As we are fast approaching the 23rd Anniversary of our most cherished and well deserved Independence day celebration, another significant occurrence is about to be remembered at 11:45 pm tonight
By Alula Abraha,
It was 21st of May 1984, exactly 30 years ago this very hour, 14 Eritrean commando fighters left their base in Ala with an important mission. The mission was to destroy the Ethiopian Derg’s Russian MIG fighters, gun-ship helicopters and Russian Antonov-12 military aircrafts that were located at Sembel airport.
That day, Eritrean commandos sneaked into the highly guarded Air force base of the Derg’s regime in Sembel, Asmara and turned 33 enemy military aircrafts including 16 MIG fighter jets into smithereens. The whole job was done at a lightening speed and took only 18 minutes before the commandos head back to their meeting points. While all reported back to base, only one got martyred. His name was Mebrahtu (AKA ‘Embaye‘).
It was remembered that the humiliated Derg officers that day acted in a cowardly fascistic fashion as usual. They were dragging martyr Mebrahtu’s body in order to impress the fuming Mengistu Hailemariam, who was visiting the destroyed airbase. They then tied Martyr Mebrahtu’s body onto their military truck and brutally began playing with his dead body. But furious Mengistu can’t help but scolded his coward armies and ordered them to stop their idiocy at once. He, instead, ordered them to bury him properly, saying that “he has martyred for the principle he believed.” (‘በስነርዓት ቅበሩት፡ እሱ ለዓላማው ነው የወደቀው’).
Thirty years ago, right at this hour, he was marching to get into position with his compatriots in order to accomplish the mission. They did so and he’ll be martyred in the next hour. Eritrea will never forget him and all our martyrs!
The year’s Calendar is usually filled with many more significant heroic events in the history of Eritrea.
The other significant occurrence related to today’s May 21st is, 77 years ago earlier today, Rome was shaken by a handsome young man from Hazega called Zerai Deres.
Like Mebrahtu, he got martyred heroically fighting against fascism and Racism by slaying five fascist officers in the middle of Rome’s square, right at the hub of Italy’s former Fascist Empire.
It was a Friday 21st of May, 1937, when the arrogant Duce (Benito Mussolini), with a puffing-up chest, had decided to celebrate the 4th Anniversary of his fascist Empires in Africa by parading what it used to call the “Subjects of his fascist Empire“.
It was a parade similar to that of what the British Empire also used to pompously organise every year show-casing their “Majesty’s subjects“, including the famous Indian Rajs. It usually involved ceremonies where the so called “Colonial Subjects” were trained to salute the monarchs of their colonial master in a parade.
Similarly, Fascist Italy had transported hundreds of its “subjects” to Rome all the way from four of its colonial holdings in Africa (the Libyans, Somalians, Eritreans and Ethiopians). Amongst the Ethiopians in the parade saluting the arrogant Duce was Ras Imru, who was the first cousin of Emperor Haileselassie himself. The Duce did this in order to embarrass Haileselassie who had fled to England for his life.
The “Subjects” usually used to hold ceremonial swords with which they salute the Duce (Benito Mossolini) and his guests of honours in the grandstand. Amongst the guest of Honours in the Grandstand was the Führer Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany next to the diminutive figure of the then king Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. King Victor Emmanuel was particularly so short, a dwarf measuring at only about 5-feet but ruling as Italian monarchy the longest for 47 years since 1900 and also adding to his claim as Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–41) and King of the Albanians (1939–43), respectively.
The Führer and the Duce are not that taller than the dwarf King. That day, the three dwarfs were so gripped with fear that they were probably shaking in their jack boots when they got more than they could have bargained for.
Amongst the so called “subjects“, it was only the young Zerai Deres who seemed to have the balls never to trade his dignity for anything and send a strong statement by using his ceremonial sword to slay those arrogant fascist and racists with it.
The fascist Italia were instead served with a piece of spectacular Eritrean heroism. But it wasn’t until the five fascist heads were slain by wedi-Deres and already rolling on the floor that he was finally martyred in the face of cowardly rain of fascist bullets. Also half a dozen more fascists officers were severely injured with their heads almost half hanging. Jig’na Zerai Deres was martyred heroically fighting fascism and racism on their own turfs never-mind Mebrahtu on his own turf that was occupied by invaders.
The whole episode of that day was filmed on Video and still kept in the Italian Archive today. It was a highly guarded evidence that the then Fascist Italian establishment didn’t want a copy of the video ever to be available for viewing by the Italians themselves, let alone by outside world simply because it was understood at the time, if such video is ever viewed by the world, it certainly would have had a real repercussion across all the Empires of, not only in the colonies of fascist Italy but also amongst the “colonial subjects” of the French as well as the British Empires.
In those days, as people didn’t have mobile phones or any other personal video camcorders, the only video taken was by a team of the official video documentation of fascist Italia. Only Fascist Italy had the copy and the power to disseminate it or not. Had the millions of “colonial subjects” across the globe seen this video, they definitely would have drawn encouragement from the young Eritrean Jig’na, Zerai Deres, so as to rebel against their colonial masters, at least, in their own country.
After all, what victims of colonialism needed was a little encouragement to trigger a rebellion against their brutal colonial occupiers and what more can be there than that of Zerai Deres’ heroic display in Rome, at the centre of a European capital, when the other “subjects” couldn’t even pluck up the courage to resist in their own country.
But now, it’s about time the Italian authorities finally open the vaults of their highly guarded archives and de-classify the video of that heroic piece of world history made 77 years ago today.
Besides, successive regimes in Ethiopia had been exploiting Zerai-Deres’ heroism to suit their political narrative at any particular times.