Tank Cemetery of Asmara. In the near outskirts of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, lays an odd site. Hundreds and hundreds of vehicles are stacked upon each other. Many of them are military vehicles and tanks. Many of these war machines are spoils of war with Eritrea’s current day neighbor, Ethiopia.
Eritrea became part of a federation headed by Ethiopia after WWII. Overtime, Eritrea’s independence diminished as Ethiopia increased its influence and power. Starting in 1961, a fight for independence began, as Eritrea struggled for its freedom. In 1991 in Ethiopia, the Marxist Derg government was overthrown by rebel parties. And this coincided with military victories over the deflated Ethiopian forces by the Eritreans. In a referendum in 1991, Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for their independence. This is the longest war fought in Africa in the 20th century. There were over 200,000 casualties.
A monument to the Eritrean’s victory and independence is the sprawling tank cemetery.
Our bus rolled to a stop on the orange colored soil. I and my fellow travelers sprinted out of the bus, cameras locked and loaded. Our excitement grew as we spotted the tank cemetery for the first time as we pulled up. A wall of tanks and other vehicles, stacked deep. The vehicles formed a long perimeter acting like a fence.
As soon as we started snapping photos, we were halted. Several guards with AK-47s lazily slung over their backs dressed in a smorgasbord of camouflage approached our group. We abruptly learned we needed a permit to be there. Eritrea is a ruled by a one-party repressive government. And the Eritrean government loves permits.
We were herded back into the bus, but discovered our tire had become punctured. The guards hustled us out of the bus and directed us to start walking. Dusk settled and we frustratedly left the tank cemetery. I noticed we were not alone. The group was being trailed by the AK-47 toting guard. He followed us for 20 minutes. I was a bit surprised at how proactive this guard was.
The next day as we discovered downtown Asmara, we received a call that we had been awarded a permit for the tank cemetery. We rushed back. This time we were allowed to explore briefly before dusk fell. Cactus mixed with destroyed tanks. These vehicles stretched dozens of feet high.
Tank cemetery of Asmara, a monument to Eritrea’s independence.
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