Several centuries before our time, the Semitic cattle
herders, who had emigrated from Saudi Arabia to Mesopotamia,
arrived on the shores of the Red Sea. The area was
subjugated to the Ethiopian kingdom but maintained
widespread self-government until the Ottomans occupied the
region in the 16th century. During the period between the
17th and 19th centuries, the region was the subject of
conflicts between Ethiopians, Ottomans, the king of Tigray,
Egypt and Italy. The Wichale Treaty, signed between Italy
and Menilek II of Ethiopia in 1890, recognized the Italian's
possessions by the Red Sea. The colony, founded on January
1, 1890, was christened Eritrea, after the Latin name for
the Red Sea, Mare Erythraerum.
Eritrea became the most important base of the Italians
during the invasion of Ethiopia in 1896 and in 1935-1936.
Italian supremacy continued until 1941, when the area was
left to the British.
About 1 million Eritreans lived in the colony and the
national unity was reinforced by the fight against the
Italians. On December 2, 1950, the United Nations decided
that Eritrea should be transformed into a federal state
under Ethiopia. The resolution was a rejection of Ethiopia's
demand for an annexation, but did not establish a plan for
the transition to independence.
In Eritrea, a National Assembly was elected, which
enjoyed some independence until 1962, when Haile Selassie
forced a group of Eritreaean MPs to adopt an integration of
the country into Ethiopia. This decision was rejected by the
nationalists, who immediately began an uprising.
The Eritrean Liberation Front, ELF, was founded in Cairo
in 1958 by journalist and trade union leader Idris Mohamed
Adem and started the armed resistance struggle in September
1961. In 1966, the organization split due to the influence
of a more radical group; of which arose Eritrea's popular
Liberation Front, EPLF. Following Sudan's mediation attempt
in 1974, both groups decided to establish a coordination
body and in subsequent years the EPLF took on the task of
leading the resistance struggle.
Under Mengistu Haile Mariam's rule in Ethiopia, the
Eritreans did not consider Ethiopia's affiliation with the
Socialist bloc as sufficient justification for the laying
down of arms. The war on Ethiopia cost thousands of lives.