The Hargeisa War Memorial is an eye-catching monument in the center of Hargeisa, the capital and largest city of Somaliland. Not only is the monument’s dais covered in colorful—and on closer inspection, quite brutal—murals, on its top sits a downed MiG-17 fighter jet.
In the late 1980s, Somaliland began a concerted attempt to break away from Somalia and the brutal dictatorial rule of Somali president Siad Barre. In response, the Somali Air Force began a large-scale aerial bombardment of Hargeisa, a stronghold of the rebel Somali National Movement.
The indiscriminate bombardment destroyed at least 70 percent of the city and, combined with summary executions and ground attacks, resulted in the death of around 50,000 people, mostly civilians. This is now known as the Isaaq Genocide, or Hargeisa Holocaust.
Despite the terrible cost, Somaliland declared itself an independent state in 1991. This was not internationally recognized, but Somaliland experienced relative stability in the years that followed, especially in comparison to the ongoing civil war that continued to engulf Somalia. Today, many countries at least recognize Somaliland as an autonomous region of Somalia.
To mark the brutal bombardment of Hargeisa, and to honor those who lost their lives, a monument was later erected in the city center, on what is now known as Freedom Square. The colorful monument consists of a large dais, on the top of which sits a fighter jet.
This jet, a MiG-17, was one of the Somali Air Force aircraft that took off from Hargeisa airport before turning back around to repeatedly bomb the very same city. It crashed during the bombardment and was later recovered by the rebels.
As you walk closer to the memorial, you’ll see that the colorful murals decorating each side of the dais are in fact very dark in the nature of what they depict. They show scenes of life from the civil war: men with severed arms and legs; human limbs scattered across a battlefield; houses burning as jets fly overhead; and the summary executions of civilians.
But there are also symbols of hope. A woman stands defiant, holding up the flag of the Republic of Somaliland as she looks up at the sky. And on one side of the dais, the image of the scarred and body-strewn battlefield peels away at the corner, to reveal just a glimpse of an alternative image lying behind, one of green lands and blue skies not ravaged by war and destruction.