Violence erupted during an Eritrean festival in Edmonton last weekend, following a similar clash in Toronto earlier this month. In both cases, protesters from the Eritrean diaspora objected to what were presented as celebrations of Eritrean culture.
Protesters say the festivals are linked to the Eritrean government, spreading propaganda and raising funds for a regime that human rights groups say is one of the most repressive in the world. The protesters seized the opportunity to raise their voices to oppose a repressive regime, while people in their home countries cannot.
The president of the National Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities and Organizations, Lambros Kyriakakos, who co-organized the Edmonton and Toronto festivals, denies it. He argues that these celebrations are neither ideological nor pro-government.
This festival has been in existence for 40 years and has always been a gathering, a celebration of friendship, culture, identity, pride of identity for the new generation, connection with the motherland and connection with the community at large, he says.
Lambros Kyriakakos adds that fundraising was not the main objective of the festivals, but that all the money raised was used to help victims of war and to fight against poverty. He says these festivals date back to the 1970s, when the East African country began to seek self-government.
Former Eritrean diplomat Zeraslasie Shiker arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker in 2008. He is now a PhD student at the University of Leeds, where he studies diaspora political activism. According to him, although Eritrean cultural festivals have been taking place around the world for decades, many of them have been hijacked by the state to spread its message and raise funds.
Earlier this month, the country’s information minister posted a message on social media about the disruptions. Complicity in attempts to disrupt decades-old Eritrean festivals using foreign thugs reflects the asylum scum’s abject failure. He went on to criticize the distorted depiction of joyous community events.
Mr. Shiker sees the protests that have disrupted festivals around the world as a natural evolution of political opposition to the Eritrean state within the diaspora.
The Tigray war questioned
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia three decades ago. Since then, the tiny Horn of Africa nation has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki, who has never held elections. Millions of people have fled the country to avoid measures such as forced military conscription.
Eritreans waged a brutal war of independence against Ethiopia for decades before creating the current state in 1993.
One of the organizers of Saturday’s protest in Edmonton, Misghina Tewahso, said long-simmering anger in the diaspora had reached a boiling point over a dispute.
From 2020 to 2022, Eritrea allied with Ethiopia against a paramilitary group in the Tigray region (new window). This two-year war claimed hundreds of thousands of victims.
Many Eritreans died during the war, but their relatives still do not know what happened to them. We are in contact with our relatives back home. What they tell us is only suffering.
Misghina Tewahso and the other protesters wore light blue shirts, a nod to the Eritrean flag from 1952 to 1959, before the country was annexed by Ethiopia. He has lived in Edmonton for 11 years, having fled his country, being opposed to its system of governance.
Even though I am here in Canada peacefully, I will never let these government supporters finance the government, raise money, do propaganda and defend this very cruel government.
Because of my morals, I will never let that happen, he said, adding that Saturday’s protest in Edmonton had to be peaceful.
This article is originally published on ici.radio-canada.ca