By Aman Semayawi
The genocidal war on Tigray, is one of the worst in recent times as the people of Tigray were kept permanently under siege and away from international media and organisations. The siege on Tigray is a war crime and a major strategic tool of the Ethiopian state that reveals its genocidal intent, as the blockade is aimed to subdue regional forces to total surrender and also create conditions that would not allow for survival of the people of Tigray. The main actors of the genocide are the government of Ethiopia, headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki, and Amhara expansionists. Tigray, located between Eritrea and the Amhara region, was easy for the genocidal allies to impose a complete siege and thwart the people of Tigray to starvation and misery. The western border of Tigray, bordering Sudan, was strategically blockaded by the aggressors, preventing a life supply corridor into Tigray.
Each member of the alliance of genocide against the people of Tigray has its own reason for participation in the deadly war. For a historical understanding of the investment each political actor had in the war, let me start from 1991 when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), among others, overthrew the brutal military regime that ruled Ethiopia for seventeen years with an iron fist. After a 30 year civil war, Eritrea finally earned its independence from the Ethiopian Empire in 1993.
Mistrust of the TPLF-led EPRDF: Eritrean Independence
In 1991 after the fall of the mighty Derg, as the socialist military regime called itself, Ethiopia was at a crossroads. Besides the certainty of Eritrea’s hard-fought independence, the fate of the rest of Ethiopia was uncertain. The TPLF, which was the leader of the fight against the Derg regime, crafted a representative political front called the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which mainly comprised four major ethnically-based parties.
Upon assuming power, the TPLF-led EPRDF strategically endorsed the independence of the state of Eritrea, which was one of fourteen regional administrations of Ethiopia until 1991. This endorsement happened without due process and participation of the Ethiopian people who felt slighted, losing access to the sea and the trade advantages that come with it. The TPLF led-EPRDF’s unilateral decision single-handedly created deep resentment within Ethiopia’s social fabric, including among the people of Tigray, the region from which the elites of TPLF originated, but even more so among the elites of the Amhara region. Relinquishing Ethiopia’s access to the sea is thus one of the main points of contention which created deep grudges within the elites of Amhara, who henceforth saw the TPLF as an anti-Ethiopian entity that would act against the interests of its own country.
Mistrust of the TPLF-led EPRDF: The Establishment of the Ethiopian Constitution
From day one, the EPRDF faced major challenges, including civil disobedience, mainly from Ethiopian elites of Amhara origin and remnants of the Derg attempting to sabotage the new leadership. A few years after assuming power, the EPRDF adopted a new constitution that made a significant change in Ethiopia’s government structure and political landscape.
This created more mistrust and opposition to the country’s political agenda, especially among the Amhara nationals, who were comfortable with centrally governed “One Ethiopia” and against the ethnically designed federal structure that gave more constitutional power to the regions of the federal system. The new arrangement caused more hate and adversity for the TPLF, in particular, and Tigrayans at large.
Sowing the Seeds of Genocide: Eritrea (1993-2020)
While the political atmosphere in Ethiopia was contentious, the situation in Eritrea was ecstatic.The EPLF and its leader were celebrated as messiahs of liberation. People forecasted the country’s future to be so bright that it would reach Singaporian standards in the matter of a decade. The Eritrean diaspora and the elites from within saw the country’s future with rose-tinted glasses dreaming of an Eritrea à la Switzerland that would leave the rest of Africa far behind. Unfortunately, for the Eritreans, the reality was everything but rosy.
The EPLF and its sole dictator, Isaias Afewerki, had no interest whatsoever in creating an environment conducive to lifting the country’s living standards over the poverty line, let alone bringing it to the standards of Europe or Singapore. Obviously, Eritreans had some valid reasons for such dreams, though.
Eritrea was blessed to have relatively better infrastructure than the rest of Ethiopia, with more than 1000 KM coastline, good road conditions, and two port cities. The urban infrastructure in Eritrea was developed through the labour of Eritreans during the Italian colonial occupation. Had it not been for the much celebrated brutal dictator and his corrupt PFDJ entourage, the fairly better situated infrastructure and human resources could have created an environment conducive for further economic advancement of Eritrean society.
However, the most important driving engine for a country to thrive economically was missing. With Isaias at the top of EPLF, good governance was a term that had no place in Eritrea’s terminology. The EPLF destroyed every gleam of hope for growth and transformation. Many patriotic and diligent Eritreans dedicated to investing in their country and making a change were either discouraged and chased out of the country or disappeared mysteriously.
The call for adopting the drafted constitution and paving the way for participative governance with free and fair elections by many of the senior fighters of the EPLF called the G15 (Group of 15) ended in their immediate incarceration and disappearance. With the disappearance of the G15, the hope for a better Eritrea was buried too. While some supporters of Isaias’ regime, mainly in diaspora, continued drumbeats glorifying the lifetime dictator, most Eritreans became paralyzed and unable to find a common cause in fighting against the brutal dictator.
The sufferings of Eritreans due to the infinite conscription, socio-economic demise and diplomatic exclusion under President Isaias Afeworki‘s leadership were unbearable. Many of the youth left the country even risking their lives due to shoot to kill orders at Eritrea’s borders. The fact that there were no perspectives for an ordinary life with hopes for career and marriage left them with no other option but to leave their country under any circumstances.
The PFDJ and their leader Isaias Afewerki though kept blaming the TPLF for all the misery Eritreans faced under their reign. At times they reasoned out that they couldn’t focus on development while their border demarcation issue is pending whereby they blamed EPRDF for failing to abide by the ruling of the border commission. The PFDJ propaganda machinery was also engaged for decades in spreading hateful defamatory speeches against the TPLF and Tigrayans at large. In other words they kept telling Eritreans they were living that miserable life because of Tigrayans. Many Eritreans living in Eritrea and the diaspora fell for the baseless accusations and owned it.
Sowing the Seeds of Genocide: Ethiopia (1991-2020)
Albeit the initial challenges faced by the EPRDF, the multi-ethnic political front established stable ground to maintain power. Focusing on growth and development, the government enacted policies opening various opportunities to lift the living standards of much of the population. The new opportunities were well received by much of the population, especially those living in rural areas. However, after the passing of the party’s long-term leader and mastermind Meles Zenawi, the party drifted into power-mongering and corruption. EPRDFs internal faction increased state corruption and the cumulative hate towards TPLF impacted the political arena negatively. The controversial master plan of the EPRDF to expand the Ethiopian Capital Addis Ababa into the neighbouring Oromia Zones triggered an uprising of the Oromo youth called “Qeerroo movement” that resulted in Abiy Ahmed’s power takeover.
The riot-based power succession paved the way for an alliance against the TPLF to emerge, the impacts spilling over to the people of Tigray, and ultimately resulting in the Tigray Genocide. Right after assuming power, the young and power-hungry prime minister crafted a tripartite alliance against the TPLF that included him, the ageing Eritrean dictator and the land greedy Amhara expansionists. Phrases like “Oromara” specifying the unity of Oromo and Amara political elites were popularised, and shuttle diplomacy between Abiy Ahmed and the Eritrean leader were atop their daily schedules. Profiling TPLF and Tigray as a common enemy was the foundation for the strategic partnership of the triad.
Abiy Ahmed knew the level of hate the Eritrean leader and the Amhara elites have towards TPLF and the people of Tigray. He also knew that he could not have a powerful hegemony as long as the TPLF was strong enough to challenge his power. So, he gave a green light to both hateful parties to unleash unimaginable atrocities against the people of Tigray until they satisfied their yearning for bloodshed and utter destruction.
Prior to the start of the war on Tigray, as is the case in most genocidal wars, the triangle of evil was heavily engaged in fabricating myths, spreading lies, blackmailing the people of Tigray, and making them responsible for every evil deed, including crimes deliberately committed by the government. A wave of discriminatory and dehumanising language was launched against ethnic Tigrayans, these included descriptions and comparisons of Tigrayans to weeds, cancer or pests to draw a picture of inhumanity in the minds of Ethiopians and Eritreans. Almost every part of Ethiopian society was engaged in “Operation Hate,” including artists, athletes, singers, actors, archbishops, journalists, teachers, literally every social class.
Cause and effect of ethnically targeted hate incitements against Tigrayan
The PFDJ propaganda machinery, led by its leader Isaias Afewerki, has been putting all the blame for the poor living conditions of Eritreans on TPLF. The Eritrean government started its hate campaign against TPLF and the people of Tigray soon after the border war in 1998, which Eritrea lost in such a drastic way that it could not recover morally and socioeconomically. Since then, the Eritrean government led by President Isaias Afewerki has been hostile against Ethiopia, and the TPLF in particular. Isaias Afewerki grudgingly waited for a suitable time for revenge. After due war preparation, and upon the invitation of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Eritrea launched an all-out war against Tigray, mobilising vast amounts of its population between the ages 15 to 65. The conscripts were trained to go to war against the TPLF and Tigray’s regional forces, and destroy public infrastructure, including hospitals and schools.
Moreover, they were instructed to kill every youth above the age of seven and to rape and gang rape Tigrayan women to humiliate them. They were also told to loot whatever tools or home equipment they found, including food and any other goods they deemed necessary. Livelihoods like livestock and cattle or donkeys were not spared from looting. The strategy had multiple purposes, as the livestock could be used as food supply for the invading forces while concurrently leaving local communities without food, leading to starvation. In other words, those who escaped gunshots face slow death through starvation. In their genocidal euphoria the Eritrean soldiers even looted cutlery, kitchen utensils, and jerry cans and destroyed everything they could not carry.
The brutality of Eritrean troops’ behaviour in Tigray raised many questions regarding to what extent they must have been dehumanised by the Eritrean regime to behave in such a way against civilians. Their necrophilic drive is one such symptom of abnormalities in their behaviour. As if they get some sort of satisfaction by the sheer presence of corpses, for days they would not allow the communities to bury their loved ones who were massacred until the bodies decay created an inescapable stench. As if they are not offspring of their mother’s womb, as if they do not have a sister or a daughter, they were extremely brutal on Tigrayan women committing the worst kind of sexual abuses a woman could ever endure.
Ever since the EPRDF took power, many of the Amhara elites and media started working against the government. The media worked both undercover and using the official media platforms. The main targets of their media campaign of hate were the TPLF in particular and the people of Tigray in general. Heavily disappointed by the fact that they lost their supremacy in holding the central power, Amhara elites kickstarted a wave of blackmail against the TPLF-led EPRDF regime. Although there were four parties that made the EPRDF, the main focus of attacks for Amhara elites was the TPLF.
Amhara elites, in cooperation with remnants of the Derg regime, took the advantage of having an intact network in the state apparatus and the clergy, which they used for their anti-TPLF campaign and hate incitement against people of Tigrayan origin. News outlets, like ESAT (Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio), funded by foreign adversaries of Ethiopia and Amhara elites, spread fake news accusing the TPLF of committing genocide on Amhara nationals and claiming that most Tigrayan were Amhara haters. Using such unfounded and baseless narratives, ESAT News anchors stated that it would be easy for 95 million Ethiopians to get rid of 5 million Tigrayans.
Another wing of war against the people of Tigray was the coalition of armed forces of Ginbot 7 and Patriots Front. ESAT and both combat forces were supported by the Eritrean dictator, who was spending millions of dollars to train their forces. Dr. Birhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige, the leaders of Ginbot 7, who helped Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to come to power and reconnect with Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki, are now among his diehard partners in crime. For many Tigrayans, the brutal attack on their land and people has come by surprise. No one would have predicted that such a gruesome genocidal war on their people would be endorsed by the majority of Amhara people, including their high ranking clergy. However invisible though, the hate within the Amhara elites was vivid and inherent.
The Amhara militia and Fano have mainly focused their invasion on Western and Southern Tigray, as they claim those areas as their own land. Their intentions were clear. Western Tigray is known to be rich in farming land and livestock. So, the invaders targeted the inhabitants and massacred many of them creating a mass exodus out of Western Tigray into Sudan and the Central Tigray Zone. Once they displaced the communities, they looted their livelihoods and transported looted belongings into the Amhara region. At the same time, they occupied the empty houses and invited Amhara nationals from other areas to settle in the occupied areas, aiming to claim the area as their own. Ironically, they moved the looted property and cattle to a safe and secure distance while moving in human beings to settle in the ravaged neighbourhoods to increase the ratio of Amhara nationals in case of a survey to resolve the territorial dispute or a referendum.
The level of hate against Tigrayans from Amhara Fano and militia was expressed by summary executions of the male Tigrayans and gang rape of women. The armed militia group killed many youth and buried them in mass graves. Many were also thrown into the Tekeze River, where corpses were found on the riverbanks of Sudan. Amhara militia gang raped Tigrayan women with the intent of causing both physical and mental damages. Many rape survivers, who suffer of fistula as a result of violent rape, experience marginalization and lack adequate treatment. To some of the rape surivors, Amhara aggressors put hot metals or nails into their uterus aiming to destroy their fertility. Even elderly women were not spared from the weaponized sexual violence. Targeting Tigrayan women was not about sexual desire, but a clear intent of genocide.
Although the worst atrocities are recorded in Western Tigray, Amhara Fano and other regional extremist groups have committed gruesome war crimes in Southern Tigray too. People were forced to identify themselves as Amhara or face retribution. Many left their homes for fear of reprisals. The main coordinators of the war on Tigray from the side of Amharas were the regional government supported by Abiy Ahmed’s federal government and few ethnic Amhara millionaires who sponsored the war from the start. The multi-millionaires supported the war to secure the fertile land of Western Tigray for their plans of large-scale farming.
So, to identify the nucleus of the Bermuda Triangle of the genocide on Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali is an ambitious megalomaniac leader who dreams of ruling Ethiopia for decades. He also knows too well the unbending nature of the people of Tigray. So, in order to realize his dream, he needed a strong coalition to subdue the people of Tigray. He is the central figure of the genocidal alliance.
The main drive of the Eritrean dictator’s and the Amhara elites’ war on Tigray was hate. In addition to their common cause, hate, deep aspirations of the Eritrean dictator and Amhara expansionists were weakening Tigray by decimating its population to the extent that it could not exist on its own. After such decimation, the plan was to then divide it among the allies of genocide. To achieve fait accompli ethnic cleansing and genocide were employed–shutting down all life essential services; destroying all public infrastructure including factories, hospitals and schools; enacting total siege of Tigray; commiting mass massacres,carpet bombardments and forced displacements.
The damage caused by the genocide in Tigray
What the people of Tigray have endured in the last two years of genocide is beyond comprehension. The degree of brutality they were confronted with by the very people for whose independence they had paid with their precious lives is of untold magnitude. No biblical hell could have been worse than the state of perpetual misery they have been put in. The evil-minded strategy of the Triangle of genocide is said to have caused up to 800,000 deaths in Tigray alone. The main cause of casualties is believed to be the siege that deprived the people of Tigray of food and medical supplies. Almost 90 percent of the public infrastructure is destroyed or damaged. Up to 150,000 women and girls were subjected to rape, gang rape and sexual abuses of physical and psychological nature. Children and youth were deprived of their rights to go to school for nearly four years (first two years due to COVID-19). Some 70,000 refugees fled to the neighbouring country Sudan. Up to 2.5 million civilians are internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tigrayan, including some 17,000 members of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, have been jailed in Addis Ababa and other places in Ethiopia by virtue of their ethnicity. There was systemic looting and destruction of cultural and religious artefacts. Vast area of agricultural land and forestry was burned or demolished. These are some of the facts reported by local sources and international organisations. The real figures of the damage are yet to be determined by independent investigators.
Finding Justice for victims of Tigray Genocide
The legacy of this brutal genocide will have tremendous ramifications on the people of Tigray’s future life and their coexistence with the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, especially the people of Amhara. The war has caused severe emotional anguish and deep scars amongst the people of Tigray. Although coexisting with bordering nations is naturally unavoidable, it might take generations for the wounds to heal. One thing is for certain though, for a healing process to start, the amount of damage caused to the people of Tigray must be known and those who are responsible for the heinous crimes committed must be brought to justice. Most of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that are underlisted in Chapter 16 of the genocide convention that have been committed in Tigray thus need to be investigated and registered. After such a gruesome genocide, failing to apply justice would exacerbate the already ripped apart social fabric of the Ethiopian society. Therefore, there must be an independent and thorough investigation by an international body followed by holding all responsible to account and giving justice to the victims of genocide. Only through justice can a lasting peace be ensured. Else there is no guarantee that another genocide would not happen again. Every authoritarian war criminal would take the genocide in Tigray as a precedence to commit such crimes and get away with it.
About the Author
Aman Semayawi has masters in agricultural engineering. He worked for more than 10 years with humanitarian agencies in post conflict countries like Afghanistan and South Sudan. He is also a contributor to OMNA Tigray.