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The war on Tigray: a story of devastation, resolve and vision

My house was set on fire, and my family was dispersed before my very eyes. We were not even able to wrap the bodies of our dead family members and bury them like human beings.



This is a story translated from Tigrinya about two Tigrayan relatives.  Rahel Negasi lives abroad.  Her cousin Goiteom lives in Tselemti, western Tigray. Since the outbreak of war on Tigray on 04 November 2020 and due to the communication blackout, they were not able to communicate. After a month,  cellular data was partially restored to some parts of western and southern Tigray that have now been annexed by the Amhara regional state. Upon hearing the restoration of cellular data, Rahel could not wait to hear about the situation of her family and relatives. Anxious and desperate, she contacted Goiteom to hear about the situation. Goiteom sent the message below. That is the last message Rahel heard from him.

Hi Rahel,

My house was set on fire, and my family was dispersed before my very eyes. We were not even able to wrap the bodies of our dead family members and bury them like human beings.

 My sister Rahel, do not expect me to list to you who is killed and who is alive. I will also not tell you about those that were killed before my very eyes.

 I will not be around tomorrow because I am joining the struggle. I do not expect to survive and return home; I expect to die fighting. 

 No doubt that  many members of your family and your relatives are massacred, but make sure that, while  weeping and mourning bitterly, you do not lose those that remain. 

 Build a country so that this may be the last spilling of Tigrayan blood, and so that those who remain and those yet to come can live in peace.

 Promise me that our blood will not be in vain or be misused for bringing some to power. 

My sister Rahel!  My mother was preparing for my wedding in January, but she is apparently not fortunate enough to see her son’s special day. What I can be sure of, however, is that because of the blood I shed today, there will be a country that will shine bright for evermore.

 Promise me, my sister, that you will not pass by my mother in the same manner that I used to pass by and ignore the mothers of our martyrs yesterday.

 Your brother Goiteom,  from Tselemti, Tigray

Translated from here

Putting the message into context

In his message, Goiteom taps into Tigrayan past struggles, national sentiments,  values and outlines a vision for his people. These concepts make sense if we put them into the historical context of Tigrayan struggle and how Tigrayans view this war. 

Before the end of the 19th century, Tigray was affluent and the center of power and politics. Colonialism and internal Ethiopian power rivalry split Tigray into two: Ethiopia’s Tigray and the Tigrinya-speaking part of Eritrea. Ever since this momentous time, Tigray was deliberately impoverished, its lands taken away, and Tigrayans subjected to a harsh national oppression. In 1943, Tigrayans rose in rebellion, known as the First Woyane, and demanded an end to oppression and the reinstitution of autonomy and self-rule. Tigray was bombed into submission with the help of British Air-force. Tigrayans were more harshly punished and oppressed as punishments for the rebellion. This eventually led to yet another struggle, called the Second Woyane, led by the Tigrayan people’s Liberation Front (TPLF). 

The TPLF fought a bitter armed struggle against the communist junta of Mengstu Hailemariam for 17 years. Together with other organizations fighting against national oppression in Ethiopia,  the TPLF formed the PERDF which overthrew the junta in 1991. To address the question of nations and nationalities, the 100 year-old unitary state was reorganized  as a federation of nine federal states. Tigrayans thought their struggle for ending national oppression and return of  autonomy and self-rule  was answered within the framework of federal Ethiopia without resorting to independence. After that, they focused all their energy and attention on building Ethiopia.    

Now, after almost three decades, the questions of national oppression and Tigray’s autonomy have come to the fore yet again. Abiy Ahmed, the Amhara political class and Isaias of Eritrea have created an alliance against Tigray and waged war on it,  effectively putting an end to its hard-won rights.  Tigrayans feel betrayed, scapegoated and attacked by those they considered their compatriots and friends. They also feel a reversal of the hard-won gains and they realize their 17 year-old bitter struggle has not sustainably solved Tigray’s questions and relationship with Ethiopia. This treason and reversal of hard-won gains have made Tigrayans to revisit their past struggles and to question their relationship with Ethiopia and whether their previous settlement with federal Ethiopia was misguided. 

It is with the above context in mind that Goiteom writes his message to Rahel. When he says “the last spilling of Tigrayan blood”, he is referring to the new spilling of blood that he is joining in relation to the spilling that happened in the 17-years armed struggle. He makes it clear that, seen with the benefit of hindsight now,  the spilling of Tigrayan blood in the second Woyane was in vain since it has not brought the Tigrayan people a homeland and a sustainable peace. He stresses that  the spilling of blood this time is for the Tigrayan people to have a homeland, a country they can live in peace.  That is Goiteom’s vision for his people: a country that will be born with the spilling of his blood, but that will shine forever and where the next  generation of Tigrayans can live in peace. 

Goiteom also makes references to three Tigrayan virtues cultivated in the previous armed struggle: ሕራነ (valor in the face of devastation and danger), selflessness and ሕድሪ (entrusting responsibility). It is the virtue of valor  that Goiteom is tapping into when, upon seeing the devastation on his family and people, he refuses to be devastated and instead decides to fight back by joining the armed struggle in which he is most likely to be martyred. In refusing to list the killed and wounded family members and in joining the armed struggle that will most likely cost his life, he is adhering to the virtue of selflessness, again more cultivated in the Second Woyane.  Entrusting someone with some responsibility is a highly-regarded Tigrayan value. Once entrusted, you are expected to fulfill. This value was used by TPLF fighters, among others, to entrust their neighbors, their relatives  or even complete strangers with the responsibility  of taking care of their children, their spouses, any other valuables or secrets of the struggle.  Goiteom is tapping into these virtue when he entrusts Rahel with the responsibility of making sure the spilling of his blood (which he unsurprisingly expects to happen)  will not be in vain this time. He expects her to carry the banner. He further entrusts Rahel with the responsibility of  caring for his mother whom he expects will be a mother of a martyr. 

Goiteom, using themes and virtues from the previous struggle, assesses the devastation the war on Tigray has brought upon his family and his people, resolves to fight back, entrusts Rahel with big responsibilities and outlines a vision for his people. In a short message told with candor,  Goiteom captures the sentiment of today’s Tigray. 

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  1. Somura

    January 29, 2021 at 4:58 am

    Thank you for sharing this piece. I will carry it with me, and will share it so everyone can know the story of our martyrs and the step towards Freedom for Tigray. 💛❤️

  2. Biserat

    January 22, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    Really Heart touching story. I am sure Tigray will prevail and all criminals will bring to justice.

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    January 19, 2021 at 11:37 am

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  4. Genet

    January 16, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    Thank you for writing such an exquisitely captivating peace of our Tigray’s past and current history. We honor Goiteom for his courage and fight for our beautiful, peace-loving Tigray.

    Tigray will prevail, like its history and shall NEVER bow down to anyone, but God.
    We are all the most honored, proud and visionary people; our struggles will indeed come to an END soon. With God’s grace, help and mercy, there shall live proud, courageous Tigreans in peace, harmony and honor.

    I thank you for taking the time to translate Goitom’s letter and helping folks understand the reality of the cruel Genocidal war on our beautiful Tigray.

    May God protect her, May God save her, May God forever bless her and her God-fearing children.

    “The wicked shall NOT prevail.”!!!

    🙏🏾❤️💛❤️TIGRAY WILL PREVAIL ❤️💛❤️🙏🏾

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