Eritrea is a small country in Eastern Africa situated along the Dead Sea coast. Its unique strategic location has for centuries made it a meeting place for Arab and African cultures as well as that of the Christian and Muslim religions. Even though the country is very small in size – 121,144 square kilometers – it is among the most heterogeneous areas in North-East Africa having nine ethnic groups: Tigrinya, Tigre, Saho, Bilen, Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Afar and Hidareb.
Eritrea has a pre-historical background that goes back to the year 8000 BC. Then the history of Eritrea began to be recorded from 5000 BC. The history of Eritrea is made up of various periods beginning with the South Arabian or Sabean Period. The Axumite Period, the Solomonic Period and the Turkish Period, which takes us up to the 16th century. All through this long period of history, there were many migrations of people and conflicts and wars.
With the 18th century, there were international and regional interests and conflicts over Eritrea which became the center of an intricate web of conflicting interests. The main conflicts were: Ethiopia vs.Egypt and Britain vs France. Whatever the conflict, the battle ground for most of the conflicts was Eritrea.
Around the year 1885, the Italian occupation of Eritrea was completed. The Italians were the last of the European powers to join in what has become known as ‘the scramble for Africa’. Like the other great powers such as Britain and France, Italy wanted to have colonies in Africa and this was intensified following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869. There were various reactions and attitudes from the International community to the Italian occupation of Eritrea. Ethiopia was against the Italian colonization. The British collaborated with the Italians in the occupation of Eritrea for many political and economic reasons. The Italians ruled Eritrea until 1941 and then, after defeating the Italians, the British administered Eritrea for ten years until 1952.
In 1952, the UNO decided to have Eritrea federated with Ethiopia and this federation lasted until 1962. However, during this period, Eritrea had its own government, its own language, Tigrinya and Arabic as official languages, an Eritrean flag, seal and coat of arms. On the one hand, it could be said that the fundamental rights and liberties for all the people of Eritrea were relatively safeguarded. The constitution and the Federal Act were ratified in August-September of 1952 respectively. The Federal act was implemented on 25 September 1952. On the other hand, there were systematic violations of the Constitution and the gradual abolition of Eritrean autonomy by Ethiopia. Finally, on 15 November 1962, the Ethiopian Government declared the Federation null and void and formally annexed Eritrea. This illegal action triggered the painful and protracted war for Eritrean independence.
After thirty years of armed struggle, Eritrea was finally liberated on 24 May 1991. After establishing a provisional Government in Eritrea, the President being Isaias Afwerki, the EPLF proclaimed that the Eritrean Referendum would take place after two years. The referendum took place from 23 to 25 April 1993. On 27 April 1993, the Independent Eritrean Referendum Commission, The United Nations Observer Mission for Eritrean Referendum, the OAU, the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, the National Citizens Monitoring group and numerous individual observers were unanimous in their conclusion that the referendum had been unequivocally free and fair. The result was 99.8% ‘yes’ for the independence of Eritrea.
Eritrea was proclaimed an independent sovereign state on 24 May 1993. Its sovereignty was ratified by the UN’s 104th General Assembly on 28 May 1993. Eritrea became the 182nd member of the UN and also became a member of the OAU on 4 June 1993. (J.L.)