Idris Awate

September 26, 2012
Hamid Idris Awate (1910-1962) was a leader during the early movements for Eritrean independence.

Hamid also known for firing the first shot against Ethiopian government forces in first of September 1961 at Mount Adal. He went on to create the Eritrean Liberation Army (the armed wing of the Eritrean Liberation Front. He died in May 28th 1962. He was wounded in the last battle he fought against the occupation forces; and it seems his death was due to battle wounds though some claim it was from natural causes. He was buried near Haykota, Gash Barka and a statue was erected by the Government of Eritrea in 1 September 1994 at his grave site.Early YearsHamid Idris Awate was born at Gerset, located between Tessenei and Omhajer in southwestern Eritrea in the year 1910. His father was a peasant and known to own a rifle. Awate was trained by his father how to use that gun. At early age, he was a very skillful fighter who achieved great superiority in the usage of arms and developed a high knighthood skill that gained him the respect of his generation. Grown up in a locality that appreciates and values ethical principles based on honesty and faithfulness, Awate was known to be a man of moral values and a good example for them to follow, trust and was a great leader to be obeyed. Beside his fluency in Arabic, Tigre, Tigrina, Nara, Hedareb, and Kunama, Awate also spoke fluently Italian language.

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

After returning from Italy, he was appointed as security officer in Western Eritrea. Shortly after that, he served as deputy chief of the city of Kassala, Sudan and surroundings during the brief Italian occupation of that city in 1940. He fought as an ascari in the Battle of Cheren and participated to the Italian guerrilla in Eritrea against the British and Ethiopians in WWII with the cavalrymen of Ali Gabre.

At the end of World War II, the British soldiers who were searching for arms in western Eritrea have, in the process, confiscated properties and killed cattle of the localities in Gash\Setit and Barka areas. In a self-defense reaction, Awate killed one of the soldiers. The British authorities accused Awate of a " crime " and forced him to live as a fugitive for some time. In the meantime, he was defending his people against the British plunders and other bandits who cross the border from the Sudan, the Shifta from other parts of Eritrea and Ethiopia who used to raid and loot the properties of people of the Gash\Setit and Barka areas as well.

Awate commanded a group of 40 gunmen who Actively operated against the British forces causing heavy loses among them. Aware of his great influence and role, the British colonial authorities decided to negotiate with Awate in order to avoid regrettable developments. A peace deal was reached and the violent clashes came to a stop.
Awate was a symbol of courage, bravery and boldness. He was the most respected individual in the Gash\Setit and Barka areas. The people in these areas had full confidence on him and his leadership. Many instances are told about his courage and how he was able to fight back when attacked by colonial police and assassins.
When the Ethiopian government broke the terms of the UN Resolution of theFederation of Ethiopia and Eritrea, reducing Eritrea to status of an occupied country, the Eritrean people rose against it, showing their objections to that evil act by the Emperor’s government who adopted all means and ways of torture, intimidations, imprisonments, and killings. In the face of that, the Eritreans did not yield or surrender to the Ethiopian unilaterally annulling of the federation agreement. The Eritreans had no way out but to exercise their right of self-defense. Awate witnessed all the details of the Ethiopian ugly act.

Being a man of initiatives and combat, he didn’t leave events to take course according to the aggressor’s wish. He decided to take an action that would set history straight and restore stolen rights; but he was waiting for the right time to take the most important decision of his life.

The armed Struggle

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 names:

1. Idris Mohammed Adem (the president of the Eritrean Parliament) 2. Idris Osman Galaydos (a graduate of law school in Cairo University) 3. Mohammed Saleh Hummed (a graduate of law school in Cairo Uni.) 4. Said Hussian (a student of Al-Az’har University in Cairo) 5. Adem Mohammed Akte (a graduate from University of Cairo) 6. Taha Mohammed Noor (a graduate from Italy)
Back home, the Ethiopian authorities were suspicious of Awate’s movements and activities, and were watching him closely.
On his book Eritrea, destiny challenges, Hamid Saleh Turkey wrote about Awate’s beginnings and how the Ethiopian police forces had a plan 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 failed thanks to an Eritrean nationalist within the Ethiopian police who informed Awate earlier of that plan. Thus, Awate was able to escape the trap and headed to mount Adal.
Awate’s decision to kindle the armed struggle was reached after a period of long deliberations with other nationalists who operated actively in a network and pledged to deal with the Ethiopians in the language they understand. That decision which change the course of our history, was a fruit of a well organized endeavors and sincere portrait activities by individuals proven to be loyal to the cause of their people.
On an interview with Eritrea Al-haditha, issue #75, 2nd year, fighter Mohammed Al-hassan Dohen, a long time friend of Awate and his assistant when Awate was “Shiakh Al Khet”, meaning in charge of a district, 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, who was a famous Eritrean nationalist, 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 arms, “3 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 grown to be 13 fighters.”

Awate received a lot of pressures to end the revolution. The Ethiopian authorities desperately attempted to crush the revolution in its early stages. According to Awate’s contemporaries, a military unit in six cars was sent to apprehend Hamid Awate but didn’t succeed. The Ethiopian resorted to using different tactics to deal with Awate. Mohammed Al-Hassan Dohen indicates in his interview that Omer Hassano and Egeal 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.”

When the Ethiopian got that defiance reply, they lost their temper and decided to use aggressive military measures against Awate and pioneers.

The mount of Adal witnessed the birth of the long awaited event, the declaration of Eritrean revolution. Armed with strong believe in their just cause, Awate and pioneer made the history of our armed struggle in Adal with very poor preparations in terms of arms, men and equipments which were incomparable to the Ethiopian machinery and hardware. Nevertheless, they waged their first fierce battle against the Ethiopian occupation in mount Adal. The freedom fighters, the “RA’EEL” pioneer, who accompanied Awate, were the followings:

1. Abdu Mohammed Faid (the first martyr)2. Ibrahim Mohammed Ali3. Hummed Gadef4. Awate Mohammed Faid5. Mohammed Beareg6. Mohammed Adem Hassan7. Saleh Giroog8. Ahmed Fekak9. Mohammed Al-hassan Dohen.10. Adem Fegoorai11. Ali Bekhit12. Idris Mohmoud13. Omer Kerai

According to Awate’s contemporaries, the battle of Adal lasted for 7 hours from (6 am to 1 pm). Failing to crash the newly formed Eritrean Liberation Army (ELA), the Ethiopian forces retreated back and Awate ordered ELA fighters to withdraw to Obel area then to the area of Omer Siggo. The reaction to Adal battle was great among Eritreans. The Eritrean people showed their support and solidarity with their revolution. The ELA pioneer received a warm welcome wherever they go. On his side, Mohammed Al-Shiekh Daood sold 30 camels to raise the needed amount of money to supply the revolution and submitted that money to Awate.

Having received a humiliation in the battle of Adal, the Ethiopians were alarmed by Awate’s performance in that battle. They started massing their forces to carry out a large-scale attack. The Ethiopians were able to encircle ELA in the area of Omal where another fierce battle took place and resulted in martyrdom of the first Eritrean freedom fighter, Abdu Mohammed Faid.

ELA was getting stronger as new well-trained fighters who serve in the Sudanese military forces began to join the armed struggle. Kiboop Hejaj and Adem Ge’sear joined Awate and at later time, on February 17th 1962, another group consisted of 11 freedom fighters joined too. They were:

1. Mohammed Idris Haj2. Omer Hamid Ezaz3. Taher Salem4. Osman Mohammed Idris (abu shenap)5. Ibrahim Mohammed Behdouri6. Mohammed Omer Abdella (abu tyara)7. Omer Mohammed Ali (Da’mer)8. Kisha Mohammed Kisha9. Mohammed Ibrahim10. Abdalla Idirs Adem11. Adem Gendifel
Kiboob Hejaj was famous for his accuracy at pointing and shooting at the enemy. Asking forgiveness for killing his enemy in the battlefield, he used to say: ”Af feni” in Tigre language, which means forgive me, because Kiboob knows that when he points, he will never miss.
Awate led all the battles fought during his life. Freedom fighter Abu Rigella reported that after the battle of Amnait, leader Awate and Mohammed Ibrahim Shandi got wounded. He says that, they were 11 military and civilian individuals joined Awate, they swear in front of him, and declared their commitment to fight with him.
Abu Rigella attended the meeting when Awate was elected as a leader unanimously and Mohammed Idris Haj as his deputy. He says” Awate addressed the meeting saying: “ We are all Eritreans, we have to serve our country with honesty and sincerity, we are here to achieve a goal, and if there is anybody who may has individual ambitions other than the declared objective, then, he must leave now. We all have to show extreme commitment and dedication and carry out the commands and instructions of the leader, no matter how hard they are, for the cause of our country.””
On May 27th 1962, Awate drunk milk for dinner, then soon told his unit that he was not feeling good. His condition began to deteriorate quickly. It is said that Awate called pioneer Kiboob Hajaj and gave him his beloved gun emphasizing on the continuations of the revolution. The next morning, Awate rested in peace. The ELA decided not reveal the martyrdom of Awate, and they buried him secretly. Awate’s martyrdom was made public 4 years after his death.
Martyr and leader Hamid Idris Awate lead the armed struggle in its critical times. He laid the way for this new Eritrean experience to take its shape. Awate died when our revolution was in desperate need for his leadership. He has gone but left huge legacy of self-reliance. He left without a farewell to his comrades, people, family, and most importantly his wife and son Karar who was born in the jail in the city of Tessanai.
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