Rulers from the emirates joined the families of heroes, other notables and residents to inaugurate the UAE’s permanent memorial to servicemen who died overseas, paying the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the security and stability of their beloved homeland.
ABU DHABI // UAE leaders honoured the country’s heroes and their families on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi during the inauguration of the Wahat Al Karama memorial site.
Rulers from the emirates, dignitaries and relatives of those who died serving their country were among more than 1,000 people who attended the event, which included a military marching band, a 21-gun salute and the laying of wreaths at the memorial for Commemoration Day.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, attended the ceremony.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met families of the heroes and presented them with medals.
“Commemoration Day is a time to remember the stories and ethos of our martyrs, who gave up their lives in defence of our nation and its values,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said on Wednesday.
The fallen were also remembered in an aerial salute by military jets, which flew above the procession in a “missing man” formation.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, also attended, along with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who gave a speech on the importance of the occasion.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, was also present.
Covering 46,000 square metres across from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Wahat Al Karama features four main areas – the memorial, a pavilion of honour, a visitors’ centre and the memorial plaza, where the events took place.
The memorial’s name translates to Oasis of Dignity, and the site is now open to the public.
The plaza consists of a wide circular space, offering sweeping views of the Grand Mosque, and is surrounded by an amphitheatre that can accommodate 1,200.
In the structure’s centre is a large circular shallow pool which, at 15 millimetres deep, can easily be walked across.
The water in the pool reflects the mosque and the memorial’s most prominent features: 31 towering, aluminium-clad panels.
Symbolising the unity, solidarity and support binding the UAE’s leaders and citizens, each of the panels lean on each other and are inscribed with poems and quotations by Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father; the President, Sheikh Khalifa; Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid; and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
At the northern-most section of the site, the pavilion of honour features a polygon-shaped structure with a roof comprising eight slabs, which symbolise the seven emirates joined by the country’s heroes.
An internal circular wall features the names of the fallen engraved in aluminium plates made of reclaimed materials from armoured vehicles used in service.
“I feel pride that my father’s name is a part of this memorial,” said Mohammed Al Shehhi, 15, whose father – First Lt Tariq Al Shehhi – was a police officer killed in the line of duty in a bomb attack in Bahrain in 2014.
Mohammed said he was overcome with pride and awe when he first walked into the memorial.
“This place will immortalise the life of the martyrs and is a place I will come back to often,” he said.
For another relative of a hero who died serving the country, the site and its inauguration was evidence that the country had not forgotten the fallen’s families.
“I thank Allah we are children of the UAE. The leaders and Martyrs’ Families’ Affairs Office are always there for us,” said Jamal Al Falasi, 43.
“But what means more than the world to me is meeting and shaking hands with the Crown Prince.”
The Dubai native’s brother, Saif Youssef Al Falasi, 35, died in Yemen last year while participating in Operation Restoring Hope with the Arab coalition defending the country’s sovereignty.
Earlier in the day, organisations throughout the UAE marked Commemoration Day with a moment of silence, lowering the flag to half-mast.
Maj Gen Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, commander-in-chief of Abu Dhabi Police, said that occasion was meant to represent Emiratis’ love for those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
“Our martyrs pave the way for the dignity and pride in our country and wise leadership, so that we all remain loyal guardians of our country, and that we stay true to our pledge to protect the accomplishments of the modern state founded by the late Sheikh Zayed,” he said.