Over the years I have collected a series of photographs, illustrating Eritrean history. They are not comprehensive since they depended on what I could find. Here are a selection that illustrate Eritrea’s extraordinary fight for independence from Ethiopia that lasted 30 years.

The British dilemma

At the end of the Second World War Britain was faced with the question of what to do with Eritrea, which it had captured from Italy in 1941.

UN commissioner Eritrea 12 Nov 51London turned to the United Nations, which established a Commission to decide the issue.

The Commission went to Eritrea in February in 1950 and canvassed opinion.

On October 7th 1951 Dr. Eduardo Anze Matienzo of Bolivia, UN commissioner for Eritrea, announced that Eritreans had accepted a UN plan for federation with Ethiopia, despite many calling for independence.

He is shown here in December 1951, talking to people in Asmara.

The US Ambassador to the UN, John Foster Dulles, famously declared: “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration.

Nevertheless the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and the considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally Ethiopia.”

Federation to annexation

Haile Selassie incorporates EritreaBritain held elections in Eritrea on March 16, 1952, for a representative Assembly of 68 members, evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.

This body in turn accepted the draft constitution put forward by the UN commissioner.

Haile Selassie cuts tape between Ethiopia and Eritrea

On 11 September 1952 the constitution was ratified by Emperor Haile Selassie.

He is seen on the left cutting the tape on the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 3rd October 1952, to establish the federation, but it was not to last.

The Emperor was determined that Eritrea would be fully incorporated into Ethiopia.

He made Amharic the official language in place of Arabic and Tigrinya, ended the use of the Eritrean flag, imposed censorship, and moved businesses out of Eritrea.

Finally, in 1962 Haile Selassie put enough pressure on the Eritrean Assembly for them to vote for an end of the federation.

Resistance grows

In 1957 students demonstrated against the incorporation of Eritrea into Ethiopia.

This was followed in 1958 by trade union demonstrations. A four day strike was repressed with troops firing on the crowd, killing some and injuring hundreds.

An underground group, the Eritrea Liberation Movement was formed and, in July 1960, the Eritrean Liberation Front was founded in Cairo, led by Mohammed Aden.

ELF attack railway 29 Dec 1970The first shots of the liberation struggle were fired by Hamid Idris Awate when he attacked a police unit on Mount Adal on 1st September 1961.

This photograph, taken in December 1970, shows ELF guerrillas attacking the railway near Asciadira, by tearing up the line.

The rebellion continued, but unity did not. In 1968-9 the ELF fractured and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front was founded in September 1973, led by Isaias Afeworki.

ELF with hostages 2 Nov 1975ELF and EPLF fighters managed to penetrate Asmara in early 1975, leading to heavy fighting in the city.

On 13 September 1975 ELF fighters raided the American listening station at Kagnew, seizing Thomas Bowidowicz, from New Jersey and David Strickland, from Florida.

A $5 million ransom was asked for and, after negotiations, both men were freed in January 1976.

Clashes between the rival Eritrean movements led to bitter civil war and the ELF are finally forced out of Eritrea, to seek refuge in Sudan.

Victory and independence

The Eritrean liberation struggle was to suffer many setbacks and its fighters and civilians to experience terrible suffering.

EPLF fighter Massawa 29 June 1990On several occasions defeat seemed almost inevitable, but finally, by the late 1980’s, the tide turned.

In March 1988 the EPLF destroyed the Ethiopian northern army at the battle of Afabet. Addis Ababa lost control of large portions of Eritrea.

By 1990 EPLF forces had driven the Ethiopians out of the coastal plan and Massawa.

In February Eritrean forces, using fast speedboats, surprised the Ethiopian forces in the port of Massawa, and the city was captured.

The photograph above is captioned: “A EPLF rebel stands in front of a captured Soviet-made cannon used in the taking of the port of Massawa.

The Ethiopians retaliated by bombing the port.

Eritreans seek safety from bombing Massawa 30 Dec 90This photographs shows civilians in Massawa cowering beneath a culvert to escape the bombs.

The fate of Ethiopian forces was sealed. Eritrean crack units helped Ethiopian rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in their drive for Addis Ababa.

In May 1991 the Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam fled to Zimbabwe and both Eritrea and Ethiopia were free.