The Trans-Mereb Experience: Perceptions of the Historical Relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia

  • Reid R
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This article offers an exploration of the historical relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia. This has been a problematic relationship, as demonstrated by the degree of conflict in this region, and, in the abstract sense, insofar as analysis of the history of the relationship has been both polemical and polarised. The region's pre-colonial history has been used either to demonstrate Ethiopia's legitimate historical control of much of what is now Eritrea, or to refute this older, more 'traditional', perception and to prove that Eritrea was at no time an integral part of a 'greater Ethiopian/Abyssinian empire'. This latter, revisionist approach to the pre-colonial past is still in its infancy, the offspring of a recent and potent Eritrean nationalism. Perceptions of key periods in the region's twentieth-century history are similarly polarised. By way of illustration, the article considers four historical scenarios, key snapshots in the history of the relationship: (i) the pre-colonial era; (ii) the period of British administration in the 1940s; (iii) the Eritrean liberation struggle; and (iv) the more recent war between the two countries. Each scenario is looked at in three ways: first, for what we might call the 'factual indisputability' of the scenario, in other words presenting as neutral and objective a view of the period as is possible; second, the 'standard Ethiopianist' interpretation of the period in question; and third, the 'Eritrean revisionist' understanding of the scenario.

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  • Richard Reid

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