September 1 – Anniversary of the Start of the Armed Struggles in Eritrea

Posted on September 1, 2014

I have written about patriotic holidays in so many countries and territories around the world, I keep thinking that I've covered them all...but I still haven't!

Today's country is fairly small (a little bit larger than Ohio). It is located in the Horn of Africa, between Sudan and Ethiopia, with a nice, long coastline along the Red Sea.

With official languages of Tigrinya, Arabic, and English, and with nine different ethnic groups (the majority are Tigrinya), the nation is diverse—but it voted almost unanimously to be independent of Ethiopia. But Ethiopia did not feel the same way—hence the “armed struggles.”

Rather than show you grisly
pictures of a 30-year war, I
thought I would just show you
some of the beauties of Eritrea.
Way back in 1890, Italians colonized Eritrea and nearby “Italian Somaliland.” During World War II, in 1936, Italian forces invaded and occupied Eritrea's large southern neighbor, Ethiopia. When Allied forces liberated the African regions, in 1941, Ethiopia once again became an independent nation with its ancient monarchy. Italian Somaliland remained under Italian rule – but as a United Nations protectorate, not as a colony. (In 1960, Italian Somaliland joined British Somaliland to form an independent nation, Somalia.) And what happened to Eritrea?

Eritrea was made a British protectorate from the end of World War II until 1951, Britain proposed dividing the nation in two, with the mostly-Islam northwest regions given to Sudan and the mostly-Christian southeast regions given to Ethiopia. (Don't you love how often European and American forces divvied up other countries, no matter what the people living there wanted or needed? Aack!)

From what I can tell, this controversial idea was not used, but the U.N., prompted by the U.S., did “federate” Eritrea with Ethiopia. Soon Ethiopia was not only occupying Eritrea, it was passing laws establishing the compulsory teaching of its main language, Amharic, in all Eritrean schools and otherwise showing the Eritreans “who's the boss.”

It seems pretty natural to me that many Eritreans fought back against this takeover, and on this date in 1961, violence between Ethiopian governmental forces and Eritrean separatists broke out. It was the start of a 30-year war!

Finally, in 1991, the UN supervised a “referendum” (vote) in which almost every single citizen voted for independence. And finally it did win its independence and recognition as a separate nation from other countries in the world.

Now Eritreans celebrate both the beginning and the end of this war. Today is the anniversary of the beginning, and May 24 is Independence Day, celebrating the 1991 takeover of the capital, Asmara, from Ethiopian forces.

Why, oh why?

We often scratch our heads over war, wondering why anyone would go to war over _________ [fill in the blank]. But in this case, I can to some extent imagine why Eritreans were sick of other people taking over their country and insisting that they speak some OTHER language, other than their own... Still, I wonder why, oh why would it be worthwhile for Ethiopia to fight the Eritreans for thirty long years?

Take a peek at this map of Ethiopia to find out why:

Ethiopia is totally landlocked! It has no access to a sea or ocean. Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia block it from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on the north, and Somalia and Kenya block it from the Indian Ocean on the south and east.

As a matter of fact, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked nation in the entire world.

Actually, Eritrea's location on the Red Sea explains a lot of the invasions and colonizations it experienced: South Arabians came to conquer, along with Ottoman Turks, Portuguese, Egyptians, British, and Italians. Especially once the Suez Canal was built giving ships access from the Mediterranean to the Red Seas, Eritrea was in a very strategic position.

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