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Who is fighting for Tigray?

During his first state visit to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, Abiy Ahmed said: “Ethiopia without Tigray is as meaningless as a car without an engine.” On many occasions, Abiy Ahmed didn’t hide his admiration for the people of Tigray and their role in building the Ethiopia he inherited.



“Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom.” Dalai Lama

During his first state visit to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, Abiy Ahmed said: “Ethiopia without Tigray is as meaningless as a car without an engine.” On many occasions, Abiy Ahmed didn’t hide his admiration for the people of Tigray and their role in building the Ethiopia he inherited.

In a sudden turn of events, Abiy changed his tone and started spewing vile and hateful rhetoric against the people of Tigray — both dangerous and consequential. Ethiopians followed his lead, and many acted upon them. In current Ethiopia, Tigrayans are demonized, dehumanized, and ethnically profiled. In fact, Abiy said the people of Tigray are weeds to be removed at any cost.

In his brutal war on Tigray, Abiy Ahmed has been using everythingat his disposal to destroy Tigray and crush the spirit of Tigrayans. He conspired with Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea to force the people of Tigray into subjugation, but to no avail.

The War on Tigray

What started as a ‘law enforcement operation’ with ‘clear, limited and achievable objectives’ has turned into a genocidal war: messy as hell, with a potential to destabilize the Horn of Africa and, clearly, an unachievable objective.

Abiy’s stated goal when he started the war was to bring a handful of top TPLF leaders to justice. However, getting a handful of top TPLF leaders to justice did not have to entail massacring civilians, using starvation as a weapon, systematic and industry-level rape, and obliterating non-civilian infrastructures such as healthcare services, schools, and factories. Most importantly, it did not require the help of the UAE, the entire Eritrean army, the Somalian military, and the entire Ethiopian military, including militias and special forces from all the regions. Recently, Abiy called all abled civilians to join the war.

Is the war really against TPLF?

During the article’s writing, Tigray was under siege for more than a month, cut off from the rest of the world, where only 10% of the required humanitarian aid made it to the region. About 900 000 are already in famine condition, and more than 2 million are on the brink of famine.

For months, especially after Tigray Defense Force (TDF) routed the invading force from Mekelle and most of Tigray, Tigryans have been detained and their business closed in Addis Ababa and all over Ethiopia. Ethnic targeting and mass arrest has been happening in broad daylight targeting all Tigrayans, from notable entrepreneurs to street traders and beggar. The reasons for their arrest were as laughable as they were bizarre. Some businesses were closed because they played Tigrigna music while others for violating covid regulations. During those days, the government called demonstrations rallying tens of thousands in packed streets all over Ethiopia, including the capital). Individuals were arrested because they spoke Tigrigna (the language of Tigray) on the phone and some were accused of planning bombing and working with TDF. Most of them are currently held in warehouse-style buildings and prisons, and some are being paraded as POWs in national TV.

Apart from the civilians, the Tigray opposition party members, Tigrayan journalists, and humanitarians have been arrested. Even those anti-TPLF Tigrayans who colluded with the government to topple TPLF are not spared. If you are Tigrayan, that by itself makes you a target — simple as that.

Thus, although Abiy framed the war as if it were between TPLF and the rest of Ethiopia, the fact on the ground is far from that, which begs the question: Who is Abiy fighting against? And, who is fighting for Tigray?

The short answer is the people of Tigray.

TDF advancing towards Lalibela in foggy weather (Photo by ደስታ ገብረመድህን). TDF on the move (Photo at the top middle from france24)

The many faces of the people’s fight

In addition to the former members of ENDF, the local Tigray Militia, and Tigray Special Forces, hundreds of thousands, rejecting subjugation and witnessing the cruelty their people are enduring, have joined the struggle fighting against the invaders in the mountains of Tigray and beyond. They are fighting as one to defend and free Tigray from the invading forces, all under the Tigray Defense Force (TDF). TDF emerged as a military structure that includes Tigrayans from all walks of life led by TPLF, those who had parted ways with the TPLF, Tigray opposition parties, and the new generation of leaders.

Giving up their comfort and safe lives, many are at the war front. Hundreds of thousands are in the mountains of Tigray and beyond, ready to sacrifice their lives; many already have. Thus, that the war with TPLF is one of the countless lies Abiy has told the world. As much as we do, he knows he is fighting the people of Tigray.

In addition to TPLF leaders, leaders of Tigray’s opposition parties have joined the struggle. Early April, we saw a video of a senior official of the National Congress of Great Tigray (Baytona party) from the battlefield. In the video, he spoke about Tigray’s future and the aim of the struggle. He stressed what needs to be done beyond winning the war and forming an Independent Tigray where Tigray shouldn’t have to be forcefully integrated with those whose dreams and wishes do not align with Tigray.

In March, a photo of a senior member of the Tigray Independent Party was circulating on social media from TDF-held areas. He is one of the vocal advocates of independence, and he has written a book where he outlined his ideas on founding an independent Tigray. Many who had previously taunted him pushing for independence have since regretted doubting him. In June, we learned a chairperson of the Salsay Weyane Tigray (SAWET) political party (an opposition party in Tigray) joined the armed struggle.

In addition to politicians, prominent figures have joined the struggle. For example, the former president of Mekelle University and an award-winning researcher and professor has been active on social media from the battlefield. Using his platform, he has been showing the destruction Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have been causing on civilian properties and infrastructures to the world. We have also seen numerous academics, beloved figures among the Tigrayan youth, teachers, authors, and community organizers with their AK 47, surreal at the beginning but an ordinary occurrence lately.

In this war, we have seen Tigrayans from all walks of life and social strata on the battlefield. Ask any Tigrayan; they will tell you about someone they know who has joined TDF: a parent, friend, colleague, sibling who used to be a medical doctor, farmer, student, engineer, artist, entrepreneur, educator, designer, professional footballer, what have you. They are there. Thus, the war is not with TPLF. Instead, it is with the people of Tigray. In this war, one thing the Tigrayan elite will NOT be accused of is that ‘they (the elite or those considered well-off)’ sent the ‘poor’ to the battlefield while they lived comfortably and far from the heat.

Before TDF’s control of most of Tigray, in an AP article, a 19-year-old who was raped by Ethiopian soldiers and became pregnant said she wanted to join TDF as soon as possible. She said:

“I want to go,” […] “You will die if you stay home, and you will die if you go out there…. I would rather die alongside the fighters.”

She was not alone. The sentiment was shared by many as a mirror reflection of what the youth felt almost 40/50 years ago. As a matter of fact, what else is left for them to do? The only viable option was to join the armed struggle and ensure their survival.

Anyway, whether Abiy wanted to accept his defeat or not, the war against Tigray through force of arms has spectacular failed; Abiy has waged another war, this time with food.

Fighting the other fight

Within Ethiopia, Tigrayans have shown defiance and courage in different forms. Most notable was an artist who won Gummas’s best short movie award who showed his opposition to the war in his widely circulated acceptance speech. In it, he said he cannot, yet, celebrate the award:

“that I am recognized for my work at this big stage, I should have been happy and proud. However, when my mother is weeping, when my brothers are killed and thrown off a cliff, and when savages are raping my sisters, I couldn’t gather the energy nor will to feel happy or proud. I will celebrate when my mother is consoled, and then the pride of my country is restored.”

A day after the UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock declared famine in Tigray, we saw social media posts that he joined TDF and the armed struggle.

One event that got international media attention was Abune Mathias’s unofficial statement from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC). Abune Mathias’, the head of the EOTC, condemned the genocidal war, although expected by many, was silent about the genocide. Little did we know that the regime silenced him.

In a video recorded privately by Dennis Wadle (the director of a US-based charity), Abune Mattias, said “they [the Ethiopian government] want to destroy the people of Tigray” and characterize the war and action of the invading forces as “the highest brutality and cruelty.” Although the Patriarch was repetitively silenced, he found a way to speak his mind. He urged the international community to intervene and stop the genocide. He also sent a message to Tigrayans not to be discouraged.

Tigrayan athletes, who participated in the Olympics-related event with other Ethiopians, used the occasion to show solidarity with and support their brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. They did so by wearing black (symbolic color to mourn the dead), bowing their heads, and sitting in silence: paradoxically, their silence spoke volumes. Similarly, graduates of Addis Ababa University sat down during the Ethiopian national anthem in defiance of the norm and in solidarity with their people.

During the height of the war and when reports of unspeakable atrocities were coming out, the interim administration of Tigray sent a cultural group (Kinet Tigray) to participate in the “Ethiopia Week” superficial show of unity and claim the state of normalcy in Tigray. Like their brothers and sisters, the group showed resistance by wearing black and singing a song that left many emotional. While meeting Abiy and his delegates, their disgust was visible. In what was a celebratory scene, their faces were of sorrow, hate, and disgust.

The Tigray Digital Force

Abiy has lost many things in the war on Tigray. He was once considered a reformer and peacemaker; now the world knows him as a Nobel-peace-prize- laureate-genocider and pathological liar who made deceit the primary modus operandi of his administration. Anyways, in addition to his army, once considered one of the strongest in Africa, his legitimacy, he has also lost in diplomacy. In that, the Tigray Digital Force and the Tigrayan diaspora community, in particular, have been instrumental in being the voice to the voiceless. The countless rallies and social media activism exposed what Abiy wanted to accomplish in the dark.

For someone as an exhibitionist as Abiy, accepting that the world can see the dreadful atrocities he worked so hard to hide is a significant loss. The public diplomacy and digital activism to present the Tigray’s side of the story, lobby the relevant international institutions to intervene, countering the government propaganda has been instrumental in the struggle.

It is a fact that the genocidal war has isolated Ethiopia from the rest of the world. In the process, Abiy Ahmed has lost Tigrayans, and Ethiopia has lost Tigray.

What else?

One thing that the war has done is unite Tigrayans more than ever. Those who have never been to Tigray and were distant to Tigray are now at the forefront, helping the struggle against subjugation. So, if you are still wondering who is fighting for Tigray, there you have it! THE PEOPLE OF TIGRAY are fighting for Tigray.

They are fighting to stop the genocide.

They are fighting for their freedom and dignity.

They are fighting to free Tigray once and for all!

Medhanie Gaim is a researcher in paradox theory and entrepreneurship at Umeå University.

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  1. Bekele

    August 14, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    This is dishonest

    “Most importantly, it did not require the help of the UAE, the entire Eritrean army, the Somalian military, and the entire Ethiopian military, including militias and special forces from all the regions. Recently, Abiy called all abled civilians to join the war.”

    It required. TPLF controlled more than 30 companies each having at least 1billion birr net profit. TPLF had 250k soldiers. They were a problem.

    Tigrian elite should admit it. Dishonest.

  2. Tahir Kasim

    August 14, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    Always when I watch tigray one things admired me, that was why can tigray people detached from TPLF?

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