Irob Global Diaspora Committee Statement
THE RIGHT TO EXIST
The honorable Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia(FDRE), has made clear his overriding interest in peace within Ethiopia and throughout the Horn of Africa. In this regard, we too are cautiously optimistic and would love to share his vision and optimism as long as we remain where we belong. Since we are victims of the devastating war and its aftermath as the rest of all border area residents, the latest Eritrean government’s endorsement of the FDRE’s government call for peace is a positive gesture. The subsequent announcement of President Isayas Afewerqi of the state of Eritrea to send a delegation to Addis Ababa to sort out the modalities to start dialogue gives us more hope than ever.
We are peace-loving people. Besides, Eritreans are our brothers and sisters. Hence, we have neither qualm nor enmity towards the Eritrean people. Our unwavering call and interest is lasting/sustainable peace with our Eritrean brothers and sisters as we were for millennia.
The 1998-99 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia was not a border dispute. To begin with, initially it was disagreement on the two countries’ currencies. That economic argument gradually turned into a deplorable war. However, talking about why and how the war started, its real motive and its horrible consequences is not the objective of this statement. Anyways, giving away a part of the Irob homeland, the people who have inhabited these lands for centuries and other Ethiopian territories will never bring us peace.
Peace will only happen if the Irob people and our Eritrean neighbors living on the border are included in any discussion and decision making on their intrinsically inter-twined fate.
We, therefore, are asking the leaders of both nations
1. To allow the inhabitants of each contested territories to be sorted out by each areas elders without any interference of the authorities of both countries beyond facilitating necessary logistics,
2. Those elders must be independently elected by their own constituencies.
3. Governments should be there to approve the agreements of the elected elders and to demarcate the border accordingly.
4. Governments are needed to work out on policies that enhance the interests of both nations and the wider horn area.
5. Work on necessary development schemes and projects that benefit our both countries’ citizens and develop areas of cooperation.
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The Eritrean government provides information regarding the whereabouts and safety of the Irob farmers abducted by the Eritrean forces in 1998-99. This is a question of human rights: the Algiers Agreement that the Eritrean government likes to quote in every conversation about this conflict, clearly states that both countries should release, repatriate and return people to their last place of residence. The children, parents, and spouses of the abducted Irobs deserve no less, after waiting for twenty long years.
OUR REQUEST IS SUPPORTED BY THE FOLLOWING:
Ø We reject the arbitration court’s decision, a decision taken by individuals who have never set foot in our area, do not know our history and made their decision based only on the legacy of colonial powers.
Ø We reject the previous Ethiopian leadership’s failure to protect our national border by accepting this flawed decision.
Ø We also reject Ethiopian government’s complete negligence of consultation with the Irobs and other affected people who live on the border areas.
Irob has always been part of Ethiopia since the establishment of the Ethiopian nation. Irobland has never been part of Eritrea in its long history. There is no historical, legal or social basis that supports a rational to put more than one-third of Irob-land in Eritrea. In the absence of that rational support ceding part of Irob-land to Eritrea will remain to be a concern for a sustainable peace in the region. Irobs with distinctive cultural and linguistic heritage has lived in the northern part of Ethiopia, Tigray region for over 800 years. Our people have been part and parcel of the Ethiopian state continuously since time immemorial. Irob have played an important role in ongoing national affairs. During the Adwa war, our ancestors participated in defeating the Italian invaders. They fought alongside their Ethiopian compatriots from start to the end during the second Italian invasion as well.
Irob has never, not even for one day, been part of Eritrea. During the Italian colonial control of Eritrea, Irobland remained in free Ethiopia and was administered by Ethiopia, our country. During the British administration of Eritrea, the Irob people were again governed by Ethiopia. During the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia, the Irob people were again part of Ethiopia, within Tigray province. After the Eritrea/Ethiopia federation was dissolved, and Eritrea became an Ethiopian province, Irob remained part of Tigray province. Hence, there is no history that can attest otherwise. That is why we emphasize that the integrity of Irobland within the Ethiopian Empire has continued from the distant past into current times.
Also, during the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, Irobland continued to be part of Tigray region of Ethiopia. During the liberation movement against the Derg/Mengstu government of Ethiopia, the only guerilla forces operating in Irob were those fighting for Ethiopia: the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) whose top leader was an Irob himself and Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), founding member of the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front. None of the Eritrean movements even entered the Irob region. After the Derg government fell and the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation front conducted a referendum to legitimate the Eritrean independence, the Irob people were not included in this process because Irobs are not Eritreans. The Eritreans themselves did not ask for it either, because they knew that Irob does not belong to them.
In 1998, the Irob community was the victim of an unexpected Eritrean invasion. Since there were no professional Ethiopian armed forces in the area, the Irob people fought the invading Eritrean army with everything they could muster. For a short period, they successfully defended their land, losing many poorly armed farmers in the battles.
The Irob community is fully aware of the destruction of war and conflict. During the Eritrean occupation, physical and mental abuse, rape, abduction, mistreatment during captivity, forced labor and indiscriminate shelling were never contested by the Eritrean government. About 70,000 young Ethiopians from all regions and ethnic groups were sacrificed to secure the border and protect their people of which Irob people are part.
If Irobs were Eritreans, as the government of Eritrea claims, why did the Eritrean army invade their “own” land with Special Forces and mechanized brigades? If Irob were Eritreans, why did Irob people decide to confront the Eritrean invaders with whatever they could get their hands on. If Irob were Eritreans, why were the innocent farmers who died in this confrontation had been willing to sacrifice their lives? The reason for all these is clear; we have never been Eritreans and the Eritrean government was sure of it.
Ceding Irob land and people, and other affected Ethiopian territories to Eritrea is a distortion of history and extreme violation of human rights. It would also be a disgrace to those Ethiopians who sacrificed themselves to liberate those territories from the invader. It would condemn a portion of the Ethiopian Irob people to live under the rules of those who defiled their homeland and their families. The duty of any government is to protect the integrity of a nation and its citizens. Citizens need security. These two are essential parts among the pillars for which a society forms a government. That means a government that fails to uphold this core societal necessity is considered nonexistent. Irob people’s wishes and aspirations are clearly to defend the land which has always been theirs, their identity and their Ethiopian citizenship. These are the responsibilities of their government; therefore, we are requesting the Ethiopian government to fulfill its responsibility.
It is imperative for a government aspiring for sustainable peace and stability to listen to the wishes of its citizens!