Abune Isaias, patriarch of Mekele, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, on 24/05/2021.

Published on: 25/05/2021 – 01:49

[Rough translation of a report by Sébastien Nemeth of Radio France International – RFI]

For nearly seven months, war has been raging in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia. The federal government launched a military operation in the region in early November and the conflict has spread. The Eritrean army sent thousands of soldiers to Tigray and ethnic Amhara militiamen took control of large areas. Thousands died in the violence. Massacres have been revealed and the humanitarian situation is more than worrying. In an exclusive interview with RFI, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Mekele spoke out for the first time. He made a vehement appeal for help: “I want my people to survive.

Since the beginning of the war in Tigray, some have criticized Ethiopia’s religious leaders for not doing enough. Two weeks ago, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Mathias, accused the government of wanting to “destroy Tigray.

Our special correspondent in Tigray, Sébastien Németh, was able to meet with Abune Isaias, patriarch of Mekele, the most important diocese in the region. He explains that the government had cut off communications and that the Church was therefore unable to make its voice heard.

In an exclusive interview, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Mekele spoke for the first time. In turn, he too has very harsh words against Addis Ababa.

Abune Isaias: I have never seen this. The crimes follow one another. Churches are being destroyed. And it is a war against the Tigrayans. They are after our history and want to kill everyone. It is a genocide. They want to destroy the Tigrayans and Tigray… The federal government is attacking us and giving the orders. As a result, we have been attacked from all sides. But it is Addis Ababa that is responsible in the first place. I am so sad. I would have preferred to die than to see this. God decided otherwise. But I still wonder why I am still alive.

RFI: Is this a revenge war for the time when the Tigrayans themselves were in power?

Tigrayans are courageous, hardworking. Our values are strong as stones. And some people are jealous of that. They knew that they could not run Ethiopia the way they wanted. So they want to destroy Tigray to control the country as they want. Tigrayans will not seek revenge. That is not our mentality. But when it comes to defending our freedom, we will never stop. If it is touched, we will try to preserve it no matter what.

I think Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki just want to eliminate anyone who gets in their way of power. They want to become kings.   

Eritrea fought for its freedom and gained its independence. But then Issayas Afewerki killed the intellectuals, the people fled the country. He did this for 30 years, staying in power. He is teaching Abiy Ahmed the same things. The Ethiopian Prime Minister is following in the footsteps of Issayas Afewerki.

How to get out of this conflict? Can the Church play a mediating role as it has done in other African countries?

We are all equal in the eyes of God. When your brother dies, you must react. So the world must do something immediately. Why is the international community silent? Listen to our voice, help us.

Our church has tried to speak out, but the federal government is not listening. In the past, when someone came to power, they sought the blessing of the church. But today’s leaders are only interested in their own power.

I don’t think the Tigrayans are Ethiopians anymore. There has been so much destruction and killing. They want to enslave them.

There are robberies, murders, people are starving. My people don’t sleep anymore, because they are afraid of being killed at any moment. So we must act immediately. I ask the Eritrean and Amhara forces to leave Tigray. I ask the world to hear us. I want my people to survive.

I have never seen this. One crime follows another. Churches are being destroyed. It is a war against the Tigrayans. They are after our history and want to kill everyone. It is a genocide… We must act immediately. I ask the Eritrean and Amhara forces to leave Tigray. I ask the world to hear us.

Abune Isaias, patriarch of Mekele