What happened in Aksum? My personal account

What happened in Aksum? My personal account
Tigrai Hiking Group members posing for a photo shoot.

Editor’s note: The eyewitness account below is written by Getu Mak who witnessed the events in Aksum. Getu Mak is a lecturer at Adigrat University, a founder of TigraiCodes, and active member of Tigrai Hiking Group.


When all was well

I was a strong believer who used to cling to the idea that there is nothing which holds people back from whatever they want to achieve, until I was taught otherwise in the ongoing genocidal war in Tigray. I was late to appreciate words of wisdom from Paulo Coelho: “at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.” 

In contrast to the rest of Ethiopia, Tigray was a safe and secure land to live and to work in. This deceived most of us not to suspect that, anytime, things could go wrong. As a CEO and one of the trainers at TigraiCodes (a non-profit organization which teaches high schoolers to code), I had a plan to stay in Aksum for one month (starting early October) along with my comrades. We were on a grander mission – to inspire and teach computer coding to Aksum high schoolers. Just one week prior to the end of our program, the government of Tigray declared a state of emergency. To our dismay, Ethiopia had declared war on Tigray.

TigraiCodes members giving coding training to Aksum high school students at Aksum University.

War on Tigray, yet again?

After about twenty years, war became inevitable, and the unfortunate Tigray was again destined to be a battleground for the warlords. Starting Wednesday, November 04, 2020, everything was completely in a shutdown; banks, telecommunication, electricity, potable water and every means of transportation were suddenly blocked. The people knew that this was done deliberately by the Ethiopian government as a part of the looming war. 

Fire rained on Aksum

On Thursday, November 19, 2020, around 2.00 pm, Aksum and its surrounding were heavily and randomly shelled  from afar by heavy artilleries by the combined force of the Eritrean and Ethiopian troops to create havoc and terror, just like they did in the cities in western Tigray such as Humera, Sheraro and Shire, a couple of days before their arrival in Aksum. The entire city was in turmoil and every creature, not only humans but also animals, was in a great shock. However, as there were heavy tensions from the battle in Selekleka (around 37 kilometers west of Aksum) that have lasted for a couple of days, we had a conjecture that the enemy would easily give in Aksum. Immediately, I saw thousands of civilians, including my friends who were staying with me in a hotel, flee to the nearby villages, or to Mekelle (on foot), or to the nearby monasteries to save their lives. Many more civilians also fled from their home and spent that night at St. Mary of Zion church, and took refuge at similar other shields begging God’s mercy. 

The despair

For my part, I had no clue what to do and where to go at that moment. I just looked up at the sky in vain. In despair, I just got back to my hotel room. I didn’t know the way out. I felt my humanity being swallowed by the mind-blowing thoughts, and everything was at the mercy of fate. All the energy, concentration and the things I wanted to have vanished in no time. To me, life became what Paulo Coelho said: I became the slave of fate before I knew it. I was left with two choices: to survive or to die, being locked inside that narrow room like the Rwandan holocaust survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, as she narrated in her book “Left to tell.”

For almost a week, only the Ethiopian Army stayed there, while the Eritrean Army continued their ride to Adwa. They robbed the government offices, killed civilians, searched and inspected well-known persons’ and investors’ houses. They destroyed one of the international hotels, i.e., Brana Hotel, and they committed so many crimes behind the scene as the day got darker.  

The Aksum massacre

Exactly, after 8 days, on November 27, 2020, the Eritrean Army (around 50 – 80 soldiers) came back to Aksum and started patrolling the whole city, the nearby mountains and the churches. From afar, spotting through the window in my room, around 6.00 pm, after they took some pictures at the monuments and St. Mary, I saw them trekking to Mt. Mai-Khuho. The whole community was provoked and angry with their return and was warily watching their activities. Yet, it was obvious that they were back for something which was even worse. The next morning, around 7.00 am, a battle broke out between the Eritrean and Tigray’s army which consisted of around 30 militias who came from the nearby villages. The youths residing in the city stood in support of the army of Tigray in what was an inevitable life or death scenario. The battle lasted until 5.00 pm, before the whole city was surrounded with additional thousands of Eritrean troops who came from different corners of the city. Then every soldier from the Eritrean Army began firing bullets at every civilian who happened to be found on the streets. The mountain I hiked and camped out along with my other friends from Tigray Hiking Group a year ago, now became a place of attack causing the loss of the lives of hundreds of civilians. It felt like I was watching a horror movie made in my dreams. Never have I imagined that I would see such ruthless killings and a precarious situation in the city where I spent half of my life. 

It is hard to estimate the exact number of people who were shot dead by the time the one-day battle was over. The number of corpses buried at the church of St. Mary of Zion was estimated to be around 720. In fact, this doesn’t include the number of farmers who were murdered in their homes at the nearby villages, which was worse than that of Aksum’s catastrophe. I am an eyewitness that the Ethiopian government troops were wiping out their own civilian citizens, compelling me to question whether Tigrayans are considered as Ethiopians or not. I also saw two Muslims who were murdered and their corpses were lying on one of the corners of the street around Piazza.

Life in terror

The next morning, on November 29, 2020, so many dead bodies were dumped on the street corners. The Eritrean Army went to and knocked every door around St. Michael’s neighborhood. They had a well-organized team to do looting and murders. That day, they killed hundreds of youths and Militias (if found and recognized), stole numerous properties from each household, including jewelries from the mothers’ necks in the daylight. In some of the houses, the minute they did that, they asked the women to make them coffee mockingly saying: “We, Eritreans and Tigrians are brothers and sisters.” What a cruel act?! If not in movies, would anyone imagine this would be happening to innocent civilians by fellow humans, except by Nazis? 

Ever since that day, for about two months, it has been common to hear the sound of fired bullets and bad news of 1 to 3 murdered people every night. It has become a regular encounter as a result of the curfew decreed by the command post. So many households, governmental offices, hospitals and clinics, public institutions, private companies and hotels, bars and electronic shops, and stores were systematically looted and demolished. There were scores of people with chronic illness dying each day in their own homes as there was no medication available in the pharmacies in the city.  

Today I live with countless horrific memories among which I mention the following. Around twelve years old boy, without any hesitation choosing to fight rather than being shot dead in indoor killings, was carrying two guns on both hands and joining the battle on November 28, 2020. I saw a young lady who was gang-raped by the Eritrean troops searching anti-pregnancy medicines home after home. I saw a group of hapless men passing through the main road carrying a pregnant woman on a wood pallet on their shoulders looking for a midwifery. God knows if she is alive or dead. Veterans (including my uncle) of the 17 years struggle against the Dergue regime were forced by the Eritrean Army to kneel and walk barefoot on the harvested lands. St. Mary’s hospital gate was used as a makeshift camp by the Ethiopian troops. Stolen ambulances of the Red Cross were used as means of transportation for the Eritrean Army. A guy whom I met and knew in the hotel got killed with three bullets fired on his chest in front of us outside of the hotel on the street. A mother who was looking for her lost son found him dead on the street, and she was forced by the Eritrean Army to jump over her son’s corpse lying on the street ten times back and forth. I saw horse carts (two-wheel carts drawn by horse) loaded with corpses going to the church for burial. The 48 hours went by without any thought and availability of food and drink in the hotel I was staying at. Every second, fate was deciding if we’d live or die. 

Lords of the lies

While all these were happening in Aksum, I watched the Ethiopian prime minister, a Nobel Peace prize winner, saying that “not even one civilian got killed” in one of his Addis-based local outlets, despite all the atrocious crimes he has been committing together with his allies. Some Popes and priests from Addis, escorted by special commandos, came to celebrate ‘Hidar Zion’ (the annual celebration of St. Mary’s day). They were attempting to show the world that the holiday celebration ended peacefully, but that day was a dark and bloody day for all Tigrayans in general, and residents of Aksum in particular. Moreover, “TPLF is dead once and for all, no more Woyane!” was what the Ethiopian troops  loaded with guns chanted while they met ordinary people on the streets, as if all the civilians murdered and intimidated were pro-TPLF. 

Fight for freedom

As I write this, the Ethiopian government is committing heinous crimes against humanity that have never been heard of elsewhere but in the concentration camp, Tigray. Yet, I don’t really know why the world remains coy. The silence hurts, and in the words of Martin Luther King jr., “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.

The ongoing genocidal war in Tigray is devastating in its destruction, irresistible in its ferocity, appalling in its cruelties, and neo-Nazi in its context. It is piercing a hole through so many hearts and souls of Tigrayans and  no amount of time could help to heal. I have lost my younger brother – the little one whom I treasured as my own life. My younger sister is heavily wounded. Many of my friends’ whereabouts are yet unknown. 

I now know that we, Tigrayans, have lost everything, the beautiful things we wanted to have in our lives. The atrocities that span from Mai-Khadra to Mariam-Denglet in Edaga-Hamus, from Aksum to Bora-Slewa are horrific. We are aggrieving and going through the hardest time. Nevertheless, we are ready and well prepared to accept all the sacrifices and face all the challenges until we own a proud and a promising nation we can call ‘motherland.’ Tigray, which will become a fertile ground to every one of us to achieve all our dreams. Things will then change forever and ever afterwards. 

There are no signs whether the war will end soon. The government still continues to assault and use starvation as a weapon to its very own people hoping that it would achieve a victory at any cost. Alas, Tigray will never give up. Tigray will prevail!

Getu Mak. 

January, 2021

Mekelle, Tigray

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Gebrehiwot

    thank for sharing ur feeling and voice.

  2. Habibti

    You talked about everyone including two Muslims you saw dead (I don’t know how you knew they were Muslims but I suppose let’s say they were wearing hijab 🧕)— but yea you talked about everyone BUT not much about your own family…
    How and when did your brother die? How and when did your sister got “heavily wounded”… is she in hospital or at home? Is her wound healing or how bad is it? Esti tell us more about your actual family.

  3. tg

    I have not read any comments from Tigrayans dismissing, denying or minimizing the suffering of anyone else (Amara, Oromo, Eritrea etc…) but for some sad reason you feel entitled to write these hurtful things. The only ones benefiting are the Arabs and those being paid to do their bidding.

  4. tg

    It’s so easy to see who the Agents of Isayas (AI’s) are. They write with a lot of words, in poor English and content that is free of substance.
    Can the 2 of you please find your own community and chat there. You will find line minds who will appreciate you. Please just go.

  5. burka

    I do not really understand what an ordinary Tigrian benefit from such kind easy to prove outright lies ,like in one the writer said”A guy whom I met and knew in the hotel got killed with three bullets fired on his chest in front of us outside of the hotel on the street.” Imagine he witnessed himself ,he did not mention why they singled out that person among him and others,
    above all, the writer fail miserably to mention who caused all this. he purposefully omitted to mention how the war was launched by preemptively attacking all the military Baracks station in the region at one time .they mention the attack as “a lightening strike”

  6. Abity

    Getu you are a very good writer and a story teller, I acknowledge your talent but what you are missing in this story when you start you are trying to tell as Tigray was a peaceful place when you comparing from other part of Ethiopia. Who was making a chaos in to Oromia, Somali region, Benshangul Gumz, Afar, Amhara? who was organized to genocide Amhars and Orthodoxs in Somali region, Oromia? who was facilitate OLF Shene, Kimant to genocide Amhara? Who was organized Bedeno and Arba Gugu genocide back in the days? Who was organized and facilitated Gura Ferda? Who was genocides Welkait Humera, Raya? Who was torched thousands of Ethiopians for the past 27 years who was looting the country since 1991 every single valuable public properties included power transformers, cables, machineries? Mr Getu wher were you when all those crimes are committed by this criminals? Don’t be biased, if you have a humanity you should have been a voice for all voiceless. Now a Tigray problem is not only your problem we must help the people who need help without any question. They need our help. People must get food, medicine, shelter and all what they need. Mr Getu for your independent Tigray creation idea go for it I support you but what you have to think you must considere to share a border with Eritrea from north Amhara from south and west Afar from east this is unchangeable fact buddy. I’m with you to support Tigry.

    1. tg

      Please learn the definition and depth of meaning of the word GENOCIDE. You can’t just apply it wherever you want to and dilute it’s meaning and impact whenever you choose. Have some respect for the lives that are in the crosshairs of being wiped off the face of the earth. Do you understand that this is mot about politics ?

  7. Bre

    I don’t want at all to underestimate the experience of going through such a painful journey. It could be somewhat an indication of what happened in the area. However, I fail to buy in the whole story as it tends to have only one side of the experience. I also somewhat doubt the capacity of a coder from a university to write such a well-crafted article.

    1. Brie

      The difference is you are assuming too many things while he wrote an experience he lived through. Moreover, he is not just a coder. He is a lecturer and founder of the coding initiative. What other side of story do you want to hear? This is what he went through and feel.

  8. t g

    Getu, you are a true son of Axum. I went through pride and deep pain as I read your posting. I cried for your losses especially your little brother and your sister. It is deeply painful. You are a smart, progressive and articulate person. Just the kind of person that the Muderer Afeworki targets because you are in real life a beacon of light for your homeland, Tigray !
    Thank you for narrating your experience with enough detail to help walk through the experience with you. I would love to collaborate with you to help restore your teaching efforts. God bless you and continue to keep you safe. May He spread the wings of the Arch Angel Michael over you and the whole of Tigray and Tegaru.
    Please don’t loose heart !

  9. ERMIAS

    Hi, Getu !! Thank you for your info. on the account every Tigrayan is facing now.
    These heinous crimes which are not expected to carry out by fellow human being, esp. by Eritreans which speak same language with us, having of ethnic ascendency with us and we Tigrayan scarified our life for their independency is a shocking and full of betrayal. But, this a cause for all of Tigrayan to establish our free Tigray state!!
    TIGRAY will prevail !!

  10. WeyEneWeyEne

    So the Weyane militia thugs shot at the solders and you admit even the people joined in.Be it Eritrean soldiers or Ethiopian. They have every right to defend themselves.Don’t start a fight you can not finish.

  11. Dave majusty

    The people of Tigray belong to Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia belong to Tigray. Therefore, the Ethiopian people do not simply ignore the plight of the people of Tigray and Ethiopian history also does not show that.

    The government has been doing everything possible to help the affected Tigrayan people but the members of TPLF diaspora spread disinformation hoping that the international community would interfere in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

  12. Esayas Mulugeta Teklu

    Thank you for being voice of the voiceless !

  13. TPLF and puppettes are kmow for lies and fabvrication of news since conception telling the youth Ethiopia has 100 years and Amhara is your invader killer.later the lies grown and became official when TPLF took power and control Menelik II palace and the paid education advisors put Ras Dashen mountain in to Tigray region and the worst happen when Badme was give n to Eritrea by UN the leir TPLF leader Seyoum Mesfin cheated Ethiopians Badme was given to Ethiopia.The fake news of death of generals Bacha and Abebaw the show down of Belarus planes as Ethiopians, the Beirut Airport as Axum that BBC exposed your lies a below shame on you TPLF bandits you are disgrace not only to Ethiopia but to whole Africa and Black race. The reason for the war in Tigary is looter TPLF and the rule of law to dismiss TPLF is justified by African union. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/19/tigray-tplf-war-against-ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-isnt-about-autonomy-its-about-economic-power/ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54985545 https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1390&context=jil https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/african-union-ethiopia-acted-legitimately-tigray-74839944

    1. YehdegoAsgedom

      which Ethiopian community are you using here to tell us your lie? if you have valid and productive idea, come up with your true name otherwise get out from here please.

  14. Mesegna keberabe

    The lie star when you said Ethiopia declared war on Tigray. Tigray prepared for war the last two and half years that is why they started the war on our defence force.
    You are Garbage

  15. Abraham

    You are brave to recollect and share the horrific and torturing memories of what you (We) have been through! Be strong.

  16. Berihu

    Dear Getu
    It is very delightful writing and observation. It is awful that my people is going through this difficulty.

  17. Andebrhan Tesfay Berhe

    Deep down In the abyss our pain, we must have the courage to accept what happens un to us Tegarus in reality.
    And ofcourse we can see that The Almighty God may want to see that an ever stronger society of Tegaru’s in the making!!!
    ” who knows may be we can call it an era of Tigreans Exodus Like the Israelites Exodus ”
    be it during “the era of Egyptian pharaoh”
    Or after the 2nd world wars holocaust.

  18. samuel

    Horrific, I feel so sad, We Tigray people doesn’t deserve this Genocidal war but we deserve love and honor for what we Tegaru sacrifice For fucking Ethiopia. Be Strong my people We will pass this all dark days and Tigray will prevail!

  19. Wal

    So what? TPLF fired stolen Ethiopian army’s rockets to Asmara. Was that flower or love letter? The lifetime ignorants, you never have a mind part that rationalize. Ember tegadalay; terarawon yanketeketew leba; greater Tigray; all gone for good. Sorry, no part of Ethiopia cares for Tigray now or in future as Tigray witness silent for 27 years of crime and supported TPLF crimes. Go to hell! Get your independence and ask refugue to the neighboring region you hate but that is same region that buried TPLF where it was born.

    1. Aklil

      ካብ’ቲ ሕሉፍ ድንቁርናኻ ክትወጽእ ዘይትመሃር።
      ኣይትሓፍርን ዲኻ?
      ከም ንስኻን እቶም ነቲ ኣብ ላዕሊ ዝጸሓካዮ ቃላትን ዝደግሙ ካድረታት ኢሳያስ ኢኹም ዓድና ማሕዩር ገይርኩምዋ ዘሎኹም። ከም ሰብ ቁሩብ ሕልናኻ ኣይወቕሰካን? ጎሓፍ መበላሸዊ ዓዱ

  20. Hayet

    Thank you for sharing Getu. I am so sorry you have to go through that. Ajoka.

  21. Seme

    Thank you Getu Mak. It is unfortunate we tegaru have to go through this but, this will pass too. Tigray will Prevail!

    1. Russom

      What is so sad about what the digital tigrawot doing is making LYING and DISINFORMATION the CORE VALUE OF TIGRAY. Frankly ONLY A FOP DOODLE will have a take on this falsified material.
      I hope that the mind set and recognisable character of future generation of Tigray will not be imbued with this ugly and abhorrent side of few humans in this planet. God forbid that this fellow did not say that he was raped.
      In my opinion the best way forward for the people of Tigray is to make a serious self searching and appraisal of the crisis and make workable strategy. Continuing the war will only lead to death and misery. If any one thinks the masses of Tigray will gain from war, then he is not THINKING. But THINKING is HARD as they say less much STRATEGICALLY THINKING.In this this respect no one can blame the tplf and its followers of being strategic thinkers.Empty arrogance and trying to be bigger than what actually you are only leads to humiliating disaster.
      I personally wish the masses of Tigray peace safety and participants at the centre of Ethiopian life in all aspects.
      Good luck

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