Hamid Idris Awate

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Hamid Idris Awate in 1961

Hamid Idris Awate (10 April 1910 – 28 May 1962) was an Eritrean independence leader and the creator of the Eritrean Liberation Army (the armed wing of the Eritrean Liberation Front).

Early life in Italian Eritrea[edit]

Hamid Awate was born on April 10, 1910 in village Gerset, located between Tessenei and Omhajer in southwestern Italian Eritrea. His father, a peasant, trained him as early as childhood in the use of guns.

In 1935, he was conscripted by the Italians to serve in the colonial army of the Eritrean Ascari. Beside his fluency in Arabic, Tigre, Tigrinya, Nara, Hedareb, and Kunama, Awate learned very well the Italian language within a short period of time and was sent to Rome for a course in military intelligence.[1]

After returning from Italy, he was appointed as a security officer in western Eritrea. Shortly after, he served as deputy chief (Mayor) of the city of Kassala (Sudan) and its surroundings during the brief Italian occupation of that city in 1940/1941 at the beginning of WWII.[2] As Mayor of Kassala he promoted the political union of that city to his Eritrea (an Italian-created nation that was even called Primigenia, or "first daughter" of Italy), but the English attack at the end of January 1941 forced him to renounce to it.

He fought as a brave ascari in the Battle of Cheren and participated to the Italian guerilla in Eritrea against the British and Ethiopians in World War II with the cavalrymen of Ali Gabre.

After the victory Of Great Britain against Italy in WWII in Eritrea, Awate settled in western Eritrea but eventually went into a dispute against the British authorities and began an armed campaign against the British presence in Eritrea from 1942 to 1949. Afterwards, Awate and his armed fanction came to a truce agreement with the British authorities.

In the meantime the Eritrean independence movement was taking shape and working towards making Eritrea an independent country by peaceful means rather than joining landlocked Ethiopia. At the same time the Ethiopian government was desperately seeking an access to the sea through annexing Eritrea to its territory through the help and collabortion of Britain and USA and against the wish of the Eritrean people.

Resistance against Ethiopia[edit]

In 1958 a group of Eritrean exiles in Cairo founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement under Awate's leadership.[3]

In July 1960, in the city of Cairo, a group of young Eritrean students and intellectuals held a meeting and formed the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The group consisted of the following men:

Back home, the Ethiopian authorities were suspicious of Awate’s movements and activities, and were watching him closely. Ethiopian police forces planned to arrest Awate in his village in August 1961. Turkey explains that the Ethiopians deployed a large amount of police forces but their plans were foiled by an Eritrean nationalist within the Ethiopian police who informed Awate earlier of that plan. Awate then fled to Mount Adal located to the west of Agordat.

Awate’s decision to begin armed resistance was reached after a period of long deliberations with other nationalists. In an interview with Eritrea Al-haditha, issue #75, second year, pioneer Mohammed Al-Hassan Dohen, a long time friend of Awate and Awate's assistant when he was district chief, says: "In the year 1960, Idris Mohammed Adem sent a letter to Awate, the letter was written in Arabic. Hamid Awate told me that Idris Mohammed Adem was asking him to declare the armed struggle; but he was not ready for it at that time. After four months, Mohammed Al-Shiekh Daood came and asked Awate to declare the revolution. Awate agreed to lead the armed struggle and declare the revolution but asked for support. Mohammed Al-Shiekh Daood provided Awate with old arms, three five bullet rifles "abu khamsa" and gave him 300 Birr with sugar and tea. In addition, Ibrahim Mohammed Ali brought two rifles and myself owned a rifle. At the beginning we were only seven, then shortly our number had grown to be 13 fighters."

The Ethiopian authorities immediately responded to Awate's declaration. According to Awate’s contemporaries, a military unit in six trucks was sent to apprehend Awate but failed. The Ethiopians resorted to using different tactics to deal with Awate. Mohammed Al-Hassan Dohen indicates in his interview that Omer Hassano and Ejiel Abdulrahman did a last minute appeal to end Awate’s rebellion on August 1961. Awate responded saying: "If you want us to end our armed struggle, then you better lower the Ethiopian flag and raise up the Eritrean flag."

On September 1, 1961, eleven rebels led by Awate attacked police posts in the west of Eritrea include one on Mount Adal. A fierce battle ensued between Awate's and Ethiopian forces, lasting seven hours 7 hours ending in a stalemate.

Death[edit]

On May 27, 1962, Awate drank milk for dinner, then soon told his unit that he was not feeling good. His condition began to deteriorate quickly. Awate died on May 28, 1962. Wounded in his last battle death may have been due to battle wounds, though some claim it was from natural causes. He was buried near Haykota, Gash Barka.

A statue was erected by the Government of Eritrea on 1 September 1994 at his grave site.[4]

On 16 October 2011, Eritrea’s national hero, Hamid Idris Awate, was honoured by the town of Cologno Monteze near Milano which dedicated a tree in his name in the area within the Aldo Moro Park called “Garden of the Just of the World”. Eritrea’s hero Awate was one of the nine persons who were honoured with dedication of nine trees for their services and sacrifices for justice. Padre Marino Haile was one of the attendants of the ceremony at Cologno Monteze. Many friends of Eritrea attended the ceremony together with Eritrean nationals who included Mr. Kidanemariam Michael, president of the City Council for Peace of Cologno and Dr. Seghid Herui.[5]

Even in Italy Awate is celebrated by the Italo-Eritrean associations.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hamid Idris Awate and the Ascari (in Italian)
  2. ^ Photo of Hamid Idris Awate as Eritrean Ascari officer, when he was deputy chief of Kassala (annexed to Italian Eritrea in 1940)
  3. ^ Ofcansky, TP Berry, L (2004) Ethiopia, a country study, Kessinger Publishing, P69
  4. ^ Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5. 
  5. ^ Hamid Idris Awate honoured by Italian city

External links[edit]