Reflections on Eritrean Martyrs’ Day

By Alem Fisshatzion (Source TesfaNews)

Eritrea will observe ‘Mealti Sematat’ (Martyrs’ Memorial Day) for its fallen heroes on 20 June 2021 as it does every year. Mealti Sematat has become as sacred as all ancient Muslim and Christian religious holidays celebrated in Eritrea. There is a certain sanctity to it.

Collective responsibility is a fundamental principle of Eritrean society. In Eritrea, the idea that we are all responsible for each other and for protecting the country’s sovereignty permeates every aspect of Eritrean life. It is particularly evident on Mealti Sematat because Eritrea being a small country everyone has experienced a personal loss, the country shuts down and people use the day to reflect and pause to honor their fallen heroes.

Mealti Sematat touches all segments of Eritrean society from Asmara’s urbane middle class to rural farmers in the highlands to nomads and pastoralists in the lowlands. Everyone has someone they remember on Martyrs Day.

But Martyrs Day is not confined to the memory of our fallen heroes and combatants only. In addition to the 90,000 plus combatants, we remember too the tens of thousands of innocent civilians that were massacred by successive Ethiopian Armies in towns like Agordat, Sheeb, Wekidiba and others. They too were martyrs. Their only crime was being born an Eritrean.

Mealti Sematat is a solemn day on the Eritrean calendar that is characterized by testimonials from families of the fallen heroes and their fellow tegadeltis. It’s a solemn day full of sadness that’s balanced by stories of heroism and self-sacrifice.

Eritrean media reflects our hearts on Mealti Sematat. Both Eri-TV and radio air interviews with families of fallen heroes and play sad songs and sombre music. It can be difficult to watch sometimes without reaching for your handkerchief because there are stories of mothers who have three or four martyred kids, in addition to their husband. Watching these is inspiring and sad at the same time because so many of those martyred were remarkable and inspiring people whose lives were cut short at the hands of our enemy

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