BY BEREKET KIDANE
September 1st is the anniversary of the first shot fired in the armed struggle for Eritrea’s independence popularly known as “ghedli” in Tigrigna or “Sawra” in Arabic. The pivotal shot was fired by Hamid Idriss Awate and his men on September 1, 1961, at a place called Mount Adal, between Agordat and Tesseney, in Western Eritrea. The day’s events are generally referred to as the first military engagement between Eritrean combatants and the Ethiopian Army.
The stories of bravery and sacrifice shown by the Eritrean people and their combatants popularly known as “tegadeltis” during the thirty-year armed struggle for independence often astound us. Most Western military experts, including the CIA, thought that the small Eritrean population of 3 million had no chance of victory against the larger Ethiopian nation of 60 million backed by superpower benefactors.
The success of the armed struggle for independence over the much larger Ethiopian Army is nothing short of a modern-day miracle because at any point attackers need a ratio of 4 or 6 soldiers to 1 in order to gain a battle or win a war. Eritrean combatants, however, flipped this commonly accepted military rule of thumb on its head. In many pitched battles, the ratio of Ethiopian soldiers to Eritrean combatants was often 10:1. Hence, the term “Hade n Aserte.” That was basically the situation that faced tegadeltis on most days.
It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 1980s that the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front achieved parity with the Ethiopian Army by capturing most of its heavy weapons and then using the captured equipment against it. By then the superpowers saw the writing on the wall and started dancing to a different tune.
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There is still much that is unknown about Idriss Awate but recorded interviews with his comrades indicate that he was harassing the Ethiopian Army for years with only a few men and rifles demanding that they leave and take their flag with them. The Ethiopian government had sent armed convoys for his arrest, which is why he’s believed to have fled to Mount Adal from his hometown of Gerset. News of the gunfire exchange on September 1st eventually reached the highlands and spread the resistance.
The real significance of September 1st is that the spilling of blood on that day marked an important psychological and political shift in how Eritreans and the Ethiopian government perceived each other. When the Ethiopian troops were sent to dissolve the parliament and annex Eritrea the following year, it triggered a full scale war of independence. What Hamid Idriss Awate and his group of men started on September 1, 1961 with only a few rifles sparked the armed struggle for independence and went on to transform the Eritrean society in every conceivable way forever.
Long Live September 1st.
Long Live The Revolution.
Awet n Hafash!