Back to Front Page

Bystanders to Genocide

Bystanders to Genocide


Alemseged Abbay



A 54-year-old Tigrayan refugee in the Sudan tearfully told the BBC he did not understand why his 11-year-old son had to be killed but he was left alive. A teacher in Zalambessa, eastern Tigray, wondered whether the killers, who machinegunned all her friend’s five children, including those “who could not verbalize words,” were human beings. A mother, who watched her two children gunned down in Axum, hysterically begged the killers to finish her too. They refused. What the three survivors do not understand is the intent of the mass violence, which primarily focuses on children and the youth, is “to destroy [Tigrayans] in whole or in part  … as such by killing or imposing conditions inimical to [their] survival.” A textbook genocide.


The mission had been meticulously planned since 2018 when Abiy Ahmed assumed power in Ethiopia, with a nudge from foreign forces. To legitimize his grip of power in the vertically deeply divided society, he decided to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Using typically Machiavellian trick of scapegoating Tigrayans, he sought to cement a power base among the historically dominant Amhara whose monopoly of power had ended in 1991 when the Tigrayans replaced them with a coalition government. His demagoguery named the Tigrayans “strangers” (ጸጉረ ለወጥ) and “daytime hyenas” (የቀን ጅቦች), dubbing the 27-year-long era of peace, stability, and awe-inspiring economic growth under the Tigrayans (1991-2018) “an era of darkness” (የጨለማ ዘመን}.


With the help of Tigray’s mortal enemy, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, a coalition force of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia made adequate preparation to attack Tigray, northern Ethiopia, and its mengisti (regime). Elected by 2.7 million people, Mengisti Tigray was the only democratically constructed political entity among all the belligerent sides. As a result, with a relatively vibrant economy, Tigray was the only orderly and peaceful region in an otherwise beleaguered area. Before launching the slaughter,  therefore, it was imperative for the coalition force to weaken Tigray by completely isolating it from neighboring regions for almost three years, allowing desert locusts to swam farm crops by refusing to spray pesticides, withholding annual budget, etc. The master plan for genocide included launching the war during the November harvest season. 


Videos From Around The World

Although no one, not even the most acute observer, could see any rationale for the UAE and Somalia to intervene, not even the casual observer could miss the war drums being beaten in Asmara and Addis Ababa. That was why Mengisti Tigray appealed about ten times to the international community to intervene and avert the impending war. Nobody listened; nobody cared to. Like a cornered rat, Tigray was on its own to fight for survival. For Asmara and Addis Ababa, though, the war of choice was a well-designed mechanics to exterminate a people.


As the war broke out on November 4, in complete news blackout, the coalition forces shelled residential areas day and night. Blanket aerial bombing destroyed villages and flattened towns. Given the imbalance of military power, defending the urban areas became for Mengisti Tigray such an impossible task that the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) had to retreat to the mountains. UAE drones targeted the mechanized power of Tigray, leaving the TDF with only light weapons. Defenseless, Tigray became an open “slaughterhouse” for the coalition force and the Amhara militia, Fano (akin to Interahamwe and Janjaweed), who tell their victims that they are ordered to kill anyone four years and older.


Looting is rapacious. Whatever remains of hospitals, universities and industries is destroyed. Any food items, including spices and flour, along with any moveable properties, including forks and spoons, blankets and mattresses, are looted, leaving people with nothing live on. Livestock are killed, farm crops burned. Pleading international aid agencies are denied entry to the region. Instantly manufactured famine, like the machineguns, axes, and machetes, is a mechanics of genocide, as what Stalin did in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. All the while, humanity, the crucial bystander, carries on with life not as mindful with Tigray as it ought to be. As in the case of the 1994 Rwanda, humanity knows what is taking place in Tigray. On February 25, alone, NASA imagery showed that Ethiopia “probably likely” used white phosphorus munition in wiping out communities around the regional capital, Mekelle.


Genocide is sensitive to public opinion. Bystanders, domestic and foreign, determine whether it occurs or not. Thanks to pervasive and virulent anti-Tigrayanism, akin to anti-Semitism, the formidable Amhara intelligentsia is either actively backing the genocidal war (see, for instance, Messay Kebede in Ethiopian Observer) or employing the defense of rationalizing that the Tigrayans brought it on themselves. Unlike the Vatican and the Lutheran Church which remained silent during the Holocaust, the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church gave the war its blessings. It remained silent as 800 of its parishioners were massacred in November in the sacred Tigrayan city of Axum. Instead, it is Lord Alton of Liverpool and the Labor Party in the British Parliament, and with its 25-page report calling upon the UN to investigate, Amnesty International, that are serving the hapless parishioners as crucial voice.


If the Darfur mass-violence is an Ambiguous Genocide (Gerard Prunier), Tigray assumes the unenviable title of “the 21st century’s first unambiguous genocide.” In their darkest hour, the Armenians believed that only “the moral power of the United States,” could make a difference in their plight, as reported by US Ambassador Morgenthau in his pleading for intervention of the international bystanders. In 2021, the voiceless Tigrayans are crying for help. The world let the Armenians down. That was 1915. And now? Thankfully, the Biden Administration has started to give warning to both Asmara and Addis Ababa. Although words do have consequences, they must have immediate consequences in genocide because it is time sensitive. Each day that passes is a day of mass murder and words do not mean anything to the victims. Action is urgently needed. The “specter of Somalia” is too obsolete to haunt policy makers today, unlike in 1994 Scholars such as Gerard Prunier, present and past public figures when a genocide occurred such as Anthony Lake, Colin Powel, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Gail Smith have the moral duty to speak out on behalf of the voiceless Tigrayans. The Quebecois Romeo Dalliere, who was Shaking Hands with the Devil in Rwanda, cannot afford to be silent on the Tigrayan Genocide—Bien sure, il faut parler, monsieur!



Back to Front Page