By Hidat Tikue
January 27, 2021
[Rough translation of a Spanish article authored by Hidat Tikue]
It was the night of November 4 and we were watching the results of the US elections. Suddenly, looking at the news on Facebook, I saw that Ethiopia declared war against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). At the same time I was waiting for my mom’s flight from Addis Ababa to the U.S. Ethiopia’s silent war was starting.
When I heard the news of the war I started to worry about whether it was going to affect my mom’s flight. A few minutes later, a friend who was accompanying my mom on her flight told me that they were denied flying because they were Tigrayans.
Little did I know the severity and magnitude of the problem. As the news progressed, I became more concerned about what was happening in Tigray.
My mother was denied a flight because of her ethnic profile.
A bit of history
When Abiy Ahmed came to power three years ago, most Ethiopians (including Tigrayans) were hopeful that he was going to be the right person to bring peace, tranquility and major reforms, at the governmental level, that the country needed.
Abiy Ahmed came to power backed by an anti-government protest movement by the Oromo ethnic group, to which Ahmed belongs. His successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, was not able to provide answers to these protests. For this reason, there was great hope that Abiy would help defuse the tensions that still existed between the Oromo people and the government.
Abiy Ahmed started his leadership with some very important actions such as freeing some political prisoners. He apologized for state brutality. He started a peace agreement with Eritrea after 20 years of a “no peace, no war” relationship and for which the Prime Minister won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, these moves did not last long.
Abiy started to take measures that would later create conflicts with some regions. Especially with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The Beginning of the Conflict between TPLF and Abiy
One of the measures that caused a conflict between Abiy Ahmed and TPLF was the dissolution of the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) party. A system that administered the country for the last 30 years and a new ruling coalition was formed, the Prosperity Party (PP), composed of eight regional parties.
The TPLF, which was the strongest of the dissolved EPRDF coalition, refused to join the PP and positioned itself as the opposition to Ahmed’s administration. Most of the TPLF member leaders went back to their home region, Tigray. It is noteworthy that EPRDF was formed after 17 years of TPLF struggle along with other regions. Some 30,000 Tigrayans died in the war while one million Tigrayans died from starvation during the Derg (a brutal military dictatorship).
Despite all this, the TPLF won the Derg in 1991.
Measures that triggered the war
The EPRDF is an ethnic federalist system in which the region has self-determination, including the right to succession. Because Ethiopia is a very diversified country, many politicians believe that the EPRDF is a suitable system for the country. The PP on the other hand is a “pan-Ethiopian” system, which is perceived as a unitary system.
Another decision that generated conflict was the fact that “the peace agreement” with Eritrea was never made public. Shortly after the agreement, the borders between the two countries were closed again while the relationship of the two leaders continued to grow closer and closer.
Another move that triggered the war in Tigray was when the government decided to postpone the elections indefinitely that were to be held on August 29, 2020 using Covid-19 as the reason. However, the Tigray region decided to conduct the elections (to which Tigray has its right according to the constitution) with the presence of foreign observers. The election was successful with the TPLF winning by a majority vote. This act was understood by Abiy as a challenge by TPFL and the people of Tigray in general.
After Tigray’s election, the central government took some measures that would later aggravate the situation. First, the government made a budget cut for Tigray that left the region economically weaker. In addition, the government denied the provision of personal protective equipment for Covid-19 in the region. The road linking Tigray to Amhara remained closed for three years and the Federal Government took no action to address this.
When Tigray faced a locust infestation, the government did nothing to help, while supporting the neighboring Amhara region with drones. In addition, expatriates from Tigray sent drones to fight the locust infestation in Tigray and the government held them at customs. They never arrived in Tigray.
Propaganda against Tigray
Since coming to power, Abiy Ahmed used propaganda to demonize the Tigrayans and to create hatred for the people of Tigray. He claimed that the region had been disproportionately privileged and benefited economically over the past 27 years. He created accusations that had no basis. They only served to generate hatred against the people of Tigray.
In an attempt to subjugate the TPLF and the people of Tigray in general, Abiy Ahmed labeled them as terrorists, thieves and corrupt (for having ruled the country for 27 years).
These propagandas were relayed by the Government’s mainstream media generating a demonization of the Tigreans and the TPLF.
The war in Tigray
On November 5, Abiy Ahmed declared war against the Tigray region. According to the Prime Ministry, the war was declared to “respond to an alleged attack on the military base of the northern division”.
In his words, it was not a war but a “police operation” to capture TPLF leaders. However, there is too much information indicating that the prime minister has been preparing for this war for three years and the harassment of the military attack was simply a cover.
The fact that the war began on the night of November 5, when the world’s attention was on the U.S. election, was not a coincidence, but an attempt to divert attention from the rest of the world.
At the same time as the war began, Abiy Ahmed declared a communication blockade. He cut off transportation and electricity. He froze bank accounts that were opened in Tigray, which left not only people living in Tigray, but anyone from Tigray, unable to withdraw money from their bank accounts.
Abiy Ahmed also blocked access to humanitarian services and international journalists. In the meantime, he had the support of influential actors and large numbers of the Ethiopian population. The government has managed and controlled the narrative using hate propaganda towards Tigray, due to the fact that Tigray is one of the minority and marginalized regions.
Abiy Ahmed managed to convince most Ethiopians that the Tigray war was a “surgical military operation” where the objective was to capture TPLF leaders whom he calls ‘Junta’.
However, the TPLF leaders were elected by the people of Tigray (unlike the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who was never elected by the people).
The actors of the war (Ethiopian Defense Forces, Amhara, Eritrean and Somali militias).
Shortly after the war started, we learned that Eritrea had invaded Tigray from the north. Along the borders of the Amhara region, Amhara militias first invaded parts of Tigray.
Somalia also participated in the Tigray war by sending its soldiers. According to the former head of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency, Abdilsalan Guld, the soldiers secretly left Mogadishu and were sent to Asmara for military training, only to be used as cannon fodder in the Tigray war.
Consequences of the war in Tigray
The war in Tigray resulted in thousands of civilian deaths from arbitrary killings, massacres and aerial bombardments.
More than 60,000 refugees from Tigray have crossed into neighboring Sudan. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million internally displaced persons.
Since the war began, Ethiopian Defenders, Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militias have looted and destroyed almost all of Tigray’s infrastructure, factories, hospitals, schools and universities. They even burned the crops. It should be noted that the war started in a harvest season and farmers did not arrive in time to harvest them. This, coupled with the fact that they were fighting a plague of locusts at the same time, left people without food, water, electricity, money, hospitals….
Many people are starving, due to lack of drinking water or lack of medicine. 4.5 million people are in need of humanitarian services to which the Ethiopian government continues to deny access, turning this war into a real genocide.
The Mai Kadra massacre
The Mai Kadra massacre was just one in a series of mass killings in which 700 civilians were killed. It took place during November 9-10, 2020 in the town of Mai Kadra, Tigray region.
Preliminary investigations by Amnesty International, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council attributed responsibility to Samri youth and other kebeles loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. However, other sources of information based on interviews conducted in Sudan with refugees by the Financial Times, Associated Press, Vice, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and AfricaNews, indicate that the massacre was carried out by both Amhara militias and the Ethiopian National Defense Force.
It is important to note that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is appointed by the Ethiopian government itself. Moreover, both Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and Netsanet D Belay, Director of Amnesty International, are of Amhara origin.
Moreover, the two chiefs are each other’s in-laws, which is why many accuse them of not conducting an independent investigation, but a “family business.”
On November 18, Abiy Ahmed proclaimed victory to the world after his troops entered Mekele (capital of Tigray), while TPLF leaders fled to the mountains to avoid a war in the capital of the region.
Despite the fact that Abiy Ahmed declared the end of the war, both the Ethiopian Defense and Eritrean troops and the Amhara Militia are still in Tigray.
In addition, the Amharas are taking over many places in Tigray; even settling in the houses of refugees who fled to Sudan and forcing those who stayed to speak and change their language to Amharic. If they don’t, they kill them.
On the other hand, Eritrean soldiers continue to take control of areas of Tigray along several borders. They are handing out Eritrean identity cards without the will of the residents.
The Zalambessa massacre
On November 15, Eritrean soldiers entered Zalambessa (my hometown). A border town with Eritrea. They massacred about 65 people in one day. Most of them were in a church, during a mass prayer. The soldiers came and killed them.
The Mariam Dengelat Massacre
According to a witness and survivor of the massacre that occurred at Mariam Dengelat, a historic church located in southwest Edaga Hamus, Tigray, the massacre was carried out by Eritrean soldiers during the annual celebration of the feast of St. Mary of Dengelat.
The Axum Massacre
The EEPA stated that the December 15, 2020 event began with the arrival of Ethiopian National Defesa security forces and Amhara militia at Our Lady Mary of Zion (Maryam Ts’iyon) church, where there were about 1,000 refugees.
A clash ensued because the people in the church believed that the soldiers wanted to take away the Ark of the Covenant that the church claimed to have.
The people came out to the square because of the soldiers’ order. The soldiers of the Ethiopian National Defense and Amhara militias started shooting, killing 750 people. Based on witness testimonies, Belgian physical geographer Jan Nyssen dated the massacre between December 17 and 20. A witness in contact with Le Monde concurred with the estimate of 750 dead.
Due to the ban on journalists entering the Tigray region, news of the mid-December church massacre was first provided by survivors who arrived in Mekelle after walking some 200 km.
Massacre of 20 young men at the Goda Bottle Factory.
Eritrean soldiers forced 20 young men to help them loot and load all the bottle factory equipment, including the machines onto trucks.
After doing so, the soldiers killed them all. After an intense search, the parents of the victims found the place where the bodies of the young men had been buried. They buried them on the side of the factory.
Rape of women
One of the most remarkable atrocities of this war was the rape of women and girls by the invaders. Many of those who took refuge in Sudan spoke of rape. This problem is very serious even in Mekelle, the capital, where supposedly the war situation is better than in the rest of Tigray.
In a broadcast on ETV, a state-run television channel, an Ethiopian Defense official spoke out admitting repeated abuses against women. One can imagine what could be happening in the rest of Tigray under the darkness and silence, due to the communication blockade imposed by the Ethiopian government.
Attack on heritage
Tigray is home to a wealth of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. However, in the Tigray War the heritage was one of the first casualties of the war.
There are reports of looting of manuscripts from churches and monasteries, and there are fears that they will be taken out of Tigray to be sold in antiquities markets in other countries.
The al-Nejashi Mosque
Monastery of Debre Damo
Personal experience / How Tigrayans living outside the country feel
I have experienced war at an early age. During the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, being born in a border town.
I know what it is like in a war, but this time it is harder. Even though I am not present in Tigray, the anguish of not knowing if your family is alive or dead, not knowing if they have something to eat, the fear that maybe your sister might be raped… that feeling of helplessness of not being able to do something to change the situation knowing how serious it is, is very heartbreaking.
It’s not like knowing that your family is going through bad times and being able to do something to help. You can’t even send them money, since the banks are closed or only open in the capital; but only to receive deposits, without the possibility of withdrawing money.
Finding out on Facebook about the death of members of your family, classmates, neighbors … is something that I cannot explain. How much it shocks you that your own country, which is supposed to protect you from invaders, is capable of inviting other countries to kill young people, humiliate parents and terrorize the children of its own population is something that one cannot expect.
Many friendships with other Ethiopians have ended. People who were supposed to be countrymen, brothers and sisters. This war teaches us the true version of each of our friendships.
Many Ethiopians support the war, while others are indifferent to it. This is largely because the government controls the narrative. Thus they manage to make many Ethiopians still believe that the war is a “surgical military operation”. Some because of the role of demonization propaganda towards the Tigrayans that the government instilled in the population found a good motive to kill us.
Nothing can prepare you for this. It should be noted that the Tigray region is one of the minority and marginalized regions of the country. The people of Tigray are known to be hardworking, humble and persevering people having gone through many challenges. However, Tigray does not have many resources or way to tell our side of the truth.
Most of the media is controlled by the government or its supporters. They try to suppress our struggle and voice at any opportunity they find. In addition, the communication blockade that Abiy Ahmed has declared for six months makes everything even more difficult.
How to be part of the solution
One can contribute to the fight against the Tigray Genocide by being the voice of the voiceless. By raising awareness, by showing this genocide to the world. Creating an advocacy to the civilians who are trapped in this situation. Contacting your political representatives (senators) and raising awareness about the Tigray Genocide.
Contacting the United Nations, the European Union and other agencies working to defend human rights. Intervention is needed to stop the violence and war, but especially to put pressure on the Ethiopian Government. To allow a humanitarian corridor.
In addition, one can also help by boycotting those who support and sponsor the war, such as Ethiopian Airlines.