This moving photograph sums up the immense suffering and endurance of the Eritrean people during their long fight for independence.
The town of Afabet, on the road from Keren to Nakfa, was the site of one of the most decisive battles of the armed struggle, reported Dan Connell and Tom Collion in their Historical Dictionary of Eritrea.
Afabet changed hands several times during the war. It was from here that the Ethiopian’s launched their most serious offensive to try and end the war with the Red Star Campaign of 1982. The campaign failed – just – and by 1987 the EPLF had pushed the Ethiopians back and moved troops to encircle the town.
On 17 March 1988 the EPLF launched an offensive on three fronts. Ethiopian tanks were trapped by burning tanks on the Ashirum pass and finally destroyed by Ethiopian planes, to prevent them falling into Eritrean hands.
On 19 March EPLF fighters stormed Afabet, capturing the garrison, 50 tanks, 100 trucks, 60 artillery pieces, 20 anti-aircraft guns and immense quantities of small arms and ammunition.
The historian, Basil Davidson, visiting the battlefield on 21 March, described the victory as “one of the biggest ever scored by any liberation movement anywhere since Dien Bein Phu,” – the Vietnamese victory over the French colonial army.
From rear description of the photograph: “Top, two villagers dare to walk in Afabet in daylight, when fear of Ethiopian jets leaves the streets otherwise deserted. Eritrean forces claim they killed 18,000 – 20,000 Ethiopian troops near Afabet in March 1988.” Stamped: Received 30 July 1990