I have never met Anna Maria Ayala and Sintayehu Tedla. But I am with them almost every day and every minute. I feel their pain, grief, deep anguish and unrelenting wounds to sprit and body. These two women and countless other men and women are victims of history, tyranny and unfortunate circumstances beyond their control. They are among millions in this loveless world who lost their loved ones: brothers, sisters, husbands,
cousins, etc. Though these two women are not the first or only ones to lose their treasured ones, there is a difference between them and many victims like them specially Eritreans, yes Eritreans!! But let me introduce you to both women and their amazing selfless dedication to their cause briefly before I divulge to my main point.
Anna Maria Ayala is an Argentine woman in her seventies. A deeply religious and astute woman, she is a member of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo an Argentine grassroots movement dedicated to the disappeared and the vanished. During Argentina’s sad history under military dictatorship, tens of thousands of people have been arrested, tortured, killed and worst of all disappeared into thin air without a trace. The 70’s was a year of terror and sorrow, fear and suffering in Argentina in what is known as a period of Dirty wars. Anna Maria Ayala’s son Santiago was a young university student in the summer of 1976. Though not deep into politics, Santiago couldn’t escape the day to day events taking place around him and the youthful sprit of rebellion and questioning things.
He joined a group of young people in the neighborhood, a kind of study group and vigilante or a loose kind of party. One day in 1977, two plain clothed people knocked the door of Anna Maria’s home. The restless Santiago, whom his mother nicknamed him Santino, opened the door. That was the last time Anna Maria Ayala saw her son, as he was being pushed and shoved in to a van. He was in his pajamas and he didn’t even finish his breakfast.
From 1977 till now, Anna Maria and many mothers of Plaza De Maya gather every day, with photos and posters of their sons, husbands and brothers. They protest and demonstrate daily, rain or shine, to call attention to the world and their government of their disappeared sons. Just imagine demonstrating and standing for hours daily in the vast square of May 18 in downtown Buenos Aires. Picture old ladies in their sixties, seventies and even as old as 94, standing for their dear ones daily, relentlessly and without a break.
Sintayehu Tedla is also another victim of terrible time and heartbreaking circumstances of our era. Though she lived worlds away from Anna Maria Ayala’s land of Argentina, she has a lot in common with her. Sintayehu was a youthful chubby sixth grader when the brutal military junta known as DERG unleashed a massive campaign of terror and killing orgy known as Red Terror, or Key Shibir in Amharic. Her brother and the eldest son of Tedla Mintesnot and Woizero Aberash Kassu, Wondwesen Tedla, was in his early twenties in this year of slaughter and horror in Ethiopia. Wondwesen was third year University student at the University of Addis Ababa and member of EPRP ( Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party) commonly known as EHAPA (its Amharic acronym). Sintayehu was his favorite sister and she vividly remembers how he spoiled her with sweets and cakes and how he used to take her to stadium to watch soccer games despite Woizero Aberash’s refusal. Then one day in 1977, Wondwesen left home to visit his aunt in the outskirts of the city. He never returned home and to this day no one knows what happened to him.
Wondwesen’s family searched everywhere, but to no avail. Like many Ethiopian families of the time, they knew their son had been eaten by bloodthirsty Derg gangs and there was nothing they could do. Though the whole family was grief stricken, it was Sintayehu that was severely affected by the disappearance of her brother. She changed dramatically, stopped laughing and was running away from any kind of merry family gatherings like weddings, baptisms and other occasions. She vowed never to marry and have family till the fate of her brother is known. Her love and devotion for her brother was so great that she willingly forsake all the pleasures of the world at a very young age. Even after the fall of the vicious Derg regime and the establishment of a new regime in Ethiopia, Sintayehu is still standing on her vow. As of today, the fate and whereabouts of her brother is unknown, and she is determined to keep on the vigil till death, as she puts it.
Dear readers and esteemed Eritreans all over the world, my main topic is not about the crimes of fascist regimes of the 70’s in Argentina or the 70’s and 80’s of Ethiopia or about the suffering of the families of the victims there. Though my heart bleeds every time I read such excruciating and mind-boggling stories of crime and inhumanity, my main purpose this time is to invoke these heroic experiences to inspire Eritreans wherever they are to do whatever they can to bring the plight of their people to world attention.
As you know by now, there is going to be a massive demonstration and protest against the barbaric regime of PFDJ clique and the appalling treatment of Eritreans of all walks of life, in general, and the prisoners of conscience, in particular. This protest rally and show of solidarity will be held in Washington DC on June 19 and the following days. It is organized and will be led by steadfast and resolute Eritrean democratic forces, civic organizations and many Eritrean individuals who are sickened and appalled by what is going on in the motherland.
Most of these Eritrean democratic activists are not doing this out of personal tragedy and family matters as the above mentioned ladies. Most of them don’t even know personally any of the Eritrean prisoners languishing in the dungeons of PFDJ. Many are US citizens with good paying jobs and financial standing and families in the States. But they have conscience and clean ethical mind and God given sense of right and wrong. That is why they are at the forefront of this bitter struggle to free the Eritrean people out of this bestial regime. They have nothing to gain or lose personally, except their duty as peace loving principled citizens.
Innocent Eritreans who are dying and rotting under unimaginable conditions in Eritrea are people just like you and me. They have families, friends and relatives everywhere. Those of you who claim to be their cousins, brothers, sisters and family members, June 19 is the time to speak up and stand for your blood relations, friends and loved ones. Those of you who brag at one time or another to be cousins and country men of Petros Solomon, Mahmud Sherifo, Haile Woldtensae, Aster Fessahzion, Hamid Humed and others, it is time to say “Enough is enough!” Those of you who say Medhanie was my class mate or I used to drink tea with Mattewos Machu or Wedi Asrat was my neighbour … it is time to remember and tell the world about their endless agony.
There are thousands, if not more, Eritreans who happen to be blood relatives with the imprisoned, disappeared and executed Eritreans. Sadly and shamefully, many have decided to forget and even side with the regime that tortures and kills their brethren on a daily basis. I have mentioned in my previous articles about this inexplicable betrayal and cowardice by some family members of the heroic Eritrean prisoners of conscience. This reprehensible and inexcusable behavior of some family members of jailed Eritreans like Dawit Issac, Fessehaye Yohannes, Seyoum Tsehaye, Ugbe Abraha and many others will be left to history and time for judgment. I have nothing more to say to those who btray their own kins out of greed or cowardice. To those Eritreans who have been silent or careless for long time, I appeal to you to come forward on June 19th and at least make a plea or noise for your relatives, cousins, uncles, brothers, friends, school mates, etc.
Enough to cruelty and inhumanity to our people!! Like the courageous ladies I mentioned at the outset of my article, we should stop being selfish and act like humans all over the planet at least for one day!!! The Argentine mother I mentioned above, Anna Maria Ayala, when asked why she was protesting every day, her reply was simple “How can I forget my son, my life my blood … ?” Let us do the right thing at least once in our lifetime!
May the lord hear the prayers of Eritrean prisoners!!!