A Swiss, German-language daily newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, an article titled “600,000 dead – and now what next? On the road in Tigray, where a war is over, but peace has not yet begun“. In it is about a massacre in Adi Qoylo (Adi Kuylo as used in the article). Below is a translation of that part of the article.
Since January, there have been flights between Addis Ababa and Mekele, the capital of Tigray. They are fully occupied. The Ethiopian government does not want journalists on these planes, it does not issue visas. The NZZ was nevertheless able to travel to Tigray and visit locations in areas under Tigrayan control. One sees a lot of liberated laughter at checkpoints or in bars where fighters sit and tell stories from the war. The relief is enormous.
But when is a war really over? When does peace begin? The relief is so great because so many terrible things have happened. People now have two things in common: they are infinitely happy that the fighting is over. And they all have at least one story of death and survival to tell.
Perhaps one needs to tell these stories before asking if peace has begun. They are stories from four places in Tigray. They are about crime and the hope that war will not return.
Adi Kuylo: The Father
Sahle Seged wanders across the field, up to the teak tree that stands in front of the rock face. He has wrapped himself in a cloth, and sometimes he pulls it shut, as if he wants to hide from the world. Sahle Seged, 29, is not one of those who laugh freely these days.
Seged indicates points in the landscape: where the cows graze, there was a corpse. And there, where a woman wanders across the field, a second corpse. And up there by the teak tree lay Sahle Seged’s father. On the day the war swept through the village of Adi Kuylo and the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers killed civilians. It was December 4, 2020, the war was four weeks old.
Between 12,000 and 60,000 civilians were killed in massacres in Tigray during the war. These are figures collected by Belgian researchers. If you now travel through Tigray, people always say something similar to Sahle Seged: “Over there in the field a massacre took place. Up there on the hill lay killed civilians.” In some places, entire villages were wiped out.
In Adi Kuylo, soldiers shot dead eight civilians that day. Three priests, four farmers and a driver. They were between 27 and 70 years old. That’s what Sahle Seged, his siblings and other villagers tell us. In Alasa, a neighboring town, 22 civilians were killed on the same day, and 42 in the surrounding area. It is the census of the villagers. Their descriptions are consistent.
Adi Kuylo is located an hour’s drive northwest of the capital Mekele on a mountainside. It’s easy to miss the village. The houses are scattered, there are almost 200 households, a community of farmers.
When the Tigray War began in early November 2020, it seemed to be over after just a few weeks. The Ethiopian troops overran the poorly prepared Tigrayans. The balance of strength was all the more unequal because the Ethiopians were supported by militias from the neighboring region of Amhara and troops from Eritrea. The Ethiopian government has long denied this. But Tigray’s residents often say that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops were traveling together. Also in Adi Kuylo.
Hills and caves offered shelter
War is often heard before you see it. The residents of Adi Kuylo heard the hits of artillery shells chasing Tigrayan troops as they retreated. Most of the inhabitants sought shelter in the hills, caves and surrounding villages. Sahle Seged, his parents and siblings also fled.
On the morning of December 4, a Friday, Sahle Seged climbed a hill overlooking Adi Kuylo. The noise of the battle had fallen silent the day before. Seged wanted to see if the troops had moved on and if he could return to the village.
They were still there. A few hundred meters away, Seged saw two men running away from a group of soldiers. He heard two shots. When the residents of Adi Kuylo list the dead of that day, they do not count the two men. No one knows where they came from. But they, too, are now buried in Adi Kuylo.
Sahle Seged ran back. But his father had already set off. He wanted to look after the house. He arrived in Adi Kuylo around noon. He was probably killed on the same day.
Sahle Seged’s brother Getnet, who ventured into the village the next morning, received news from a neighbor: his father was dead. He lies uphill, near the teak.
That Saturday, residents of Adi Kuylo who returned found six more neighbors killed. The body of a priest was found only after a week, it lay between bushes. A villager says: “When we found the bodies, we didn’t dare to scream. We were afraid the soldiers would hear us and come back.”
Seged’s father and the others killed were buried on the same day. They lie under cement slabs next to the wall that runs around the village church. While the first returnees buried the dead, more and more residents gathered at the church. In the end, they were around fifty. They mourned together, still silent, until the sun went down.
Saleh Seged only returned to Adi Kuylo on Sunday. He found the grieving Getnet and a looted house. Pots, blankets, even mirrors had been stolen by the soldiers. In the house, a black-and-white portrait of the father now hangs in a corner above the bed. Above it the red and yellow flag of Tigray.