Our Daughter, Our Sister and Our Mother

“On December 11, 2003, as her children waited in the Asmara airport to greet their mother, whom they had not seen in almost four years, Eritrean security took Aster away as she stepped off the plane. She has not been seen since.”

Mrs. Aster Yohannes has been locked up in PFDJ dungeon for three years.  Her four children, the future of Eritrea, are three years older and growing without the love and care of their mother – like thousands of other young Eritreans.  On the third year of Mrs. Aster’s disappearance, we should put ourselves in her shoes, locked in PFDJ dungeon wondering about her children.  Would she curse the day she was born, the day she joined the struggle for Eritrean independence, why she didn’t abandon Eritrea with her children after independence, curse the day she decided to return to her beloved children and Eritrea?  What could she be thinking about?

Every individual, organization, country has a defining moment – some act or acts that defines who we are and what we are.  Some acts that eventually define us are imperceptible at the beginning and only understood later.  Other acts are so blatant that we immediately know its significance – good or bad.   We can also define ourselves by what we condone in other people’s acts and behaviors.

The arrest of G-15 and even journalists might be debated by PFDJ apologists as the occupational hazards of engaging in politics.  But the arrest and jailing incommunicado of such mothers as Aster and Senait Debessai transcends politics and exposes our evilness, our lack of compassion, and our rejection of humanity.  How can we say that we have principles, that we are religious and spiritual, that we possess core values, that we have a sense of morality and yet justify the cruel punishments of these mothers?

The arrest of Aster Yohannes has a simple purpose – to break the spirit of her husband.  Min. Petros Solomon can withstand all the physical punishments meted out against him by the cruel PFDJ regime.  But to know your wife, mother of your four kids, thrown into a jail with you must be the ultimate mental punishment to a father who must feel guilty that he has abandoned his children in his quest to bring about peaceful and democratic change in Eritrea so that his children would have bright future.   This is the story of Min. Sheriffo, Aster Fissehatsion and their family.   This is the story of other thousands of Eritrean fathers and mothers and their families.  When one becomes comfortable with rationalizing or justifying why innocent people can or must be jailed or killed or exiled, one has lost everything one is

Arresting someone is one thing, but cruelty is defined by the way you arrest and keep incommunicado a mother.  This is what defines PFDJ, arresting a mother who couldn’t wait to see her children at the airport without getting to see her children just for the purpose of political vengeance and cruelty.  If this is our vision of Eritrea, if this is what defines who we are and what we are, then we have lost ourselves as individuals and condemned Eritrea into perpetual misery. 

Real men never bring women, children and old people to a fight among men.  This defines who we are and what we are.  One can probably cite only mafia organizations, even then not all of them, which practice similar cruelties of punishing mothers and children.  Mafias eliminate mothers and children, esp. male, as a cruel message to their opponents and competitors.  During the struggle for independence, both ELF/EPLF and the Dergue regime avoided engaging in conflict in heavily inhabited areas out of respect of the lives of innocent people.  It is said that a couple of days before Eritrea was liberated, the Dergue military leaders in Asmara had their last meeting to determine what course of action to take next.  One officer insisted on bombarding Asmara and withdrawing from Eritrea.  However, General Hussein[?] had this officer eliminated quietly that evening after their meeting.  The next day, General Hussein hopped on his helicopter and allegedly fled to Yemen – thus saving Asmara and its civilian population from possible annihilation.  Similarly, the fleeing Ethiopian army towards the road to Keren a day and two before liberation debated whether to destroy Asmara as they withdrew.  It is said that the rank-and-file soldiers refused to annihilate Asmara and its civilian population.  The withdrawal was as peaceful as it could have been.   There were also many times when Ethiopian soldiers rampaged against Eritrea civilians after battle losses.   But compared to PFDJ’s rampage against innocent civilians, mothers, old people and children, the level of PFDJ cruelty has no comparison.

Even during the battle for Massawa in 1990, retreating Ethiopian army barricaded itself inside Tiwalet area holding civilians as its hostages.  EPLF ceased its offensive in order to negotiate peaceful surrender and save the lives of innocent civilians.  This is respect for human lives.  When the Ethiopian army refused, EPLF had to adjust its attack, landing its forces by boat behind enemy line and end the battle with least number of casualties.  These types of acts defined EPLF.  This is the EPLF we know.

As Awate symbolizes our aspiration for independence, and Sheik Ibrahim and Aboy Woldeab Woldemariam symbolize as the father figures of our aspiration for independence, Mrs. Aster and Mrs. Senait symbolize PFDJ’s cruelty against Eritrean mothers and the public in general.

War between …

War between nations is a battle between two armies – both armed and facing each other.   Strictly speaking war is simply a form of conflict, and conflicts can take place between individuals, between individuals/citizens and their governments just as conflicts can take place between two or more governments/nations.

The result of war between governments/nations is death and maiming of people and the destruction of properties.  Although enemies may win wars, they can never occupy defeated people indefinitely without destroying themselves.  In the meantime, the conquerors may treat their conquered subjects well or badly.

Similarly, the result of conflict between illegitimate governments and the people is death, maiming and forced migration of people.  In addition, citizens’ properties are confiscated and destroyed illegally.  Thus the definition and effect of any type of conflicts are the same as wars … There is no difference between external conflicts and internal conflicts, and if anything internal conflicts are worse, and internal conflicts between armed illegitimate government and unarmed civilian population are the worst type of conflicts called oppression.

Make no mistake … PFDJ has declared war on Eritrean people.  The difference between wars and conflicts, be it internal or external, is simply semantics – it is the same.  We should define prevailing situation by its effects rather than by traditional wordings. 

We are in two states of conflicts, but if the various conflicts must be prioritized it is as follows,

1.      PFDJ’s conflict against Eritrean people

2.      Border/External conflict [if such threat still exists]

As stated above, the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia is between two armies.  To the contrary, PFDJ’s war against Eritreans is a war waged by cowards with their guns – PFDJ with its guns and Eritrean civilians without their guns.  When PFDJ arrested Aster at the airport, PFDJ put a gun against her head and took her away.  When they arrested Senait, PFDJ put a gun against her head and threw her into PFDJ Dungeon.   PFDJ is doing what it does because it carries guns.  Guns can only be pointed at your enemies – and for PFDJ, the Eritrean people, the people it has its guns pointed at, are its enemies.  Enemies are defined by who you point your guns at.  When PFDJ jumps over our house fences to engage in its endless ‘giffas’, it does it with its gun pointed.  That fence is our border with the illegitimate government and yet the illegitimate government continues to trespass our personal border with its guns.   During the struggle for independence we said, ‘Betrey Betrikha intezikhewun neru’ …       

Many will agree that the greater danger and tragedy is always a conflict between those who have guns and those who don’t have guns, rather than between those who both carry guns.   Conflicts within a family is the same or worse as conflicts with enemies if conflicts lead to death, maiming and destroying properties.

We can lose our land to our enemies today and win it back tomorrow.  But those who strip our core values, who we are and what we are, and everything we are.

The sovereignty and national security of Eritrea can only be protected by our core values – by who we are and by what we are.  It is only the ‘Will’ within us that make things happen, whereas guns are only tools.  PFDJ is stripping our core values and ‘will’ by eroding our cherished beliefs – thus endangering our sovereignty and national security. 

Our core values are being tested …

Evil acts test our core values.  Should we revenge, avenge and be consumed by hatred in our conquest to destroy this evil regime?  Our values are to forgive, yet PFDJ wants to destroy this core value.  Thinking about the agony and anguish Aster is going through, it is difficult not to think of reciprocating in the same manner meted out against Aster.  My raw emotion calls for doling out the same punishments to the cruel men who are torturing Aster.

Ultimately, PFDJ’s war is on the people of Eritrea and our core values.  By imprisoning us, by killing us, by terrorizing us, by dividing us, by forcing us out of our beloved country – PFDJ is trying to destroy our core values, to ultimately burn us and drown us in a fire and sea of hatred, to destroy everything Eritrean and to destroy everything our forefathers valued throughout centuries.  Even one act of cruelty is one act too many.  Politics can never supercede our core values, because if it does, we are already on slippery road into the abyss.   The tragedy is that no prudent person can rationalize the ill-treatment of civilians for the sake of dirty politics masquerading as national security.  To many of us, those who use ‘national security’ as pretext to imprison Mrs. Aster have already fallen off the cliff. 

If we succumb to hatred, succumb to the evil acts of PFDJ … then PFDJ will have won …

Our ultimate revenge against the evil PFDJ is to continue to love one other, “to forgive those who trespass against us”, to redouble our efforts by putting aside our intolerance and resolving our differences by building bridges – even more importantly with our tormentors.   We say to them, ‘we are not like you, we don’t share the same core values.’  Guns are drawn by those who can’t offer us anything better.   Where we stick to our core values instead of developing the ‘gun mentality’, we will have unleashed a force bigger than the coward PFDJ’s guns.  The battle is being waged within ourselves – with our core values, basic beliefs, our compassion, our sense of fairness and our sense of justice.  With our core values propagated in public, we can maintain harmony within our circles of friends and win over those who are temporarily confused.  That will be our ultimate victory against PFDJ, and what will assure the survival and eventual prosperity of our cherished country.


We ask you to keep in mind during your next meeting/congress,

‘To come together is a start; to stay together is progress,

And to work together is an achievement.

Reaching out to the public has never been easier with current affordable and easily available technologies, and Asmarino.com and TVZete are prime examples.   There is no reason why EDA can’t pull together its limited financial resources for united and stronger message.  We should act as if what we do today is the predictor of what is to come in the future.  There is no disconnect between today and tomorrow; everything is tied together in chains; there are no miraculous transformations.

May Allah bestow peace and strength on Aster, Senait – and all Our Daughters, Our Sisters and Our Mothers!

May God give strength and wisdom to their children – the future of Eritrea!

Kem Wetru Awet N’Hafash!

Kalsina Newih’n Merir’n Iyu, Awetna Naygidin!

Berhan Hagos

December 9, 2006

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