June 20 Series No. 6 June 20th The Sacrifices Made for You and Me
Often times I find myself in a position where people ask me where I’m from and I proudly say “Eritrea”. Now as the conversation progresses, people frequently tell me they’ve never seen someone so passionate about where they come from. That’s when I begin to explain to them that for me, as well as many Eritreans, it’s not simply where we come from but it is who we are.
You see in order for me to call myself Eritrean, enormous sacrifices had to be made. Eritrea was not born out of nothing or given to us by someone. No, we had to fight tooth and nail to see the birth of our Eritrea. As if the Italian colonization and British occupation periods did not bring about their own set of pain and suffering, Eritrea and Eritreans endured much more in the nation’s 30-year freedom struggle against Ethiopia. When I think about what it cost for me to be able to call myself Eritrean, I am overcome by emotion. In our 30-year struggle, 60,000 of Eritrea’s brave sons and daughters were martyred. The precious blood of these beautiful souls washed and still covers every part of our nation and all this for what? So that I can call myself Eritrean! Honestly speaking, who would selflessly give up their own life so that someone like you and me can have a dignified life? So that we can say wherever we may live in this world, we have a home and it is called Eritrea? I can only imagine the pain—physical, emotional, and psychological—our freedom fighters (Tegadlti) suffered every moment of the struggle before they took their last breath on this earth. It baffles me to think of how one could leave their warm home and their loving family to fight for me and every Eritrean that was and was yet to be. The self-determination, dedication, and selflessness of Eritrea’s sons and daughters is something that is unexplainable!
As far as superpower backed Ethiopia was concerned, Eritrea was to be annihilated! Hey a population of 60 million vs. 3 million, the Ethiopians were certain they could and would destroy Eritrea and Eritreans with their eyes closed! But lo and behold, our self-determined, unparalleled Tegadlti gave the Ethiopians a run for their money. What was designed to bury our people turned out to be something that buried the Ethiopians.
On June 20, 1982 the widely publicized Sixth (Red Star) Offensive of the Ethiopian Army was soundly defeated. Although Ethiopia's Red Star claimed the largest number of martyrs in the Eritrean armed struggle, it was the Ethiopian army that received a devastating defeat with more than 40,000 of its soldiers dead, captured, or wounded. The defeat of the Ethiopian army during this offensive marked a shift in the military balance in favor of the Eritrean struggle. This is why June 20th was designated as the day to commemorate our fallen heroes.
As if this wasn’t enough, between 1998 and 2000, an additional 19,000 of Eritrea’s sons and daughters were martyred due to Ethiopia’s blood thirsty nature. In spite of everything, our freedom fighters (Warsai) yet again committed themselves to defend Eritrea’s sovereignty.
So when I think of all the sacrifices that were made for me, again I am overcome by emotion. There is nothing that anyone can do that can take away what our Tegadlti did for us. Although they may not physically be here for us to tell them “thank you”, we can show our gratitude to our Tegadlti every single day, but particularly on June 20th, by committing ourselves to upholding everything they fought for—freedom, peace, and safeguarding our nation.
Our government has and continues to do everything possible to take care of the families that these brave sons and daughters have left behind. Still, we owe it to our fallen heroes to do our part. As proud Eritreans, and ones that can actually claim that because of the sacrifices made for us, we need to rise to the occasion by committing ourselves to assist these very same families by contributing to the Martyrs’ Fund and/or sponsoring an individual/family. When I think about what my yehwat (brothers and sisters) did for me, I consider it an honor to be able to say thank you, even in the smallest manner where it may feel like a drop in the ocean. We can’t bring back the precious lives given up for us but we can ensure that their legacy lives on and they can continue to rest in peace knowing that their loved ones are taken care of.
Eternal Glory to our Martyrs!