After many weeks of trickling footages and reports of the many horrific crimes being committed in Tigray, it is like the dam has broken in the last few days with several investigative reports flooding the news. Some distinctly indicate perpetrators, Eritrean and Ethiopian troops, and others mention the contribution of other allied forces, Amhara militia and Fano.
A comprehensive report was published on February 26th by Amnesty International detailing the harrowing account of the Axum Massacre. No less significant have been the reports on other massacres published by various international news organizations including the analysis of the video of the Debre Abay Massacre, the three-month long investigation into the Dengelat Massacre and the detailed accounts of ethnic cleansing in Central and Western Tigray.
What to make of all of this? This brief collaborative analysis with graphics is intended to offer a condensed perspective of these massacres in the chronology that they occurred to draw attention to the overarching reality and pattern.
Interestingly, for the purposes of understanding the architecture of mass killings in Tigray, almost all of the horrific atrocities that have been reported in the investigations so far occurred after the federal government officially declared the end of the war referred to as ‘law enforcement’ by the government. This occured, on 28th of November and long after the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) claimed to have taken over major cities of Tigray . The one exception to this is the controversial Mai Kadra massacre in Western Tigray which occurred at the very outset of the conflict and which demands more investigation and analysis particularly in light of the US government report which confirms large scale ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans from West Tigray by Ethiopian and allied Amhara officials.
Axum Massacre precedes the others that have been reported upon in the last few days. The Ethiopian government, State of Emergency Fact Check social media accounts announced that ENDF had gained control of Axum on the 20th of November. This coheres with the report compiled by Amnesty but omits one crucial fact, the presence of Eritrean troops at the time. As demonstrated in the Amnesty report, the joint Ethio-Eritrean effort to take Axum included bombardment and indiscriminate shelling that took the lives of many people. After the announcement that the city was taken over by ENDF, the crimes against humanity proceeded in earnest. The height of the atrocities occurred in the systematic massacre on the 28th and 29th of November which included deliberate targeting of civilians on the streets and house to house searches and extrajudicial killings, particularly of men. Attacks were also made on people attempting to collect the dead bodies for burial. In addition, the massacres were accompanied by mass detentions and extensive looting including food and medicines from public and private properties.
The second massacre, according to our chronology here, was the one at Dengelat. Dengelat is a small village, notable for its centuries-old rock-hewn Marian Dengelat church, is close to the town of Edga Hamus, found between the much larger cities of Adigrat and Wuqro. Based on claims by the Ethiopian govt we can understand that this area was under the control and monitoring of ENDF starting from the 26th of November. A few days later, on the 30th of November, the Eritrean Army arrived in Dengelat.
Their arrival coincided with the celebration of the feast of St Mary of Zion and the faithful were caught celebrating mass at the historical church. Many, according to reports, died in and around the church grounds. This was the same day that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali told his parliament that not a single civilian was killed by his troops. In the following two days, up to December 2nd, 2020, came the door to door searches and extrajudicial killings of men and children as young as 14 and the enforced mass burials.
As a continuation of the chronological analysis of the massacres and crucial incidents that led up to it, the next series of reports of massacres come from January and February 2021. Each analyzed and documented massacre demonstrates a systematic and coordinated series of crimes featuring ethnic cleansing and the normalization of mass killings to terrorise the population into submission.
As seen in the timeline below the investigative piece by Zecharias Zelalem, witness testimony and satellite imagery establish the order in which many villages, only a few named, in the Maekelay (central) district of Tigray were burned to the ground and their inhabitants killed in the process. According to the reporting this started in early January and has been continued to as recently as February 16th 2021.
The Debre Abay Massacre, named after the famous monastery nearby and which was the first to be established through videotape evidence, also happened within this timeframe. According to reporting by Tghat media, this massacre occurred between the 5th and 6th of January and followed the same progression as that witnessed in the Axum and Dengelat massacres. The joint Ethio-Eritrean troops shelled the small town of Mai Hrmaz. Once they were able to take the town, the troops then went on a killing and looting spree reportedly claiming at least a hundred lives. The videotape which was verified as not being doctored and geolocated to the Debre Abay monastery by the Telegraph analysis reveals at least 40 civilian bodies. One can also hear and see men in Ethiopian military uniforms speaking in accented Amharic placed to the southern or western Ethiopia. Inexplicably and sadistically this footage includes a foul interrogation between one of the survivors and the Ethiopian soldiers.
This brief chronology only references the massacres corroborated by independent investigations. Other countless reports of atrocities that have been shared by survivors and families of the victims have not been included. Even so, looking at these examples in tandem including the weaponization of rape and hunger paints a clear and very disturbing picture of what has been unfolding since the declaration of war.
After compiling and analyzing patterns of the reported massacres by independent investigators, the following overarching elements stand out. The first element is that these massacres all occurred after Ethiopian and Eritrean forces took over that part of Tigray. The second is that all of the violations and crimes follow a recognizable pattern:
- indiscriminate and unlawful shelling of civilian infrastructure which has of itself been the subject of a report by Human Rights Watch which ends by requesting further investigation by the United Nations.
- mass killings, some of which we have discussed here
- door to door searches and the murder of men in particular
- looting of essentials like food and medicines to starve the rest of the population
- razing and making uninhabitable whole villages – including the 500+ structures destroyed in Gijet as recently as the 25th of February
- Destruction and desecration of churches, monasteries, mosques and other significant monuments of cultural identity
- Delaying and prohibiting proper burials
This systematic pattern has been replicated by soldiers of the various allied forces – i.e. the Amhara regional militia and informal ‘fano’ recruits followed the same pattern as seen by Eritreans in central Tigray – including Axum and as evidenced by Ethiopian troops in Debre Abay. This indicates co-ordination and possibly then intent, leading inevitably to the conclusion that what is happening is genocide.
As noted by many in recent days, international bodies are reluctant to use the term genocide for two main reasons. The first is the legal one of establishing intent and the second is that it binds the IC to take direct action that it may otherwise not be inclined to pursue. Having said so, however, there are general markers that have been established to determine the risk of genocide – which, when met must at least mean the international community – the United Nations Security Council in this instance – has to refer the issue for further investigation. These markers have not only been met, with the continuous stream of reports of atrocities that are ongoing they have been exceeded. It is inconceivable that in light of all of this the world can ignore Tigray Genocide any longer.