Eritrea is a multi-ethnic country, with nine recognized ethnic groups in its population of around 5 million. Most residents speak languages from the Afroasiatic family, either of the Ethiopian Semitic languages or Cushitic branches. Among these communities, the Tigrinyas make up about 55% of the population, with the Tigre people constituting around 30% of inhabitants. In addition, there are a number of Nilo-Saharan-speaking Nilotic ethnic minorities. Most people in the territory adhere to Christianity or Islam.
The Kingdom of Aksum, covering much of modern-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, was established during the first or second centuries AD. It adopted Christianity around the middle of the fourth century. In medieval times much of Eritrea fell under the Medri Bahri kingdom, with a smaller region being part of Hamasien.
The creation of modern-day Eritrea is a result of the incorporation of independent, distinct kingdoms and sultanates (for example, Medri Bahri and the Sultanate of Aussa) eventually resulting in the formation of Italian Eritrea. After the defeat of the Italian colonial army, in 1942, Eritrea was administered by the British Military Administration until 1952. Following the UN General Assembly decision, in 1952, Eritrea would govern itself with a local Eritrean parliament but for foreign affairs and defense it would enter into a federal status with Ethiopia for a period of 10 years. However, in 1962 the government of Ethiopia annulled the Eritrean parliament and formally annexed Eritrea. But the Eritreans that argued for complete Eritrean independence since the ouster of the Italians in 1942, anticipated what was coming and in 1960 organized the Eritrean Liberation Front in opposition. In 1991, after 30 years of continuous armed struggle for independence, the Eritrean liberation fighters entered the capital city, Asmara, in victory.
Eritrea is a one-party state in which national legislative elections have never been held since independence. According to Human Rights Watch, the Eritrean government's human rights record is among the worst in the world. The Eritrean government has dismissed these allegations as politically motivated. It is one of only two countries in the world that taxes its citizens no matter where they reside in the world. The other country is the United States. The compulsory military service requires long, indefinite conscription periods, which some Eritreans leave the country to avoid. Because all local media is state-owned, Eritrea was also ranked as having the second-least press freedom in the global Press Freedom Index, behind only North Korea.
During the Middle Ages, the Eritrea region was known as Medri Bahri ("sea-land"). The name Eritrea is derived from the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea (ἐρυθρὰ Θάλασσα erythra thalassa, based on the adjective ἐρυθρός erythros "red"). It was first formally adopted in 1890, with the formation of Italian Eritrea (Colonia Eritrea). The territory became the Eritrea Governorate within Italian East Africa in 1936. After the defeat of the Italian colonial army In Eritrea in 1942 by the British Army, Eritrea was under the protectorate of the British Military Administration while the fate of the former colonies of Italy was being debated at the UN. In 1952 the UN adopted that Eritrea would be self-governing for domestic affairs through an elected Eritrean Parliament while trade, foreign affairs and defense would be handled in a federal status with the Government of Ethiopia. But in 1962, after a series of political machinations, the government of Ethiopia annulled the Eritrean Parliament and annexed Eritrea as one of the provinces of Ethiopia. But the Eritrean people that had fought for independence since the defeat of the Italian colonial army was removed never doubted what the designs of the Ethiopian government were. Therefore, in 1960 they formed the Eritrean Liberation Front. And after 30 years of armed struggle, Eritrea gained its de facto independence in 1991. And following the 1993 referendum, and the name of the new state was defined as State of Eritrea in the 1997 constitution.