be ceremoniously remembered after two weeks (Asur), after 40 days, after six months, and thereafter every year. On top of that, the deceased gets memorialized by one big tribute called Tezkar.

Though mainly some Christian denominations observe the above-described ceremonies, all Eritrean religions and religious denominations similarly observe the deceased, and most of all, respect for all human beings, dead or alive, is inherent in Islam and all Christian denominations alike.

Any culture that respects the life of a human being when it is alive and after it dies has to be a civilized culture, and its founders must have been way ahead of their time. And that is why then our ancestors would have handled the 1998 so-called Badme War, and all the wars that Isaias commanded for the past 50 years, differently. They would have taken the body of every dead they had to bury and mourn over, and the chief mourner of every dead person they had to comfort, into consideration, before rushing into war because the dead would not be just a figure to them as has been to Isaias.

But respect for the dead is something all civilized nations have also practiced in peace or at war. Civilized nations transfer the remains of their soldiers to the surviving families for proper burial and mourning. In civilized countries, the public entrusts its leaders with the highest responsibility – with its children. In civilized nations, the commanders-in-chief take their responsibility very seriously because they know the public holds them accountable if they fail.

Even King Haile Selassie respected this humane treatment of the remains of his soldiers who died in combat. He even transferred the remains of Eritreans, members of the Commando, or Police Abay, who fought alongside his soldiers to be mourned and buried by their families.

Eritreans remember when Ethiopian army medic helicopters shuttled back and forth, carrying the dead and injured soldiers after every battle with Eritrean fronts.

Undeniably there was a good reason why the Eritrean fronts, the ELF and EPLF, did not appropriately bury their soldiers who died in battles. Still, there is no excuse for why Isaias, president of an independent country, does not want to treat soldiers who die in all his wars as all governments do.

There is no excuse for Isaias not to give a proper burial to soldiers and notify families to grieve over their loved ones on time. Is that too much to ask of Isaias by the soldiers who give their only lives for his wars and for families who lose their loved ones forever?

Why does Isaias not want to deliver the bodies of soldiers killed in his wars to their families to mourn and bury them? The answer is simple: if Isaias allows families to bury and mourn their loved ones, the dead soldier will no longer be a figure but a human being, depriving him of whimsically starting wars and sending as many children as he wants to his wars.

But the fault does not lie with Isaias alone. The responsibility lies with all Eritreans. There is no excuse why the Eritrean public has not requested Isaias to give the utmost respect to the soldiers who died in his wars and notify and allow their families to bury and mourn them publicly, surrounded by loved ones. Families are not asking Isaias to return their children from death; they only want to mourn the children they raised by enduring many hardships, hoping their children would be medical doctors, -civil, -mechanical, -electrical engineers, chemists, veterinarians, dentists, cardiologists, oncologists, ophthalmologists, geologists, lawyers, judges, legislators, parents, or whatever they wish to achieve in a free Eritrea, and not to become personal properties of Isaias.

Still, the fault does not lie with Isaias alone. Why do Eritreans, especially his ardent supporters, grant Isaias a free pass to continue behaving like a rebel or insurgent group leader instead of a president of an independent country?

The families of many Eritreans, especially those supporters of Isaias who die in Europe, North America, and other places, pay a considerable amount of money to transfer the body to be buried in Eritrea. So, if the bodies of Eritreans with lip service to Eritrea are worth proper mourning and burial, shouldn’t the bodies of Eritreans who paid with their lives deserve the same respect?

Has the Word Martyr (
ስዉእ ስውእቲ) Cheapened the Lives of Eritreans?
In the new Eritrean culture, the word Martyr seems to encourage Isaias to toy with Eritrean children and treat the dead only as figures, dismissing that the children had hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. It also downplays the trauma the surviving family members suffer day and night for many years for losing their loved ones forever, not burying them properly, and being barred from publicly grieving them. On top of that, the public is openly or systematically discouraged from providing cultural therapeutic comfort to grieving families.

In this new Eritrean culture, inherited from the Armed Struggle era, the word Martyr forces people to keep their grievances inside themselves, lest they display weakness to the enemy. But although that culture may have strengthened the resolute of the people during the Armed Struggle, the word also gave warlords like Isaias carte blanche to send Eritrean children to endless wars and treat them like inanimate objects with no human values. The word Martyr dismisses that the person had dreams, hopes, and plans.

What if all the Eritreans who lost their lives in so many reckless battles during the Armed Struggle and since 1991 had lived until now? We don’t know; many incredible, disciplined, intelligent, and hard-working Eritrean children took their dream into their graves with them, so we are now left with Isaias and the Yemanes. And that is because, for the past 52 years, Isaias killed or detained many Eritreans that he, rightly or wrongly, suspected someday might overshadow or dwarf him with their competence, but especially for the past 32 years, sidelined or had many Eritreans killed in many of his wars. Moreover, fearing able-body Eritreans, if left to live in their country, might someday challenge his monopoly of the system, he gives them only two choices:  to flee the country or remain as his slaves or playing toys.

In this new nasty Eritrean culture, the result of attaching the word Martyr to those killed in many of Isaias’s reckless wars appears to remove guilt or remorse from his and his supporters’ “conscience.”   The attitude of Eritreans has become: “She was martyred, he was martyred; they paid their dues to their country, so let’s just move on with our lives. Calling them Martyrs should be sufficient enough. No need for anyone, including their families, to be emotional, reminisce, or grieve over them. Their bodies are scattered, buried in mass graves, some hills, trenches, valleys, somewhere in the country. That should also be sufficient enough.”

And Isaias’s attitude to those killed in many of his wars has been these: “She was martyred, he was martyred; they lost their lives for my ego and glory; I don’t need to immediately notify their loved ones: their children, parents, siblings, or spouses. Let them grieve internally and quietly; when they don’t hear from them for many months and years, they will know their loved one is dead and won’t return to them, which should be sufficient. This culture worked for me for fifty years; Eritreans are used to it; I have not heard any complaints, so why change it now?”

“But I (Isaias) also need more soldiers, so let’s ask Eritrean mothers to breed and raise more children to replace those I made lose their lives for my glory. They are used to that culture, so why change it now?”

Let’s think: What if the 65,000 Eritreans who gave up their only lives for independence could return and watch present-day Eritrea? Would they be proud of their martyrdom when they see one man making all Eritreans’ life and death decisions for 32 years by killing, arresting, or forcing them to flee and leave their country? Would any Martyr have joined the Fronts had they known one man would make life and death decisions for alive and unborn Eritreans forever?

To begin with, was Eritrea’s independence worth 65,000 lives? Let’s assume, for now, Eritrea’s independence was worth 65,000 lives. But was that piece of land gained from the vast plains of Baddme worth 30,000+ Lives? Let’s also remember: the arbitration court afforded Eritrea to gain a bit from that immense plains of Baddme, not the 30,000+ lost lives. Eritrea could have gotten what was hers without firing a bullet or losing a life, meaning the 30,000+ Eritreans lost their lives for nothing, just for Isaias’s ego. Let’s also not forget those Eritreans who died of grief after being expelled from Ethiopia when Isaias, out of the blue, dragged their adoptive country into a war it did not want, then stubbornly refused to compromise, not even for their sake.

More than 150 active border issues or conflicts exist between many countries worldwide. Some of them have been around since WW2, but no government ever declared an all-out war to resolve their problems; some took the matter to the international arbitration committee; some decided to settle by directly consulting with their foes or involving their neighbors and friends; some like Japan are waiting for time to resolve their problems; others left the issue alone, but all them chose to focus on living in peace and developing their economic and social sectors. *** So, then, if so many immensely wealthy nations can live with border issues for 70+ years without resorting to wars, why after coming out of a 30-year deadly war, instead focusing on healing and compensating families affected by the previous 30-year war and developing the nation’s economic and social sectors, Isaias gave top priority to border issues with Yemen, Djibouti, and Ethiopia? But, again, the blame does not lie with Isaias alone. Why the Eritrean public, including some of the opposition, stood behind him in his wars?

(** In the 1980s, Iran and Iraq went to war because of politics, which turned into territorial issues for a short time.)

According to the Christian scriptures, the word Martyr has superior value, reserved only for those who sacrificed their lives defending their faith, like the apostles of Christ and others. As a result, Eritrean Christians always believed that using the word for a worldly cause was blasphemous, if not inappropriate, and never used it arbitrarily.

When the EPLF and ELF brought the word in the 1973s to the highlands of Eritrea (before that, very few Eritreans knew about it), many priests and elderly did not like that, so they objected to its use or opined against it, but the “educated ” and armed Tegadelti who considered them traditionalists, old fashioned, and uncivilized overruled them.

Privately, I have stopped using the word martyr for so many years. Internally I feel sympathy and empathy for the dead and their grieving family when using the word dead rather than martyr. The word martyr takes away humanity from the dead and forces the people to forget them immediately. “He or she has done their duty. No need to worry about them or their families. No need to assuage the families with cultural therapy. Let’s just increment the martyrs’ figure by 100 or 1000, then chant Glory to Our Martyrs.”

Using the word to defend your dignity could be excused, but will Isaias use the word Martyrs for the soldiers he caused to lose their lives while committing war crimes and denying the Tigrayan people’s right to self-determination? Nonetheless, when announcing about lost lives in his last war, expect him to reduce the figure by 3/4th.

To me, the word Martyr has already cheapened the lives of Eritreans, but using it for war criminals will definitely cheapen or degrade the value or prestige of the word Martyr itself.

By the way, when will Eritreans stop using the word martyr? Why is the term still used for the ex-Tegadelti died of natural causes?

Building Museums:
Why have Eritreans not asked Isaias to build memorial museums for all Eritreans lost in all his wars?

Building a museum like the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, for the martyrs is not complicated or expensive. But Isaias can never go for that. Museums, where all Martyrs’ names are displayed, could potentially inhibit him from treating Eritreans as inanimate objects with no souls. But not only that, Eritreans visiting the museums, even his ardent worshipers, might think twice before mindlessly supporting his wars.

Again, had there been museums all over Eritrea for the Martyrs’ memories with their names, ages, and pictures, Eritreans may have associated the martyrs with human beings and not just figures, so even some ardent worshippers of Isaias might have felt remorse or guilt for the martyrs and their grieving family members.

Then again, Isaias is not the only guilty party here. You never hear the Eritrean public demanding such things from Isaias. Worse, I remember, beginning in the 1990s on Dehai.org, worshippers of Isaias, no need to mention their names, the same people who enjoy uttering the phrase “Glory to Our Martyrs” but memorialize the Martyrs only one day a year, for a few hours, spending a considerable amount of time and efforts campaigning for Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather to link him to Eritrea, but never heard them about building statues or museums for Eritrean martyrs.

No one knows the exact origin of Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather, “Ibrahim” or “Abraham.” He was educated but appeared to have kept his true background obscure in his writings.

The only sure thing about Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather was that he was Black, making Alexander Pushkin 1/8th Black and 7/8th White. Regardless, even if his actual origin were the highland areas of what we now call Eritrea, as we are being told repeatedly by his promoters, which may mean his mother’s language could be Tigrigna, which means he belongs to the people of Tigray too, not just to Eritrea. Eritrea did not exist in the 1600 or 1700s.

Anyway, Isaias exhibited his disdain, in broad daylight, for Eritrean children and their families when he erected a statue for a great-grandson of “Abraham” and a giant statue for rubber sandals (Shida) as though those inanimate objects joined the Armed Struggle voluntarily and sacrificed their lives, also as though they had a soul.

Eritrea, the Epicenter of Deaths:
After the EPLF entered Asmara in 1991, hundreds of Tegadelti killed each other with guns due to minor issues among them or internal frustrations, hidden trauma, or the failure of their commanders to intervene in due time or understand the problems.

Moreover, since 1991, thousands of ex-Tegadelti and the general public have also died from traffic accidents. As with everything else Isaias did, after entering Asmara, he set out to discard all the norms that had existed, some for centuries; likewise, he dismissed or gave no attention to the highly developed life-saving traffic ordinances inherited from the Italian rule and practiced by Eritreans under Ethiopia; as a result, vehicle accidents, especially single-vehicle accidents, became rampant due to the ex-Tegadelit’s drunk-driving, excessive speeding, rolled-overs, and steep slope accidents, which continued to add to the already high figure of martyrs and the agony of many Eritrean families.

To add to the misery of Eritreans, thousands of Eritreans have also died from easily treatable illnesses, and thousands more Eritreans also die from the agony of grief and frustration. Thousands more died while fleeing the country. Plus, no one knows how many of the tens of thousands locked up in his hundreds of prisons, some for over two decades, are still alive.

Contrary to the dying wishes of the martyrs, the totalitarian leader put all his efforts and the country’s resources into militarizing the entire population, yielding hundreds of thousands of soldiers instead of building hundreds of universities that produce thousands of scientists in all fields.

In any case, for Isaias, the too-many deaths of Eritreans can and will never bother him. That is why then, it’s not preposterous to brand him the Angel of Death. For 50 years, he has brought nothing to Eritreans besides deaths.

Many children purchase hamsters for a few bucks for pets in America, but very few mourn them when they die. Some flush them down the toilet when they die and purchase another hamster for a few bucks. For Isaias, Eritrean children have become like cheap pets that are easily replaced and don’t need dignity.

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