Ethiopia: Honoring Our Martyrs Nurtures Our Nationhood


PHOTO: general Rodolfo Graziani and the PM of the Fascist italian Regime Benito Mussolini -photo-pd

By Fitsum Getachew

One of the things that I am particularly envious about the English and the Western countries in general is the way they remember and honour their martyrs of wars, and their war heroes. Every year at the beginning of November the English have 'special days' that are completely dedicated to the memory and celebration of their martyrs. They honor all those who perished in wars. They lay wreaths at the cemetery of the Unknown Soldier; and everyone has the opportunity to pay tribute to them all. They bear the famous red poppy flower on their chest and the income from the sale of these poppies is given to support the association of war veterans. They support the surviving family members of the war veterans.

It is known that millions across the world have perished during the World Wars and millions of families were anguished due to deaths and destructions. But once those sad days were finished and done with, what remains of them are memories of their deeds and ponder what went wrong and how things could have changed. The subsequent generations are called to honor them for what they did in the face of critical challenges. Often they were forced to fight for what they thought was right against dictatorship and totalitarianism.

Roads, squares and various establishments of all sorts bearing their names are dedicated to them. Their history is written in glowing words. Those who have distinguished themselves in leadership roles have their birthdays celebrated as public holidays. Vast research is conducted to the minutest of details and often human stories of priceless value are disclosed to the public. They become examples to be emulated.

These stories have a special message to convey to the current generation. The message is that nothing could be taken for granted and that the current stage of civilization and progress is also a result of the continuous and hard fought battles of the past generations. As martyrs they gave away whatever they had including their lives! The new generation must realize that the light we have today is the reflection of those torches burnt. That is why they deserve maximum honor.

A country can survive in freedom and dignity only if it has such brave citizens. Only if we appreciate the sacrifices of our forefathers can we have resolve to stand up for a guarantee of our future and work hard to hand over a better country to our children. The tradition must continue.

In Britain, celebrations, processions, minutes of silence in every public gathering, are carried out during the memorials. The media engages with maximum coverage and the Queen and the Prime Minister as well as preside over the solemn commemoration.

Now if we look at what happens in our lawn, the question arises: how much of this do we do? How much due honor and glory do we confer up on our martyrs and sacrificed forefathers? How do we commemorate all those unidentified people 'without names' who however paid dearly in defense of our dear values of freedom and dignity in the face of alien aggression and occupation? Have we constructed them monuments or mausoleums that bear their names? Have we narrated their stories to the best of our capacity? Are there streets or squares that bear their names? Does the current generation know well about what happened, when and why? What is the place of these martyrs in the psyche of our youths? Do they actually realize how they inherited what they have today? Do they appreciate the sacrifices paid? These are questions to be duly addressed.

There may be some people who might wonder 'what is the use of all this for something that happened years ago? And that 'we need to focus on the current state of affairs rather than look back to the past'. They may argue that the past is just behind us and we now live in a technologically advanced and globalized village. This is an erroneous thought and it would suffice to remind those who think so that a house without a foundation cannot survive even the slightest of winds. A people who do not know about their past and appreciate it cannot have the right understanding of the present and the compass to orient themselves for the future. Identity and history matter as it is the stuff we are made of, and we need to work on that. If we get carried away by what does not belong to us nor define us, we cannot even appreciate in what world we are living. No one can run away from one's identity.

That is why first of all we need to know who we are and what our past history is like. We need to be smart to learn from history and history is ready to teach us many things if we adopt the right approach. Not making the same mistakes of the past is one point. Not being indifferent to what is going on under our eyes and then succumb inertly to its the negative consequences is another one. A clever people learn from history and one of the ways is by analyzing what happened when and why, and what could have been done differently; at what juncture was the failure to do the right thing?

The British and other Western peoples take their time to honor their martyrs and all those that fell in their wars because they realize the importance. It is a moment the entire nation stops for a while and reflects. It helps to envisage and create a better future, a better nation, a more united people with common bonds.

Throughout its past long history, Ethiopia has had its shares of wars, battles and deaths with extensive destruction. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, had to perish in the process of handing over this country to us. Ethiopia had to resist and survive various aggressions for various motives and we have reached the current status on 'the dead bodies of our martyrs'. We wouldn't have survived without the sacrifices of our forefathers. We all know the psychological trauma and scars that colonization has left on Africans. When we say Ethiopia never succumbed to that, there is certainly an air of pride and dignity in it. And that is what unites us as a nation. And that is what we need to capitalize on for a better future.

Our history books may shed some light on this, but not enough; because we have not yet managed to recount our own story. Our nationals have not yet researched and come with a well-documented and narrated history of our forefathers. Our reliance on foreign sources and impressions is almost scandalous. The 'right' history has not been properly narrated from our perspective, by our own scholars. Many scholars have expressed their dismay. One of them is renowned filmmaker Professor Haile Gerima who insists that we need to write our own history from our own perspective and not subscribe to what others tell us who we are.

Every year come February and March we may celebrate the Ethiopian Martyrs Day, the Battle of Adwa, or some other event. But we must accept that little attention is paid by the population in general and the youth in particular when we seriously consider their awareness. In fact, some recent surveys have revealed that most of our youths who even go to high schools have no idea of what certain episodes of our history are. They have scant appreciation of their own history. They are rather fascinated by the western world's movies and narrations. That is where the risk of being 'mentally mortgaged' transpires, denigrating one's values while echoing those of others!

Particularly, this is true of the Martyrs Day of Yekatit 12. We tend to downplay the sacrifices paid fighting against the occupation of fascist forces. We tend to forget the atrocious acts of mentally deranged colonialist leaders. The deep scars cannot be erased from the mind and soul of not only those who survived the barbarism but also of their little children who as kids witnessed the infamous deeds.

Although the implications of the more recent history appear to have more influence on us our sincere hope is that new efforts will be exerted by our scholars to shed new light on our forefathers' sacrifices for freedom, dignity and justice.

Accounts coming out from the memories of those who fought in those days, written papers and letters or any sort of messages all help to do that.

Efforts such as the recent publications made by the Addis Ababa University which was carried out by scholars such as Ian Campbell are appreciable. There could be potentially much more to explore on those 'sad days' and those stories create in us a sense of nationhood that ties us all together. That is why it is imperative that we nurture our present nation with more strength and conviction considering the efforts of our forefathers. We are indebted to them.

As we remember and honor our Patriots on Martyrs Day come February 19, we should vow to never forget those sacrifices and capitalize on such day to fight with resolve to build a prosperous and united country, worthy of the coming generations' praise.


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