Since the beginning of the war on Tigray in November 2020, Tigrayans have stood against state violence. This is not the first war for Tigray and Tigrayans: generations of Tigrayans have fought either against foreign invaders or oppressive fascist governments and have lived with and understood the consequences of war. Hence, they stood against it even when the odds appeared to be in favor of Tigray, and from the start, Tigrayans were visibly active on social media pleading for peace using the hashtags #StopWarOnTigray #IStandWithTigray, in hopes that other Ethiopians will recognize the dangers of civil war and show solidarity. Instead, a great majority of the Ethiopian elite celebrated the war.
Tigrayans have values and traditions, one of which is to protect the weak. As a testament to these values, there have been no reports of the death or incarceration of non-Tigrayan civilians, no records of mob lynching of civilians in Tigray. In fact, the government of Tigray made sure that Ethiopian students that had been studying in universities in Tigray returned to their families without a scratch. Prisoners of war were also handed over to the Red Cross. Civilized and moral societies know who to protect and who to attack.
On the other-hand Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and politicians with their primitive, barbaric ways attacked anything and everything in Tigray. Reports show the most vulnerable including children were killed and airstrikes continue to target residential areas and markets. The Ethiopian government went as far as manipulating the truth of the Maikadra massacre. Government activists first claimed that Wolayta/Oromo youth were killed by Tigrayan youth but later said that the victims were only Amharas. Amnesty International erroneously amplified this claim after interviewing only three people when in fact hundreds of Tigrayan witnesses and survivors of the massacre had fled to Sudan and were able to recount what had actually happened. The cruelty is that those who were killed were not only victims of this genocide, but also denied justice by the very regime that orchestrated their death. The government thrives by creating false narratives like this to fuel hatred and justify its genocidal actions.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and allied Eritrean and Amhara forces terrorized Tigrayans in all the areas that fell under their occupation. They took videos of themselves burning bodies, comfortably discussing and enjoying every minute of it; throwing human beings off of a cliff, massacring unarmed men and women of the very country they represent. Expansionist Amhara militia and FANO continue to ravage villages in western Tigray, sending bodies down the Tekeze River. One wealthy sponsor of the ongoing violence by Amhara forces, Worku Aytenew went as far as telling the soldiers to roast and eat Tigrayans like a goat”. It’s an abomination.
The massive manipulation and disinformation campaigns from the Ethiopian government to dehumanize Tigrayans continued unabated. Just recently the former head of the Amhara region shared a post that used a clip from a music video claiming that the girl featured in a scene in the video was a victim of rape by the Tigray Defence Forces to further mobilize and anger the Amhara. Agegnehu said:
It’s abhorrent and indefensible. In contrast, the government of Tigray continuously asks for independent investigations.
Many of the Ethiopian elite deceive themselves and others stating that this war is between the TPLF and Ethiopia. They claim the “ethnic” federalism is the reason behind their barbaric, genocidal actions. In fact, the multi-national federalism was put in place to prevent the exact thing that is happening now. It was put in place to protect the rights of communities and ensure indigenous groups and minorities preserve their cultural and political independence. The constitution is not the reason for the ethnically targeted attacks against groups, the constitution was the solution to the consistently forced assimilation of nations under the Ethiopian empire.
Proponents of the government also argue that the parliament has declared TPLF as a terrorist organization, even though this was done by a body without a single representative from Tigray. This is a flawed argument that’s against the basic principle of logic and democracy. The irony is the same federal government demands respect from the Tigryan people arguing it was brought to power by voters all the while pointing a gun at everyone who disagrees.
One year into the war, Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and other cities are being incarcerated in mass arrests. The ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans is ongoing everywhere. Our families have been thrown into concentration camps, while Tigrayans in Tigray remain under a communication blackout, and are starving because of a total with full support and endorsement of international and domestic actors. The government claims that the arrests have been made based on reports as part of the state of emergency declared in the country. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested including; four of my family, my neighbors, many of who served in the national army were shipped to undisclosed locations. We have no idea where some of our family members are. Their crime, nothing but their ethnicity.
High-level government officials like Adanech Abebie, Mayor of Addis Ababa speak with so much venom insulting and dehumanizing Tigrayan residents of Addis, our families, and friends. She blatantly declared that Tigrayans were being hosted in Addis Ababa, both alienating and othering residents who have lived there for years if not all their lives and implying that this right can be revoked at any time. It should not come as a surprise to the mayor that it is our country and she does not grant or deny us a right to live in it. Recently, The sadist government went door to door forcing the Tigrayans to protest against the Tigrayan forces or else face persecution.
The rest of the world values freedom of speech, fighting against oppressive ideologies while in Ethiopia resisting state violence and standing against war is considered treason. They portray the Tigrayan diaspora as supporters of a party or some paid agents whose lives are controlled by the money funded by the TPLF or brainwashed or some other label to explain to themselves why we are vocal against the Ethiopian government. In reality, the fact is this is a terrorist state and most of us want to free our families from its tyranny.
Targets On Their Head
These are conversations I have had with family and friends are written below. Tigrayans who worked really hard to make ends meet are suffering in prisons just because of their identity. Tigrayans who served in civil and private institutions are rounded up like criminals just based on their ethnic identity. Health care professionals, lawyers, professors, monks, janitors, no Tigrayan is spared from the targeted profiling. Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Children, Veterans, and their families … await freedom across Ethiopia.
I can’t stop thinking about my sister, I should have been there to protect her. Then I think about the Tigrayan neighbors, they don’t deserve that either. Then a chain of Tigrayan families and friends whose lives are in danger. My friends who went to school with me, students who came to the capital to educate themselves. businessmen, daily laborers… Yet again they are given the unfortunate fate of Tigrayans in the empire, A concentration camp.
A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions often as a result of their membership in a group which the gov’t has identified as dangerous or undesirable.
We were all there, together. We went to the same schools, shared the same meal, went to the same games, went to the same parties, mourned together, celebrated together, borrowed each other’s pans and pots… it’s surreal.
“He always took his daughter to school. I would give them a ride if I saw them walk to the taxi. A father of two, a decent man who works in the church was taken to a concentration camp. His wife did not know where he was, where to find him for two weeks. Two weeks, he had no food, no clothes, and was in Gelan concentration camp somewhere gazing to see if his family found him.
In short…my mom is the most loving and resilient person I know. She is such a force to be reckoned with. She had me at a very young age. You can say we grew up together. My mom and dad separated when I was a kid, so she raised me all by herself. Growing up, we lived in an extremely poor neighborhood in Addis Ababa, but I don’t really remember feeling poor. She made sure that I had everything. She raised me to be civil and kind, Everything I am today; I owe it to her. I remember how everyone in my neighborhood looked up to her even though she was much younger than most of them. Before she was detained, she worked at ‘Women and Children affairs’ at kebele level. I remember people specifically asking for my mom to work on their cases because she was always dedicated to helping others. The irony is, the community she served most of her life threw her in prison just because she’s Tigrayan. When my younger sister went to see her, she told her to tell me “ምስ ህዝበይ እየ ዘለኹ ዝወደይ ኣይትሕሰብ”. That’s what keeps me going.
A young man who can literally laugh with anyone, a friend to the young and old. humble and harmless always working to be a better version of himself. He is the family’s go-to person. If the young ones have questions they call him and if the older ones need favors they call him. A 28-year-old who has already been through enough languishes in jail in Addis Ababa because he is a Tigrayan. His love for Tigray is unmeasurable, always stood with the people and always spoke of Tigrayan mothers and the life they deserved. He is a good man who was working to make it in life. The war already took a lot from him and 25 days ago they took all of him.
He was in Tigray when the war broke out, beaten and abused by Eritrean forces but his life was spared by the grace of God. He then went back to his teaching and was sent to procure some books when the Tigray forces returned to Mekelle. There was no way back to Tigray so he stayed in Addis. A man who dedicated his life to education and educating others is now in a concentration camp. I hope they will release him soon.
They came home today, they tried to arrest my father who was 82 years old. They told him to climb in the car and when they realized that the car was too full they told him they will come back for him and left.
I can’t find my cousins anywhere, the police won’t tell us where they took them.
They took her from home, we don’t know where she is. Rumors are they are out of Addis.
My brother has been arrested in Oromia, he was born and raised there. The police showed up at his business and took him. We heard he is still alive, that’s all we know. He has been living in Oromia for as along as I remember, now they took all of his money and he is in prison for the past 4 months.”
They took my father , he is angry. He tells them that they are wrong to arrest him, that they are idiots for rounding up Tigrayans who have done nothing but contribute for this country. I am afraid they will hurt him but he doesn’t listen. He is a very principled man, raised me and my siblings alone. He knows he doesn’t deserve this and is refusing to be silenced.
He has been in prison for quite some time. His wife and a new born baby are alone with no one to tend to them.
They are taking them out of town, to a remote area. There is no access to food and medicine, we don’t know how to reach them.
They spend the night either crammed in one room or outside in the cold. It’s heartbreaking. Kab tom Kalot Aykeihu aytsilimu, nay tigray guday eyu, gelle kitgebir aytikil (They are not any lighter or darker than the Tigrayans in there or those who are dying to fight for our freedom, this was brought on all of us). Nothing I can do to change that.
They would only let them use the bathroom in the mornings, which was outside the warehouse they were held in and some people had to use the plastic bags for the bathroom throughout the day and night.
In a normal world, I would expect the civil associations to extend their heartfelt condolences to their Tigrayan members, support them and their families morally as they are victims of a year-long war and many have lost loved ones already. I would think a country with 98% of the population that claims to be religious would come to comfort Tigrayans and other victims of genocide. That neighbors and friends would be moved to feel the pain of their friends and colleagues. I am sure there are kind individuals who have extended their hands to Tigrayans. But many have used this opportunity to target Tigrayans and profit out of their misery.
Sadly, there is nothing new about what is happening, the pattern is clear on both sides. Fascists and resistance. In fact, many in the Horn of Africa can relate to this. Regimes sacrificing their citizens to consolidate power, forced assimilation, a genocide. It’s all too familiar.
I keep thinking about the books I have read Holocaust, the Biafra war, the Rwandan civil war, etc., and what I felt when I read them. A past lived but over, always a story of the survivor. As I read I would rush to read through the miserable parts all night horrified but expecting for it to get better, “it has to get better” I would say to myself, “in the end good has to prevail ”. I now realize that I was detached from the reality of human cruelty. Survivors were never the same, they carried the trauma with them and so do their children. I wonder how Africans and global citizens who survived civil wars feel when they hear about Tigray.
What is really outrageous in all of this is that recently the Ethiopian government is asking other Africans to unite and support its actions. Actions that involve; starving a nation, war crimes, and genocide. Activists aligned with the government have also started a campaign for #NOMORE western involvement in African matters. The supporters of the Tigray genocide have used Africa’s desire for unity and freedom as bait to campaign against accountability and justice, to complete their genocide with impunity.
It doesn’t take that much digging to uncover that this is a campaign against the freedom of indigenous people that is very much supported and funded by the regime and its international allies. The Ethiopian government is determined to commit genocide and expects the world to remain quiet as it does so. Naturally, regimes look for scapegoats to mobilize society, the Eritrean regime has successfully enslaved and incapacitated its own youth using such narratives. Today, it’s working with the Ethiopian government to destroy the lives of Ethiopian citizens. Campaigning to portray Ethiopia and Eritrea as victims of western imperialism when Abiy Ahmed is actually the Trojan horse, deceitful but not surprising. Citizens of Africa should focus on building people-to-people relationships, advocate for the underrepresented, for minorities, for the vulnerable.
As I write this, Tigrayans are chased down and detained in concentration camps based on their accents, facial marks, and ID, and nothing seems to be getting better, actually, I can’t imagine anything worse. What is worse than seeing your neighborhood on the media as the youth you grew up with mobilize and volunteer in the hunt for Tigrayans? What could be worse than knowing that children are left without parents, that people are disappearing each day and we may never learn their names? Each day checking if the rest of your family members are alive, wondering, telling yourself it’s okay to be in concentration camps as long as they don’t disappear. Each missed call is a missed chance to say goodbye. Each night ends with pillows soaked in tears praying that these innocent lives don’t vanish overnight. Each day spent exposing Ethiopia and fighting for freedom. All of the days have music in the background, fueling our determination to fight for freedom and justice against all odds.
If this was a book, I would have stayed up all night and day until I got to the part where it gets better. Unfortunately, this is real, I have to live in the reality that our families are living in concentration camps, some blocked from access, others fighting a horrible genocide and there is nothing I can do to end this phase of their lives. From a million miles away, a comfortable chair in a library full of books with the endings clearly written, I can’t help but wonder if our story will make it here. For the world to read one more time about how It failed to protect innocents and how Tigray prevailed against all odds.