During the 30-year liberation war in Eritrea, the Ethiopian occupation army had committed horrific massacres against innocent unarmed civilians all over the country. The two-day Ona and Beskdira massacre of November 30 and December 1, 1970 near Keren, held the highest record of nearly 1,000 civilians killed at one go. The second biggest massacre took place on 5 December 1988 in She'eb, also near Keren, followed by the Hirgigo massacre of 17 April, 1975 in which well over 300 lives perished. The list of massacres in Eritrea is grisly and long, but the now 26-year old 'government' in Independent Eritrea has not so far shown any interest to commemorate the still unaccounted for figures of deaths of so many Eritrean civilians killed by the enemy between 1961 and 1991. When the regime in Asmara talks about martyrs of the liberation struggle, it does not think of the civilian sacrifices.
As usual, the Ona-Beskdira Massacre will never get a mention in the Eritrean regime's radio and press these days. But thanks to the social media, they are hot topics of discussion and solemn commemoration these days. Veteran liberation fighters and civilians who eye-witnessed the killings and the burial of so many lives on Monday, November 30, Tuesday, December 1, 1970 have been sharing their sad experiences over the events that befell those two villages a week after the ambush and assassination by the ELF of General Teshome Ergetu, top commander of Ethiopia's occupation army in Eritrea.
The rich information and eye-witness experiences about the Ona-Beskdira killings and are being aired over the weekly Blin-language radios: the three-year old Radio Blina and the newly started Radio Jahray. The broadcasts are receiving wide circulation via YouTube recordings. Other social media outlets taking part in the discussions about Ona-Beskdira in particular, and about other general mass killings in the 1970s in that region, are two paltalk rooms called Werena and Gherbesha, also in Blin language. The language and culture website Daberi.org also carried big coverage of the massacres in Tigrigna language, with details recorded by missionaries who were in that region during the early 1970s.
Picture shows the mosque in Beskdira in which the Ethiopians massacred 118 men, women and children after the villagers refused to be separated as Muslims and Christians. The next day, 1 December, was the turn for Ona residents. Ona was a concentration camp for people who were forced to settle in it after their villages were burnt down by the army. Eye-witnesses say well over 700 bodies were buried in mass graves the next day. Some corpses outside the village were left to the hyenas because people were ordered to leave the area soon. After 47 years, no one knows the exact figure of victims and their names. And no effort is made by independent Eritrea's "government".
Veteran ELF fighters who participated in the discussions revealed that the liberation organization was very well informed from inside the Ethiopian government itself about the trip to Keren of General Teshome Ergetu who was then killed in an ELF ambush at HabromGaqa near Elebered. ELF forces and fedaeen assigned in the operation to ambush the Ethiopian army were commanded by JimiE Abulkher, with Ghebrehiwet Himbirti as his deputy.
The mass media discussants in the above mentioned radios and paltalk-rooms claimed that General Teshome Ergetu was reportedly swearing to "put an end to the Eritrean rebellion" in one go. It was claimed that only very few survived of the Ethiopian soldiers in General Teshome Ergetu's convoy consisting of 15 large military personnel trucks.
It was as a revenge to the death of the Ethiopian top army general that so many civilians were killed in 1970 at Ona, Beskdira and many other places in the region that year.
Participants in the social media chats on the Ona-Beskdira Massacre regretted that nothing has been done so far by Independent Eritrea - at least in honouring the victims. It is to be recalled also that Ethiopia was not asked even nominal compensations for the massacres it committed against innocent civilians in Eritrea. Others worried about the families and relatives that lost their children who were adopted by foreigners after the Ona-Beskdira killings. Some newly born children were found alive in the ruins of burnt down Ona.
It is to be recalled that, starting in 1986, the ELF-RC commemorated 1 December as its Martyrs' Day. This commemoration continued till December 2009.