Yesterday, the UAE observed a minute's silence to commemorate Emiratis who have given their lives serving their country. The primary memorial ceremony was held at Wahat Al Karama, where many of the country's leaders and senior officials gathered to remember and reflect, and to call on younger generations to maintain the hard-won achievements that the country has secured over the past 50 years.
Opened in 2016, a year after Commemoration Day was established, Wahat Al Karama, or Oasis of Dignity, tells the stories of the UAE's heroes. Its Pavilion of Honour puts those who have given their lives for the country to the fore. Names are engraved on metal recycled from military vehicles. The space is framed by other symbolic structures and words that underpin the country's identity, including verses from the Quran and lines of poetry written by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, paid tribute to the "heroes that sacrificed their lives for their country”. His remarks came in a social media post yesterday, reflecting the pride and sadness that people feel across the country as they mark this moment. Earlier in the week, Sheikh Mohammed also stressed the need to think particularly of bereaved households. “I call upon all citizens who know a martyr’s family to visit them and support them on this day,” he said, “for it is a sorrowful day for them, as their feelings of loss are remembered."
This year, many people will also be feeling the pain of loss for other reasons. Over the past few months, the country's leaders have also been paying tribute to those who have given their lives fighting in the ongoing battle against Covid-19. The result of their sacrifice, like that of those in the forces, is no less than our safety today.
This legacy of selfless giving started before the country was formed. Commemoration Day falls on November 30 because it was on that day in 1971 that Salem Suhail bin Khamis died fighting against Iranian forces on the island of Greater Tunb. He is believed to be the first Emirati killed in military service.
Over recent years, the country is choosing to remember heroes like bin Khamis in a variety of ways. There is now a Martyrs' Archives project and museums to highlight the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and officers. On a practical level, there is now a Martyrs’ Family Affairs office, which works to ensure that bereaved families are given the care they need.
Taken together, the events, locations, speeches and silences of yesterday showed the many ways people choose honour and pay tribute to those we have lost due to their service. It was a sad day, but one for some reflection too. Many more of these anniversaries will pass, and with each, the country's ongoing progress will be the best reminder that their lives were not lost in vain.