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Joy, Ambivalence or Indifference: The Designation of Asmara as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How does one feel when his beloved city, Asmara, earns an international recognition?  Quite honestly, ‘Euphoria’ would be an understatement.  Is it not?  If we could gauge the Eritrean sentiment upon hearing the announcement of

How does one feel when his beloved city, Asmara, earns an international recognition?  Quite honestly, ‘Euphoria’ would be an understatement.  Is it not?  If we could gauge the Eritrean sentiment upon hearing the announcement of the much coveted distinction, certainly, the euphoria gripping Eritreans would have registered on a Richter scale.  Specially to Asmarinos, it is nothing less than jubilation.  And, by Asmarinos, I mean those who grew up in Asmara; it is the same as to say Nairobians, or Parisians – the collective term, the adjective – and not to reinforce the generally assumed meaning, i.e., the phony belief of Asmarino to be socially more advanced than the not so Asmarinos.

Ever since Asmara was accorded the status of a UNESCO world heritage site, I have been mulling, contemplating, pondering and vacillating to pen down my view about the honor.  Because, on the one hand, I felt, quite frankly, I might trigger the ire of some Asmarinos, as the history of Asmara, notwithstanding its beauty, is less than stellar, to say the least; therefore, anything not so romantic about Asmara is blasphemy to Asmarinos.  But on the other hand, history has to be told as it is and not as it ought to be.  Because, as the saying goes, ‘tell the truth and shame the devil’, inconvenient though it may be, If we can’t tell the truth, then we become accomplices to the fiction.

Just to give you an insight into what the real Eritrean society actually is and how detached the Asmarino thinking from the Eritrean society is, consider, for example, the condescending inner thinkings of Ferdinando Martini, the architect of Asmara, when he saw the daily routine of the indigenous when nature calls upon:

“Here is Martini the amused sociologist, fascinated at the goings-on in the stretch of open ground outside his Asmara villa, which serves, he discovers, as a communal latrine. ‘This wretched valley is the debating society for those who feel the need to shed excess body weight…One man comes along and squats.  The effect is contagious.  Another comes along, measures the distance and squats a dozen meters from the first, in the same position with the same aim in mind.  And then a third, a fourth; sometimes a fifth and a sixth.  And the conversation starts…Simultaneous, contemporaneous, in parallel…Words are not the only things to emerge, but they last longer than the rest.’”

Michela Wrong: I Didn’t Do It for You

Does the above quote sound too gross?  Sure it is.  Yet, the inconvenient truths are oftentimes glossed over to propagate the convenient ones.  Behind the facade of the beauty of Asmara lies a sad chapter of Italian transgressions on the indigenous people.  Truth got to be told, Asmara is so beautiful.  The Art Deco buildings: the Gothic cathedral on the main boulevard with its frescos inside, the famous petrol station – FIAT Tagliero – mimicking a jet on a takeoff mode, the cinemas Impero, Odeon and Dante, the Renaissance architecture prevalent throughout its main thoroughfares – Asmara is quite  beautiful.  Anybody who saw Rome couldn’t be more truer to call Asmara Picollo Roma or smaller Roma.  It is, quite frankly, the true copy of Rome; the creation of Italian ingenuity and engineering prowess.  Asmara was even immortalized in the famous Younus Ibrahim music:

“Asmera ketema

TsebiKu edilKi

Hadisom Melki-Om

Kulom hintsaTatki

MinAsa n’Londra n’Paris mesilKi…”

I didn’t even have a clue about the meaning of Londra.  Courtesy of one Asmarino – but now, I mean to say a well versed one – Londra is the Italian word for London infused into Tigrigna.

The melody is sinking into your psyche, even to this day. This is what it says:

The city of Asmara

What an enlightened era is yours

Your architecture and buildings are beautiful

The younger of the city of London, you resembled the city of Paris.

Or, perhaps the liberation era music:

“Asmera Asmera

TisemE do aleKi

Lomi BimaDo

Tsibah MisaKi…”

And another fascinating melody from the freedom fighters, which says a lot about the utter abandonment and nostalgia of Asmara. It says like this:

Asmera, Asmara

Are you listening

Today we invision you from afar

Tomorrow we will be with you

A lot has been sung about the city.  The mania about Asmara – a city built for the exclusive use of Italians and Italians only – is never ending.  Nevertheless, the longing and attachment to the city of Asmara had to happen at a cost to the local indigenous people.  Surely, Italy needed a colony to occupy, a people to subjugate and exterminate and a place of its own among the giants of the time, Britain and France.  Remember, this is the time of Otto von Bismarck, the 1884, the ominous Berlin Conference, the time of the scramble for Africa; where the colonialists sliced the continent like a wedding cake and the giants took the lions share of it, whereas Italy, dwarfed by the big, ended up with the arid and unproductive places of the continent.

Thus, the wheels of oppression and subjugation had started rolling in Eritrea.  A large number of Italians migrated to their newest colony, dispossessing the indigenous in the process.  Martini himself had no qualms about this.  Other powers were doing it [subjugation] he reasoned, so as not to be outdone, Italy had to do it too.  He was so forthright.

“One race must replace another, it’s that or nothing…The native is a hindrance; whether we like it or not, we will have to hunt him down and encourage him to disappear…”

Michela Wrong: I Didn’t Do It for You

Such was the evil intentions of a man who had the extermination of the indigenous in mind.  What a paradox then that our people are facing extermination for the second time in our history; but this time, even more dangerous than the first.  However, without a doubt, this too, shall pass into the dirty confines of history.

So was Asmara built, for the exclusive use of Italians, by none other than Ferdinando Martini: the colonialist, the embodiment of oppression, segregation and subjugation of our people.  According to Michela Wrong, out of the population of 95,000 inhabitants of the city, a mere 47,000 were the indigenous – a minority in their own country – crammed into squalid conditions on the outskirts of the city, prohibited from even entering into the Italian quarters – Campo Cintato.  Even Teclemichael Gebru, the legendary Eritrean singer, memorialized the segregation in his song to mock the racist laws introduced into our society:

‘Kombishtato…’ he started. It is the corrupted term of the Italian, ‘Campo Cintato’

“Kombishtato bishKiletay miziwar keliOmni

Wy Mussolini wy Mussolini…”

This is what it says:

They forbade me from riding my bicycle in Campo Cintato

Wy Mussolini wy Mussolini

The word “Wy” is a wailing tone in Tigrigna; a hapless and defeatist cursing at Mussolini for his apartheid policies in Eritrea.

Had she not been defeated in the Second World War, for all intents and purposes, Italy would have kept its precious and strategically important colony for generations; and, our people would have lived under the first apartheid system in all Africa.  Interestingly, the only apartheid system the whole world had known was in South Africa, introduced when the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa in 1948.  But way before that, that racist system – apartheid – had been introduced in Eritrea.  It is a pity that other than a passing reference in some history books, there is no mention of apartheid to have ever been practiced in Eritrea.

To the few Asmarino goons however, all the injustices inflicted upon the indigenous is a none issue; or, perhaps as a necessary meting out of punishment on the indigenous for the benefit of acquiring the aura of Italian culture.  Upon the remnants of Italian architecture, beauty and elegance, it is incredibly surreal that the fool can find pride and pleasure.  It goes without saying that once folly starts its journey, it knows no bounds in exposing oneself to buffoonery and ridicule.

Once, strangely enough, I saw a collage of two pictures posted on social media; It is so hilarious.

On the left side of the collage, captioned Asmara 1950, as if they were secret agents on an 007 James Bond movie, two stern looking, yet elegantly dressed Asmarinos, as if on a cue, strolling in tandem, in Campo Cintato; ready for their pictures snapped.

On the right side of it, captioned Europe 2017, happy looking and equally well dressed Europeans, walking casually in some European city.  I doubt they even knew they were pictured.

The suggestion been, Europeans needed almost 70 years to catch up to what Asmarinos had known in the 1950s.  As the saying goes, ”.. so a fool repeats his folly,” the delusional Asmarino, oddly enough, convinced himself that he was far better than anybody in the world.  That is his inner thinking and demeanor.  He convinced himself that he has a Devine right to be the ruler of the not so Asmarino.  Thus, born – in my opinion – the condescending attitude of Asmarinos as superiors over the cheguar danga [people of rural background] in the political hierarchy of the EPLF.

In conclusion, Asmara is indeed beautiful.  If Asmara can be designated a UNESCO world heritage site, it is because Asmara is the true work and ingenuity of Italian engineering.  So, a UN body acknowledging the innovation of a European country and hardly for the work of Eritreans.  I am half-heartedly happy about Asmara’s UNESCO designation, because, Martini left us something to brag about; and above all, the designation would give Eritrea a token of good news in a sea of misfortunes.  Martini must be dancing in his grave.

Buona Giornata!!

Tesfamichael Kidane

N.B. Special thanks to Michela Wrong for her insightful book about Eritrea, “I didn’t do it for you”

Review overview
  • Danilo July 28, 2017

    Off course! But, you missed the current mess faces the “piccola Roma. One day , English women I guess; discuss with shopkeeper to buy plastic bag :responded ,we have no plastic bags. she became very angry then, where can I dump the refiut of Eritrea! ? .This is an example in one way ,the city with out asmarinos has no water nor electric, all is garbage buona notte!

  • k.tewolde July 28, 2017

    ABAY ABASHAWL LOMI KDERFELA CHERISA BIKULA KEYFERESET KELA,ME’EBEYA ZEKTAMAT ITA ZI’AABEKULA,ABAY ABASHAWL NAY SILTANIE CHURA.DEHAN KUNI ABASHAWL……A real Asmarino with heart felt song eulogizing his city. Where do these symbols of Eritrea go? and who replaced them? can anyone tell me their whereabouts.Let the RUFFIANI conduct their fake celebration.

  • Sunzuro July 29, 2017

    Danilo, you nailed it right on the head: “This is an example in one way ,the city with out asmarinos has no water nor electric, all is garbage buona notte!”
    Do not be surprised if some retard idiots and opportunists are celebrating. These are the same people who insult their own proud ancestors, languages and identity to worship more retard identities across the sea. These days, the shameless leaders of our “al Sewra” are bending for the most vile of humanity – the Wahabi ignorant Saudis and the deceitful and satanic Emarites, and indenturing our own ports ad using our own boys as their mercenaries in the battles of Yemen. An Arab master will never send his brothers, sons and tribe to war, he uses people who see themselves as inferior, as his condoms.
    These retards of the “al Sewra” are so worthless, they make the tyrant Mengistu look very “civilized” on the way he managed the beloved city of Asmara, its then well manged streets, old buildings, electric power delivery and its water maintenance systems, all these while waging a bloody war 24 hours a day.
    Such are the turds of the so called wahabbi and Amir worshiping of the slavish abid leaders of Eritrea.

  • Danilo July 29, 2017

    sunzuro, “Sewra ” has nothing to do with the subject here. Neither Saudis nor Emirates are my first enemy. not even religion but ISHOKH MIDRBET.

  • Keshi Mars July 29, 2017

    Hello Assennawoch,

    I wonder why naming Asmera as world heritage ignites this much dissatisfaction. Is it a curse of being “Habesha”? Wherever you go and whatever good happens, Habesha does not feel happy about it. They say, “ms meEbeyaKa TfaE”.

    • Tesfamichael Kidane July 30, 2017

      Keshi Mars, if you think Habesha people aren’t that satisfied with the naming of Asmara as UNESCO world heritage site, it is because, unlike you, they knew the naming has nothing to do with Eritreans. A UN body acknowledging the work of a European country. Nothing more. I have a question for you, how dissatisfied must you be with your name to call yourself “Keshi Mars”?

    • Andom December 26, 2017

      What good are you talking about? The world gets to celebrate your great grandfathers, your grandfathers shame. Are you proud of something your master built? At best your people were nothing more than donkeys that carried the building material for your italian master. Go ahead be proud of that.

  • almaz July 29, 2017

    It is not asmara that is in the world heritage. It is adi hallo dam. The dam looked like it was costructed in the 16th century due to the material used which is mad and animal dung.

  • amanuel July 29, 2017

    No body is cellebrating, not even the “barretas.” the hgdf supporters or the barretas” do not understund what it means or are not happy about the fact that it does have no meaning.

    • Asmara Eritrea July 29, 2017

      Could it be the case that nobody is celebrating because fascist architects designed and built Asmara using indigenous people as slaves?

      I suspect a handful of stooges must have celebrated in Asmara – drinking whiskey as if there is no tomorrow whilst our people starve.

      Eritrea forever, death to dictatorship.