Awate was a trigger happy ordinary outlaw (shifta): A hero of Fascist Benito Mussolini !!!

In defense of the Kunama version of the history of Awate and free speech

In the month of September, 2012 following a statement made by Mr. Kernelious Osman of the Kunama regarding Hamid Idris Awate, a lot of uproar has ensued.  In the ensuing uproar many organizations and individuals like the Gulf Centre for Media Services, the Eritrean Solidarity Front,,  and other numerous individuals and news outlets have come up with articles condemning and demonizing Mr. Kernelious.           

Some have tried to tell Mr. Kernelious and by extension the Kunama people not to cross a red line which they have put.  Some of them even have gone to the extent of demanding the expulsion of his organization from the so called “umbrella organization” Eritrean National Alliance (ENA).  Furthermore, ENA has taken the unprecedented and undemocratic decision of suspending the organization led by Mr. Kernelious Osman, because he exercised his God given right of freedom of expression.

These organizations and media outlets, in their attempt to create “an Awate which is beyond reproach and criticism”, they deliberately have alienated the Kunamas of Eritrea and simply told them that the pain and suffering imparted on them in the hands of Awate and his outlaw (shifta) group is not worth mentioning. 

They are simply telling these indigenous Eritrean people that they and their painful history do not matter.    The Kunamas which have been the victim of an aggressive persecution by the Asmara regime through its ethnic cleansing policy have been conveniently forgotten by the mainstream Eritrean opposition groups. 

The persecution and suffering of this Ethnic group and the stories and sufferings of the tens of thousands of Kunama refugees  have not been reported by any of the so called “Eritrean human right organizations” who have flourished these days in every conceivable corner of the globe where the Eritrean Diaspora lives. These Human right organizations that go by fancy names like “concern”, “organization”, “Gezana” etc. would rather deafen us day in and day out with their copy and paste reports about the G-15, and the burial rights of one of the most notorious Gestapo of Eritrea Naizghi Kiflu.  None of them came forward to defend Kernelious’ right to hold opinions without interference and freedom of speech.

Again for these Eritrean Opposition and so called Human right organizations, the sufferings of the Kunama people is not worth reporting and sadly enough the Kunamas are “subhuman species” who do not deserve a mention.  No wonder then that the Kunamas and other minority people feel alienated not only by the Asmara regime but also by the main stream Eritrean opposition groups and human right organizations.   No wonder that they have incorporated in their programs “the right for self determination up to and including secession”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 clearly states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 19 also states that,

“Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.  Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” 

“To restrict anyone from expressing his views freely about any historical event directly contradicts the above human right declarations and other similar regional and global laws pertaining to civil liberties.  Freedom of speech and the freedom to express one's beliefs are essential to human dignity and liberty and as such Kernelious Osman and the Kunamas have the right to express their version of the history of Awate without anyone censoring, or curtailing them.”

Who was Hamid Idris Awate?  What was his history?  What was his motivation if any when he led a band of his outlaws (shifta) to shoot the first bullet against an Ethiopian police post?

Hamid Idris Awate was born in 1910 in Gerset village located between Omhajer and Tessenei in Gash Setit region of South Western Eritrea, from a Nara father and Beni Amer mother.  In 1935, he was conscripted by the Italians to serve in the colonial army of the Eritrean Ascaris.  The Italians, impressed by Awate’s military performance and loyalty sent him to the Italian African Police training school in Tivoli about 30 km north-east of Rome, for a course in Military Intelligence.  The Italian African Police force (Polizia dell'Africa Italiana or PAI) was a racially mixed organization, made up of Italian agents and native Ascaris. It was located in police headquarters of major cities like Tripoli, Benghazi, Asmara, Addis Ababa, Mogadishu, Gondar, or in small commissariats elsewhere.

During the fascist era of Benito Mussolini (1922–1943), the Italian African Police (Polizia dell'Africa Italiana or PAI) along with the Carabinieri were one of the police forces entrusted with suppressing opposition in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI), mainly in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The other role of Italian African Police (Polizia dell’Africa Italiana) along with the Carabinieri was to set up machine gun posts to control the rear of attacking regiments and prevent desertion.  In the mid to late 1930s, the Italian African Police and the Carabinieri were responsible for the atrocities committed in Eritrea and Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Recruitment to the Italian African Police was contingent on the degree of loyalty one shows and the ability to carry on instructions without question.   Hamid Idris Awate was a proud and loyal member of the Italian African Police and Carabinieri who committed untold crimes on native Africans (Sudanese, Ethiopians and Eritreans) who were resisting the occupation of their land by Italy.

For his loyal service to the Italian occupation force he was first appointed as security officer in western Eritrea and later as deputy chief administrator of the city of Kassala, Sudan and its surroundings during the brief Italian occupation of that city in early 1940s.  As administrator of Kassala he relentlessly worked to the political union of Kassala to Eritrea until the British attack of January 1941 put an end to his dreams.   He further has fought gallantly with his Italian benefactors as a brave soldier in the battle of Keren.

As a loyal fascist soldier, the defeat of Italy by allied forces in East Africa disappointed Awate bitterly.  After the British army liberated Eritrea from the Italians in 1941 he continued to wage guerilla warfare against the British for over a year, with the cavalrymen of Amedeo Guillet.

Amedeo Guillet (February 7, 1909 – June 16, 2010) also known as the devil commander was an officer of the Italian Army who commanded a band of cavalrymen "Gruppo Bande a Cavallo" during the Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia in 1941–42.   Guillet commanded approximately 2,500 locally recruited cavalrymen who were recruited from all over Ethiopia and Eritrea with Yemeni infantry men. They also consisted of some camel corps from Libya and were led with six European officers and Eritrean NCOs all hand-picked by Amedeo himself.

(N. B. Notice the similarity in attire between the pictures of Amedeo Guillet here and Hamid Idris Awate as cavalrymen above.)

(Photo: Amedeo Guillet with a native cavalryman)

One of these handpicked Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) was Hamid Idris Awate who was in charge of 100 Ascari cavalrymen with another Eritrean officer of the Ascari named Ali Gabre.  Guillet tried to delay the advance of the British Army when they crossed the Eritrean frontier in 1941.  He fought the British army at Cherù on the road to Amba Alagie and Agordat and his delaying actions enabled the Italian army to regroup at Keren. 
His actions saved the lives of thousands of Italians and Eritreans who withdrew from Amba Alagie. After nearly two months the British broke through the defenses of the Italians and Asmara was captured.

While most of the Italian army surrendered, Guillet refused to do so and began a private war against the British.  He continued to wage a guerrilla campaign, ambushing British convoys and disrupting supply lines.   For almost a year Guillet launched guerrilla actions against British troops, plundering convoys and attacking isolated military posts, with his beautiful gun-toting Ethiopian Muslim mistress Kedija by his side.  She was the daughter of a chieftain from Simien in Gondar.  In 1942 realizing the futility of his actions, Guillet managed to escape across the Red Sea to Yemen. 

(Photo: Kedija – Mistress of Guillet the daughter of
An Ethiopian Chieftain from Simien, Gondar)

During this adventure one of the loyal subjects of Guillet was Hamid Idris Awate who was fighting for the return of the Duce’s African Empire.   It was this guerilla experience which the ELF wanted to exploit when asking Awate to start the Eritrean insurrection in 1961.

After the departure of Guillet in 1942, Hamid Idris Awate based himself in the western lowlands of Eritrea in the vicinity of his tribal land with his army of approximately 50 men, and continued to fight the British, awaiting for the return of his commander Amedeo Guillet with help and reinforcement from Rome.   He continued his fight against the British until 1945.  After he realized that the empire of Fascist Italy was gone for good he continued his outlaw (shifta) life, this time targeting innocent Eritrean civilians.   He conducted raids into Kunama villages and plundered cattle which he sold in the markets of Kassala, Sudan. He set ablaze countless Kunama villages and looted them and engaged in indiscriminate killing of Kunama women and children including infants. 

Awate’s notoriety as a shifta and crimes against civilians was such that the then British Military Administration set a price of £300 for information leading to “the arrest or capture of Awate dead or alive”.  He was a notorious  outlaw  (shifta)  alongside  other  outlaws of  the  time  like  Weldegebriel  Mosazghi of  Berakit Abay and Berhe Mosazghi of Berakit Abay, Hagos Temnewo of Debri Adi Tsadek and Asresehenge Embaye of Areza, who were targeting defenseless highlanders of Akeleguzay, Seraye and Hamasien and killed countless Jebertis, Sahos and Kunama of South western lowlands of Eritrea.   A 1949 British Military Administration document enumerates 51 such outlaws (shiftas) with a bounty on their heads with Awate at the top of the list and with the highest bounty of £300. 

He was later pardoned by the British Administration in Eritrea in 1950 and given complete amnesty for his past crimes and allowed to return to his hometown. He was also allowed to retain his gun for personal protection.   The restless and trigger happy Awate was living in his native village when the ELF approached him to start the armed struggle.  He still had some of his band of outlaws with him.  He was 50 years old at the time.   Awate accepted the request by the ELF and in September of 1961, fired the first shot declaring the start of the armed struggle and was back in business again.  He led the ELF armed wing for only about 20 months and died on May 28, 1962 presumably from food poisoning.    Thus the so called “Eritrean war of independence” was launched by a criminal outlaw (shifta) and is still run by another outlaw (shifta) Isayas.

Hamid Idris Awate was a simple outlaw (shifta).  An ordinary soldier entrusted with accomplishing a political goal charted out for him by ELF leadership in the Sudan.  He never interfered nor tried to influence the political decision of the front, nor did he have the analyzing capacity of what he was doing. He was politically ignorant and was glad to do what he was trained to do his whole life and which he knew best how to do i.e. killing and causing mayhem.

He was a trigger happy fascist loyalist who worked against the interests of the Eritrean people in particular and colonized Africans in General, who continued to fight the British forces, alongside Amedeo Guillet, to bring back fascist Italian rule to Eritrea even after Mussolini’s army had surrendered in East Africa to the allied forces.

He was a fascist loyalist who conducted a guerrilla war for 5 whole years for “a king, country and a people whom he never saw or knew”.  He was loyal Carabinieri who diligently worked to keep Eritreans under the yoke of Italian colonialism.  As a right hand man of the Italian administration he approved and enforced the racist and oppressive policy of Italy which confiscated around half of the land of Eritrea under the principles of state land “Terreno Demaniale”, particularly around western lowlands of Eritrea during his tenure as administrator.  He wanted to reinstate the Italian Fascist rule that dehumanized Eritreans using apartheid and segregation and continued to fight to bring back that system to East Africa for five whole years, until the end of the Second World War.

What makes Awate different from the tens of thousands of Eritrean, Ethiopian,  and Somali Ascaris who fought alongside Italy is the fact that he conducted a guerilla war to reinstate the fascist rule on Eritrea even after the demise of Duce Mussolini’s empire and even after all the Italian soldiers and Ascaris have surrendered.  He was more dedicated to fascism than the fascists themselves.

He did not even have the slightest concept of freedom let alone be a freedom fighter or a resistance fighter.  The only resistance he showed was to resuscitate the dead empire of Benito Mussolini in East Africa.

Therefore, Awate does not deserve to be given the honorable title of a freedom fighter.  Trying to glamorize and give Awate a face lift and give him a name which he does not deserve is not only gross representation, but also an insult to his victims.

He was a gun, available for hire to the highest bidder, a “Billy the kid” of Eritrea, who availed his services first to Benito Mussolini in 1935, next to Amedeo Guillet in 1941 out of love and loyalty to fascist Italy and later in 1961 to Idris Mohammed Adem and the ELF leadership in the Sudan, out of familial and ethnic loyalty.

When there was no one to hire him, he turned to cattle raiding and rustling for monetary gains, burning down whole villages indiscriminately, killing and massacring innocent civilians including infants, children and women.  His primary victims were the Kunamas.  Killing was just a profession for him. That in short is who Hamid Idris Awate was, no more and no less.

The tragic irony is that even though Awate had no noble intention when he fired the first shot, he is credited with starting the armed insurrection against the so called "Ethiopian colonizers" because of a historical accident.

An interesting and weird twist to the story of Amedeo Guillet is that he visited Eritrea in 2000 upon the express invitation of Isayas Afeworki. Isayas must have taken a few pointers from Italian rule about how to subjugate the Eritrean people. Like father like son, both Isayas and Awate were worshipers of Fascists of Douche Mussolini. The love of Isayas for Guillet came to light during his visit to Italy in 1999.

During his visit to Rome Isayas was asked whether there was any single Italian he would care to meet. Amedeo Guillet, he replied promptly. The then 90 yrs old Guillet was immediately summoned by Italian officials to meet the Eritrean head of state and was extended an invitation to visit Eritrea by Isayas, which Guillet did in 2000.   

(Photo: Isayas Afeworki welcomes Amedeo to his country.  
The president’s Palace was very familiar to Amedeo.
It used to be the Italian army’s headquarters. )

We also find another interesting twist to the story of Amedeo Guillet, who died on June 16, 2010 at the age of 101.   The official website of Amedeo Guillet shows the picture of an Eritrean Greek by the name of Vassili Kiriakakos at the funeral of Guillet. 

The name Kiriakakos kind of rings a familiar bell for Eritreans, and raises the question what the role of Eritrean Greeks in general and “the Kiriakakos’’ in particular was during the Italian occupation of Eritrea.  How come one of the Kiriakakos’ comes to pay homage and attend the funeral of a well known Italian soldier of Benito Mussolini?  Was there any collaboration by them with the regime of Benito Mussolini in East Africa?  It makes one wonder.  More research needs to be done to know the extent of the role of some of the Eritrean Greeks, if there was any, during the fascist era.











(Photo: Vassili Kiriakakos, a Greek Eritrean, and Colonel Mongelli, who made a film documentary about Amedeo and was a devoted attendant during the final years, with Major Ed Jeep, of the US marine corps at the funeral of Amedeo Guillet.)

Ghirmay Yeibio

Winnipeg, MB.

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