EPF Statement in Observance of the Ona and Besikdira Massacre of 19702023-12-16 09:41:13 Written by EPF Higher Transitional Body Published in English Articles Read 482 times
Following Emperor Haile Selassie’s illegal dissolution of the UN-voted Eritrea-Ethiopia federation in 1962, Ethiopia’s occupation army pursued a scorched-earth strategy in Eritrea aimed at creating a country without a people. As a consequence majority of civilian Eritreans in their villages, cities and even Eritreans inside Ethiopia became victims of indiscriminate imprisonment, torture and executions.
The worst phases of their policy of ‘drying the sea to kill the fish’ were witnessed in 1967 when large-scale killing and burning operations were launched everywhere in the land with the futile object of separating the revolution from the Eritrean people and starving it of lack of support base. To this effect, the occupation authorities issued a decree ordering the people to abandon their villages and concentrate in a few locations under government control. Following the passing of this law the regime started to burn villages and commit massacres against civilians residing in the Eastern and Western lowlands. Some of the worst hit villages that were wiped out together with most of their inhabitants included Ad’Abrihim, Ad’Kukui, Tekhombia, Mesyam, Hazomo. Soyra, Aylet, Akhwar, Gemhot, Hirgigo, Jengeren, Halhal, Medeka, Funa …etc. As a result of those countless atrocities, more than 30,000 Eritreans sought refuge in the Sudan in the early months of 1967. Most of those refugees have not to this day returned to their homeland.
Eritrean Liberation Army (ELA) units that were taking different measures they could to stop the criminal operations of the Ethiopian occupation army in late 1970 ambushed and killed the head of the Ethiopian army in Eritrea, General Teshome Ergetu. The general with his convoy was on his way from Asmara to Keren to visit the centre of operations for their burning and killing mission.
In retaliation for the general’s execution and the huge loss that was inflicted on the Ethiopian forces, the occupation authorities embarked on more barbaric atrocities targeting villages around Keren. On 30 November and 1st December 1970, it was the turn of Besikdira and then Ona to bear the brunt of the worst attacks for that week.
The residents of Besikdira, estimated at over 200 souls, were asked to separate themselves on religious lines – Christians on one side and Muslims on the other. But the villagers refused to do so saying that they were inseparable brothers and sisters. Following this united stand by the people, the enemy gave instructions to the Muslims to enter the Mosque leaving the Christians outside it. The people again decided to have a united response choosing to live or die together. Then all were forced to enter a crowded Mosque, and all were machine-gunned inside it. Only a few survived the slaughter by some miracle.
The next day, 1st of December 1970, the occupation army surrounded nearby Ona which was by then a huge concentration camp sheltering residents from many other villages. It was another barbarous day in which hundreds of innocent men, women and children were mercilessly murdered point blank. Not less than 900 souls perished in this single one-day massacre of Ona, a couple of kilometres near Keren.
On this 53rd anniversary of the massacres of Ona and Besikdira, we pay tribute to all of our heroic people who faced death as one people for their national cause. Today, Eritreans have the same obligation to stand as one people. May the souls of all Eritrean Martyrs Rest in Peace.
EPF Higher Transitional Body
08 December, 2023