Somaliland:A History Teetering on the Brink of Extinction
By Ayadi Ibrahim
As we prepare to celebrate 25 years of a hard-won independence, we marvel at our wonderful country. We bask in the glory of the peace, freedom and democracy that our country has had during this time. It is rare that one travels to Somaliland and does not find its burgeoning economy, beautiful homes, hospitable people and incredible self-reliance awe-inspiring. When analyzing our success, I wonder if the young men and women of our nation, one that is the embodiment of democracy, truly understand the price that was paid for the blessings of the last 25 years. I am confident that the majority of our people are not ignorant of the heroic efforts of the Somali National Movement (SNM) during the liberation and restoration of our homeland but that is not where the concern lies. What I do wonder is if they are aware of the magnitude of the genocide that was undertaken; one that had a significant impact but did not fortunately result in the extermination of the Isaaq people due to the revolution of the SNM. The systemic killing and depopulation of the Isaaq tribe which was implemented by Siyad Barre, a ruthless tyrant who knew no bounds, came to a halt but not before hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and many more fled the country. The word genocide does not do justice to what the Isaaq people faced during the 1980s therefore I have coined a new term, Skorimo. I have combined two Greek words; the first being Skotono which means to kill and the other being Erimo which means to depopulate or ravage.
An entire tribe uprooted, the world turned a blind eye and the Isaaq people looked to the skies for a divine intervention as they were being bombed from those very same skies by their own government. The atrocities that occurred during the declining years of the Siyad Barre regime are beyond comprehension because like any genocide committed, there is never a reason for this heinous crime. Isaaq businesses were seized arbitrarily, entire homes were forcefully evacuated by government soldiers, mass executions were carried out in broad daylight in order to instill fear in the local population; and this is only a speck of the nightmares that the Isaaq tribe faced every day during those years. It appears that this horrific history of the Isaaq tribe which initially gave birth to Somaliland is hardly discussed in political or academic circles in Somaliland itself. It is important to know that the Isaaq people were not the only people that suffered under the Siyad Barre regime, many people suffered directly or indirectly from the policies that emanated from that corrupt military regime. However, I am focusing on the monstrosities that were committed in Northern Somalia, what is today the Sovereign Republic of Somaliland.
The Isaaqi Skorimo should be academically institutionalized, studied in schools all across the nation and must be analyzed rationally and without bias. As a Canadian-Somalilander having grown up in Canada, we were taught the history of Canada. We were educated on how Canada formed in 1867, the preceding years, the participation of the Canadian people in the different World Wars, etc… In addition to having Canada Day on July 1st (the day which united 3 colonies to form Canada), Canadians also have Remembrance Day; a day dedicated to the memory of war veterans and to the armed forces that died in the line of duty. Not only do we not have an official memorial day for our veterans and our fallen heroes, we have critics that argue till this day to let the past remain in the past, to move on and rebuild our nation. I agree with them but moving on does not mean forgetting the past, it means learning from it and being undoubtedly aware that a nation can never move forward until they know their history. Somaliland is a beacon of democracy and freedom situated in a well-known part of the world but not yet known to the majority of the human race. It is a state that belongs to all Somalilanders regardless of tribe and everyone from Zeila to Meit is united for a common cause, the preservation of our native homeland.
Before we can move forward as a nation, the national history of our country must be infused in our academic system and the narrative must not be minced or altered. Every Independence Day celebration on May 18th, we hear politicians speak of the countless lives that were lost and of the pain and suffering inflicted by a declining and morally bankrupt totalitarian government the “people of Somaliland” endured. The reality is that multiple tribes currently reside in Somaliland but the Skorimo’s exclusive focus was on the Isaaq people so this should encourage our politicians to state the plight of the Isaaq people with conviction and without shame instead of referring to the “people of Somaliland.” If we shy away from the truth, we run the risk of becoming delusional and wondering what is true and untrue.
Today, the Isaaq tribe resides within the larger state of Somaliland and for a nation that is self-reliant and not internationally recognized; the habitants enjoy a ground-breaking democracy and unprecedented peace. I am of the firm belief that it is improbable to retain an exact number of casualties resulting from genocide but historical accounts have safely deduced that 500,000 Isaaq people lost their lives and another 500,000 fled the country before and after May 28th 1988 when Siad Barre gave instructions to exterminate all members of the Isaaq tribe. In 1998, the US Department of Defense stated that between May 27, 1988 and December 1988, 5,000 Isaaq people were killed. I cannot stress enough the importance of highlighting all the details regarding the systemic massacre of our people, from its inception to its barbaric implementation. We must be fully honest with ourselves and realize that at the height of the Somali Civil war, an asymmetric war at that, the government at that time was strictly focusing on Isaaq populated cities and towns, such as Berbera, Gabiley, Hargeisa, Burco etc….
For a country that was born out of war and liberated itself from the shackles of dictatorship, the education surrounding the history of Somaliland in the schools is of the utmost importance. It is necessary that the Ministry of Education of Somaliland with the help of our academics, develop a curriculum that covers this important aspect of our history. Making people aware of the explicit details of their past most definitely aids in preventing history from repeating itself. We must commemorate our war heroes through official holidays and celebrations, build a museum to showcase their struggle and bravery, include their stories in school textbooks and keep our history alive.
Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman government systemically exterminated what is estimated to be 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians and deported well over a million in 1915 alone. This is a forgotten genocide and only 29 countries to date have actually recognized it as such. It is said that Hitler uttered the question “who remembers the Armenian Genocide?” when convincing his officials of his seemingly impossible plan to invade and take over the world. If we do not pass on our history and comfortably discuss the truth everywhere, we will weaken the strength of our nation and risk creating situations from which we freed ourselves long ago. Let us not be the forgotten ones and let us not forget. Instead let us give our story legs and a voice, have it walk into every room, every discussion and say “I am here to stay so get to know me.”