‘We are still burning’

Survivors of Beskdira and Ona massacre

*Reproduced with permission of the author from Blina Shama UK*

Fifty years ago, Beskdira and Ona witnessed two of the worst massacres in Eritrea’s colonial history when unarmed civilians were brutally massacred by Ethiopian colonial troops. While Beskdira is a small village about 20 kilometres northeast of the city of Keren, Ona is located just at the outskirts of the city. Both villages were burned to ashes, one after another, in a matter of two days by the colonial army in retaliation for the killing of Ethiopian Major General Teshome Ergetu. In this reflexive blog, I provide an insight into what happened in these villages fifty years ago and highlight survivors’ stories.

In Beskidira, on 30 November 1970, the colonial army savagely killed over 120 defenceless unarmed civilians. In fact, the residents of Beskdira had gathered together to welcome the Ethiopian soldiers hoping that a welcome gesture would deter them from burning the village. Following an initial deceitful indication of a peaceful meeting, however, the heavily armed soldiers took the terrified villagers hostage for a couple of hours while waiting for the final orders as to what to do with them. After they received information from their commanders, the armed soldiers attempted to separate the inhabitants of the village into groups of Christians and Muslims. The villagers, however, courageously refused to be separated and explained their preparedness to die together rather than being divided on religious grounds. When asked whether they were Christians or Muslims, Meriem (not her real name) recalled the villagers’ response as follows:

"We are both Christians and Muslims. But, above all, we are sisters and brothers… We are the same people: our blood and flesh are the same. We attest our innocence and beg you not to annihilate us, but if the choices you offer are between death and division, we are prepared to die together."

To read the full piece, head on over to Blina Shama UK


First published: 14 December 2020