Eritrea was claimed by the Ethiopian Empire from 1941 after Eritrea was liberated from Italy's occupation as part of Italian East Africa during World War II. Ethiopia and some of the predominantly Christian part of Eritrea advocated for union with Ethiopia, while the predominantly Muslim and other areas of Eritrea wanted a separate Eritrean state. The United Nations General Assembly in an effort to satisfy both sides decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1950, and Eritrea became a constituent state of the Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1952. Eritrea's declining autonomy and growing discontent with Ethiopian rule caused an independence movement led by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1961, leading Ethiopia to dissolve the federation and annex Eritrea the next year.
Following the Ethiopian Revolution in 1974, the Derg abolished the Ethiopian Empire and established a Marxist-Leninist communist state, bringing the Eritrean War of Independence into the Ethiopian Civil War and Cold War conflicts. The Derg enjoyed support from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other Second World nations in fighting against Eritrean separatists supported by the United States and various other nations. The Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) became the main separatist group in 1977, expelling the ELF from Eritrea, then exploiting the Ogaden War to launch a war of attrition against Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government under the Workers Party of Ethiopia lost Soviet support at the end of the 1980s and were overwhelmed by Eritrean separatists and Ethiopian anti-government groups, allowing the EPLF to defeat Ethiopian forces in Eritrea in May 1991.
The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), with the help of the EPLF, defeated the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) when it took control of the capital Addis Ababa a month later. In April 1993, the Eritrean people voted almost unanimously in favour of independence in the Ethiopia-supported Eritrean independence referendum, with formal international recognition of an independent, sovereign Eritrea later the same year.
|Eritrean War of Independence|
|Part of the Ethiopian Civil War, the Cold War and the conflicts in the Horn of Africa|
Military situation during the Eritrean War of Independence
|Commanders and leaders|
20,000 soldiers (1975) |
230 soldiers (1963)
41,000 soldiers (1975) |
3,000 soldiers (1984)
|Casualties and losses|
The Italians colonised Eritrea in 1890. In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia and declared it part of their colonial empire, which they called Italian East Africa. Italian Somaliland was also part of that entity. There was a unified Italian administration.
Conquered by the Allies in 1941, Italian East Africa was sub-divided. Ethiopia reoccupied its formerly Italian occupied lands in 1941. Italian Somaliland remained under Italian rule until 1960 but as a United Nations protectorate, not a colony, when it united with independence in 1960, form the independent state of Somalia.
Eritrea was made a British Protectorate from the end of World War II until 1951. However, there was debate as to what should happen with Eritrea after the British left. The British proposed that Eritrea be divided along religious lines with the Christians to Ethiopia and the Muslims to Sudan. This, however, caused great controversy. Then, in 1952, the UN decided to federate Eritrea to Ethiopia, hoping to reconcile Ethiopian claims of sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence. About nine years later, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the federation and annexed Eritrea, triggering a thirty-year armed struggle in Eritrea.
During the 1960s, the Eritrean independence struggle was led by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The independence struggle can properly be understood as the resistance to the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia long after the Italians left the territory. Additionally, one may consider the actions of the Ethiopian Monarchy against Muslims in the Eritrean government as a contributing factor to the revolution. At first, this group factionalized the liberation movement along ethnic and geographic lines. The initial four zonal commands of the ELF were all lowland areas and primarily Muslim. Few Christians joined the organization in the beginning, fearing Muslim domination.
After growing disenfranchisement with Ethiopian occupation, highland Christians began joining the ELF. Typically these Christians were part of the upper class or university-educated. This growing influx of Christian volunteers prompted the opening of the fifth (highland Christian) command. Internal struggles within the ELF command coupled with sectarian violence among the various zonal groups splintered the organization.
The war started on 1 September 1961 with the Battle of Adal, when Hamid Idris Awate and his companions fired the first shots against the occupying Ethiopian Army and police. In 1962, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia unilaterally dissolved the federation and the Eritrean parliament and annexed the country.
In 1970 members of the group had a falling out, and several different groups broke away from the ELF. During this time, the ELF and the groups that later joined together to form the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) fought a bitter civil war. The two organizations were forced by popular will to reconcile in 1974 and participated in joint operations against Ethiopia.
In 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted in a coup. The new Ethiopian government, called the Derg, was a Marxist military junta, which eventually came to be controlled by strongman Mengistu Haile Mariam. The new Derg regime took an additional three to four years to get complete control of both Ethiopia, Eritrea, and parts of Somalia. With this change of government and eventually widely known recognition, Ethiopia became directly under the influence of the Soviet Union.
Many of the groups that splintered from the ELF joined together in 1977 and formed the EPLF. By the late 1970s, the EPLF had become the dominant armed Eritrean group fighting against the Ethiopian government. The leader of the umbrella organization was Secretary-General of the EPLF Ramadan Mohammed Nour, while the Assistant Secretary-General was Isaias Afewerki. Much of the equipment used to combat Ethiopia was captured from the Ethiopian Army.
During this time, the Derg could not control the population by force alone. To supplement its garrisons, forces were sent on missions to instill fear in the population. An illustrative example of this policy was the village of Basik Dera in northern Eritrea. On 17 November 1970, the entire village was rounded up into the local mosque and the mosque's doors were locked. The building was then razed and the survivors were shot. Similar massacres took place in primarily Muslim parts of Eritrea, including the villages of She'eb, Hirgigo, Elabared, and the town of Om Hajer; massacres also took place in predominately Christian areas as well. The advent of these brutal killings of civilians regardless of race, religion, or class was the final straw for many Eritreans who were not involved in the war, and at this point many either fled the country or went to the front lines.
By 1977, the EPLF was poised to drive the Ethiopians out of Eritrea, by utilizing a simultaneous military offensive from the east by Somalia to siphon off Ethiopian military resources. The Somali invasion surprised many experts in the west due to the initial successes, however the Soviet Union, Cuba and Yemen came to the government's aid allowing them to prevent the Somalis from coming to the capital. This turnaround was possible thanks mainly to a massive airlift of Soviet arms, the deployment of 18,000 Cubans and two Yemeni brigades to reinforce Harar. After that, using the considerable manpower and military hardware available from the Somali campaign, the Ethiopian Army regained the initiative and forced the EPLF to retreat to the bush. This was most notable in the Battle of Barentu and the Battle of Massawa.
Between 1978 and 1986, the Derg launched eight major offensives against the independence movements, and all failed to crush the guerrilla movement. In 1988, with the Battle of Afabet, the EPLF captured Afabet and its surroundings, then headquarters of the Ethiopian Army in northeastern Eritrea, prompting the Ethiopian Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea's western lowlands. EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea's second-largest city. Meanwhile, other dissident movements were making headway throughout Ethiopia.
At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union informed Mengistu that it would not be renewing its defence and cooperation agreement. With the cessation of Soviet support and supplies, the Ethiopian Army's morale plummeted, and the EPLF, along with other Ethiopian rebel forces, began to advance on Ethiopian positions. The joint effort to overthrow the Mengistu, Marxist regime was a joint effort of mostly EPLF forces, united with other Ethiopian faction groups (primarily consisting of tribal liberation fronts, for example the Oromo Liberation Front, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front – who were jointly in battles against the ELF and other key battles where many Tigrayans were lost in the Eritrean Civil Wars – and the EPRDF, a conglomerate of the current TPLF regime and the marxist Oromo People's Democratic Organization who became prominent for recruiting Derg defects as the EPLF and EPRDF occupied parts of the provinces of Wollo and Shewa in Ethiopia).
The former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, with the help of some U.S. government officials and United Nation officials, attempted to mediate in peace talks with the EPLF, hosted by the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia in September 1989. Ashagre Yigletu, Deputy Prime Minister of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE), helped negotiate and signed a November 1989 peace deal with the EPLF in Nairobi, along with Jimmy Carter and Al-Amin Mohamed Seid. However, soon after the deal was signed, hostilities resumed. Yigletu also led the Ethiopian government delegations in peace talks with the TPLF leader Meles Zenawi in November 1989 and March 1990 in Rome. He also attempted again to lead the Ethiopian delegation in peace talks with the EPLF in Washington, D.C. until March 1991.
After the end of the Cold War, the United States played a facilitative role in the peace talks in Washington, D.C. during the months leading up to the May 1991 fall of the Mengistu regime. In mid-May, Mengistu resigned as head of the Ethiopian government and went into exile in Zimbabwe, leaving a caretaker government in Addis Ababa. A high-level U.S. delegation was present in Addis Ababa for the 1–5 July 1991 conference that established a transitional government in Ethiopia. Having defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea, the EPLF attended as an observer and held talks with the new transitional government regarding Eritrea's relationship to Ethiopia. The outcome of those talks was an agreement in which the Ethiopians recognized the right of the Eritreans to hold a referendum on independence. The referendum was held in April 1993 and the Eritrean people voted almost unanimously in favour of independence, with the integrity of the referendum being verified by the UN Observer Mission to Verify the Referendum in Eritrea (UNOVER). On 28 May 1993, the United Nations formally admitted Eritrea to its membership. Below are the results from the referendum:
|Source: African Elections Database|
|Region||Do you want Eritrea to be an independent and sovereign country?||Total|
The Agordat Operation was part of the Eritrean War of Independence, and took place on 12 July 1962.
It was intended to kill the Ethiopia's Representative in Eritrea, General Abi Abebe, and other dignitaries who included Asfaha Woldemichael, the head of the Eritrean government and Hamid Ferej, president of the Assembly, who traveled to Agordat that day to address the soldiers and police and to intimidate the residents of Agordat who by that time were receiving news of the movements of the Eritrean Liberation Front on a daily basis.
In the operation, the Eritrean Liberation Front was able to kill 8 Ethiopian dignitaries, while wounding several others. It was planned by Mohamoud Mohamed Salih (Hanjemenjee), and executed by Adem Mohammed Hamid (Ghidifil).Battle of Adal
The Battle of Adal took place on 1 September 1961, and was the first battle in the Eritrean War of Independence. In the battle, the Eritrean Liberation Front, which numbered at only 14, was able to overcome the local Ethiopian forces. Rebel weaponry included 1 British and 3 old Italian guns, while the majority of Rebels were unarmed. The battle begun at 9:00 AM, and lasted about six hours, and is commemorated in Eritrea as Revolution Day.
The rebels who participated were:
Hamid Idris Awate (ELF leader)
Abdu M. Fayd
Ibrahim M. Ali
Awate M. Fayd
Mohammed Bayraq (taken prisoner, later died in 1975 in an Ethiopian prison)
Mohammed Adem Hisan
Mohammed Hassen Duhe
Omar KarayBattle of Afabet
The Battle of Afabet was fought from March 17 through 20 March 1988 in and around the town of Afabet, as part of the Eritrean War of Independence.Battle of Ansaba
The Battle of Ansaba took place in autumn of 1963, and was part of the Eritrean War of Independence. It was fought in Jengeren, North of Keren, In Anseba Region.
In the battle, the Eritrean Liberation Front successfully ambushed an enemy convoy heading from Keren to Halhal. In the battle, the ELF captured 23 guns, including a Bren light machine gun, as well as ammunitions. The ambush was led by Mohammed Idris Haj, who died of wounds he had received in the confrontation.Battle of Halhal
The Battle of Halhal was a battle of the Eritrean War of Independence, and took place on 18 July 1962. In the battle, the Eritrean Liberation Front was able to overrun the local police office in Halhal and control it for an entire day. The defenders, which were Eritrean Police commandos, had been trained by the Israeli military.Battle of Massawa (1977)
The Battle of Massawa (also known as the First Battle of Massawa) took place from 1977 to 1978 in and around the coastal city of Massawa in Eritrea. The port was besieged by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) against the forces of Ethiopia, and was one of two battles in and around the city.Battle of Massawa (1990)
The Second Battle of Massawa (also known as Operation Fenkil and as the Fenkil offensive) took place in 1990 in and around the coastal city of Massawa in Eritrea. The offensive was conducted by both land and sea units of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) against the Ethiopian Army.Battle of Omal
The Battle of Omal was the second battle in the Eritrean War of Independence, and took place in 14 September 1961. In the battle, Ethiopian police units attempted to avenge the defeat in the Battle of Adal, but after a fierce battle they retreated. The Battle of Omal was the first battle where the ELF lost a soldier, Mohammed Fayd.Battle of Telay
The Battle of Telay was a battle of the Eritrean War of Independence, and took place in mid-1963.
In the battle, an Eritrean Liberation Front unit led by Omar Izaz was able to successfully ambush an Ethiopian Police Force heading from Gherger to Agordat, killing and capturing many prisoners, as well as capturing 17 guns.
After being informed of the ELF's objectives, several of the captured policemen were released and joined the Eritrean Liberation Front.Battle of Togoruba
The Battle of Togoruba took place on 15 March 1964, and was the first battle of the Eritrean War of Independence which involved the Ethiopian army instead of a Police unit. In the Battle, an Eritrean Liberation Front unit led by Mohamed Ali Idris was able to defeat the Ethiopian Army. The ELF suffered 19 dead, while the Ethiopian Army suffered 84 dead and many wounded.Eritrean Civil Wars
The Eritrean Civil Wars were two conflicts that were fought between competing organizations for the liberation of Eritrea.
The First Eritrean Civil War was fought from 1972 to 1974. The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) tried to suppress dissident groups that disliked the ELF leadership and wished to break away to form a new insurgency. Dissidents included Christians who resented an alleged Islamic bias in the ELF, inhabitants of the coast with regionalist concerns, and radical Marxists. The ELF failed to suppress the dissident groups, who ultimately united themselves into the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF).
The Second Eritrean Civil War was fought from 1980 to 1981. The EPLF attacked the ELF when it appeared that the ELF were attempting to negotiate a peace deal with the enemy Soviet and Ethiopian governments. The ELF was defeated and pushed out of Eritrea. The remnants of the ELF withdrew to the Sudan.Eritrean Liberation Front
The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was the main independence movement in Eritrea which sought Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia during the 1960s and 1970s.Eritrean People's Liberation Front
The Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) (Tigrinya: ህዝባዊ ግንባር, ህግ, Arabic: الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير إريتريا) was an armed Marxist organization that fought for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. It emerged in 1970 as an intellectual left-wing group that split from the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). After achieving Eritrean independence in 1991, it transformed into the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), which serves as Eritrea's only legal political organisation.Eritrea–Israel relations
Eritrea–Israel relations are foreign relations between Eritrea and Israel. Both countries established diplomatic relation in 1993 following Eritrean independence. Eritrea has an embassy in the Twin Towers, Ramat Gan and Israel has an embassy in Asmara. Israeli-Eritrean ties are complicated by Israel's close ties to Ethiopia, who have shared an unfriendly dyad with Eritrea for a long time. Nevertheless, their ties are generally considered as close.List of massacres committed during the Eritrean War of Independence
The Eritrean War of Independence was fought as a guerrilla campaign by two main Eritrean liberation fronts, first by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and then, after the Eritrean Civil War, by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) against the Imperial Army of the Ethiopian Empire, and later by the Marxist Derg. This asymmetrical campaign against Ethiopian control left the Army at a disadvantage and so it embarked on a policy of destroying Eritrean villages. It was hoped that this would prevent the separatists from continuing their campaign. Listed below are some of the major civilian massacres committed by both the Ethiopian Empire and the Derg.Nakfa, Eritrea
Nakfa (Arabic: نقفة, Tigrinya: ናቕፋ, IPA: [naxʼfa]) is a town in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea. It is also the name of a sub region of Eritrea.Petros Solomon
Petros Solomon (born 1951; also known as Wed'Solomon, Son of Solomon) is an Eritrean politician. He was an Eritrean People's Liberation Front commander during the Eritrean War of Independence, and following independence he served in several positions in the Cabinet, including Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been in prison, held incommunicado in an undisclosed location, since September 18, 2001 for opposing the rule of Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki. Amnesty International has named him a prisoner of conscience.
His wife Aster Yohannes, who was also a freedom fighter and member of EPLF, was detained by security personnel at Asmara International Airport in the capital Asmara on December 11, 2003, when she returned after a three-year period of study at the University of Phoenix to unite with her children. She is imprisoned at Carshel in Asmara Eritrea. All four of Solomon's children live in exile.Saleh Meki
Saleh Meki (1948 – October 2, 2009) was an Eritrean politician and government minister. He was a member of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which had offices in the San Francisco Bay Area of the United States, during the period of the Eritrean War of Independence.Meki was trained as a nurse anesthesiologist in the United States. He returned to Eritrea following the end of the country's war for independence against Ethiopia.Meki was appointed and confirmed as the first Minister of Marine Resources following Eritrea's independence. He later also served as the country's Minister of Health, before being reassigned as the Minister of Marine Resources once again in a cabinet reshuffle.Saleh Meki died on Friday, October 2, 2009, following a heart attack at the age of 62. He was buried in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea.Siege of Barentu
The Siege of Barentu took place in 1977 in and around the town of Barentu in western Eritrea. It was jointly laid to siege by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) against the forces of Ethiopia. This was a decisive battle during the Eritrean War of Independence and marked the beginning of Soviet involvement in the conflict.
Eritrean War of Independence
Armed conflicts involving Cuba
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