BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The birth of Eritrea as a newly independent state in the post Cold War era has had significant impact on its relations with neighboring countries especially Ethiopia. From historical point of view, the existing Ethio-Eritrea problem has direct relation to the internal factors, which contributed to the formation of ‘a separate Eritrean identity.’ In this regard, almost all regimes of Ethiopia, including the existing regime, have played their own role that negatively affected the people of Eritrea and the Eritrean ‘issues’ in different times and in different degrees. Therefore, the root cause of the problem of Eritrea, from the internal point of view, has to do with the failure of Emperor Yohaness IV in relation to the Hewett or Adwa Peace Treaty in which Britain betrayed him while he took enmity with the Sudanese Mahdists (Bahru, 1991:54-55). This resulted in the loss of Mareb Melash (in Tegre, a term indicating the land to the north of the Mareb River, Ibid: 12), without resistance and his life as well. Emperor Menilek II’s power ambition and consolidation in the South, South West and East appeased the Mareb Melash, which enabled Italy to take over it without much resistance. Furthermore, Menilek II, in May 1889, through the Treaty of Wechale, Article III, granted the Italians considerable territory in the north (Ibid: 75). Italy thereby renamed the territory and established a colony over Eritrea in 1890 by detaching the ancient northern Abyssinian kingdom, which for a long time had been socially, economically, religiously and ethnically part of Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie’s denial of the democracy in Ethiopia in general and Eritrea in particular, after he unified Eritrea with ‘mother land’ Ethiopia with the termination of the Federation, was followed by the emergence of armed resistances. the Dergueue’s (Provisional Military Administration Committee) military responses for the ‘armed resistance’ and its brutality in the ‘war of independence’ had enlarged and strengthened the ‘armed resistance’ and thereby created, as Medhane(2007) says, ‘the need for collective security and the mentality of independence’ among the people of Eritrea. The collaboration of TPLF/EPRDF with the EPLF during the ‘liberation struggle’, and the TPLF/EPRDF consideration of the ‘quest for independence of Eritrea’ as legitimate are some of the factors which paved the way for the emergence of the ‘State of Eritrea’ and ‘Eritrean nationalism.’
In regard to the role of external powers, fascist Italy takes the biggest share in injecting and propagating Eritrean self-identification through a policy of divide and rule inculcated by fascist propaganda which paved the way for the birth of supremacist sentiment among the Tigrigna-speaking Eritrean urban elite vis-à-vis Tigray and other Ethiopian nationalities. Particularly in the 1930s, the fascist authorities worked hard to make Eritreans feel different and superior to the people of Ethiopia at large and Tigray in particular. Furthermore, Italy as initiator and Britain during its military administration had also cultivated a political strategy of what they called ‘politica Tigrina versus ‘politica Sociona’ in order to create and aggravate differences among Ethiopians (Ibid). Therefore, both countries played a catalyst role. Belete (2007) says “this has got a unique political repercussion in the minds of some historians as well as extreme nationalists of the north. It has triggered the thinking of non-Ethiopianism among nationalist in the North, while the opposite goes true to Shewa politicians.” This later became a fertile ground for the hatred sentiment and politics between and among the Tigrigna speakers especially Eritreans and the central government which was considered as Amharan, especially composed of ‘Shewa’s elites.’
Indeed, there was nothing which could be called as Eritrean nationalism before the colonial period. Rather...