Negotiations? What Negotiations?
There are three players in genocide: perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. Bystanders-domestic and international- determine whether a genocide occurs or not. Domestic bystanders can be passive onlookers as in the case of the Germans in the anti-Jewish Holocaust, vocal opponents as in the public uproar against the Nazi assault on disabled Germans, or active participants as in the case of the Hutu masses in the anti-Tutsi Rwandan genocide. The Ethiopian bystanders are either active or passive supporters of the ongoing Tigrayan genocide. Similarly, the behavior of international bystanders can make or break a genocide, such as what is going on in Tigray. Unfortunately, despite its 1948 pledge of “Never Again”, national self-interests, not morality, overwhelm the policies of the international community towards a particular genocide. For instance, when a human rights activist Monique Mujanmariya was smuggled out of genocidal Rwanda to knock at the doors of policy makers in Washington, D.C., pleading for help, a congressional official responsible for Africa, was categorical:
Listen Monique, the United States has no friends. The United states has interests. And in the United States, there is [are] no interests in Rwanda. And we are not interested in sending young Americans to bring them back in coffins. We have no incentive.
President Bill Clinton (Democrat) also basically said the same thing:
Whether we will be involved in the world’s ethnic conflicts, in the end, it must depend in the cumulative way if the American interests are at stake.
Senate majority leader Bob Dole (Republican) echoed that position:
I don’t think we have any national interest there … The Americans are out, and as far as I’m concerned in Rwanda that ought to be the end of it.
Whatever happened to the “Never Again” pledge? Apparently, it was destined not to be kept. With no legal strings, it was merely a moral pledge. To relieve themselves from the moral burden, the spokesperson of the State Department and the then American ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright (a former academic), were at pains to refrain from calling the mass violence in Rwanda a “genocide”.
In the case of the Tigrayan tragedy too, the international bystanders are not sure how far they want to go mainly because their national self-interests are not gravely “at stake”. The fear of a possible break-up of the country seems to worry them because it could destabilize the region, producing migrants heading to the West. Clearly, their national self-interests are in keeping Ethiopia united. Despite the overwhelming evidence at hand, they have yet to acknowledge that the mass violence in Tigray is a “genocide”. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the forceful removal of about two million Tegaru from Western Tigray “ethnic cleansing”. That is not the whole picture, though. The internally displaced and those who fled to the Sudan have adequately revealed the nature of the massacres that took place in Mai Kadra and the rest of the region. The genocidaires whose modus operandi is heavily tainted by blatant lies and cheating, have misrepresented the massacres as the acts of the Tigrayan government against Amhara civilians. On the contrary, the victims are Tigrayan civilian and the perpetrators Amhara genocidaires, as revealed by the survivors.
The international bystanders are too familiar with the weaponization of starvation and rape as well as some of the harrowing massacres such as that of Mahbere Dego, captured in videos and leaked to the media. In this video, watching the fear-ridden innocent faces of young men and their bewildered eyes who had no clue why they had to die is unsettling. It certainly is not easy to realize that human beings have the potential to be so evil. Not only that, it gets even more upsetting to watch the Amhara genocidaires relish shooting the innocent young men whose only “crimes” were being born Tegaru. As a UN humanitarian agent in Rwanda stated, “Killing is like a drink. If you take one drink, you want another one, you want to get intoxicated … If they kill one, to lessen the impact on their conscience, they want to kill more.” In Mahbre Dego, after killing seventy-three young men in cold-blood and dragging their bodies off the cliff, the perpetrators lionized each other as “ኣምበሳየ” (lit. “my lion”)—heroizing their diabolical behavior. All on record!
There are so many Mai Kadras and Mahber Degos in remote and inaccessible parts of Tigray. Mosques and churches all over the region are not spared. It was in the St. Mary’s Cathedral of Axum and the rest of the city that over a thousand innocent people were gunned down. And the international bystanders know that the appalling atrocities continue unabetted. Yet they have shunned the term “genocide” for fear of the moral pressure to act. This time around, the hypocrisy in Tigray is going to be too difficult to cover up, unlike in Rwanda, as attempted by Madeleine Albright:
At the time, I have to make it so clear to you, … people just did not have the sense that this was happening in the proportions that it was. By the time that it happened, you could not do anything about.
In Kigali, Bill Clinton said essentially the same thing:
I have come today to pay the respects of my nation to all the people who suffered and perished. It may seem strange to you here … there were people like me sitting in offices day after day and after day who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by the unimaginable terror
Clearly, Albright and Clinton were less than honest; they were at pains to absolve themselves from guilt. Philip Gaillard, the Swiss head of the Red Cross in Rwanda, and Carl Wilkens, an American aid worker, who lived through the genocide do not agree with their claim. Sobbing and haunted by the memories of Rwanda, Philip Gaillard said:
Everybody knew … what was happening. You could follow [it] on TV, radio, … They cannot tell us or tell me that they did not know. They were told every day what was happening there. Don’t come back to me and tell me sorry we did not know. No, no, everybody knew.
The only American who did not leave Rwanda at its darkest hour, Carl Wilkens, said:
By the time the genocide was over, I was so angry at America the beautiful, America the brave. I was angry with our government. I was angry with people who could do something, even the simplest thing, and they did not.
When the deadly social hurricane in Tigray subsides, if it does, how is the international community going to justify its hypocrisy over the “Never Again” pledge? Will world leaders go to Mekelle to address the people in the Tigray Stadium, claiming that they “did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed” of their suffering? Are they going to say that they did not have a clear grasp of the “proportions” of the tragedy? No, the 2021 Tigray is not the 1994 Rwanda. It is a lot more transparent than the latter. Too difficult to conceal!
The international bystanders want the perpetrators and victims of the Tigrayan genocide to negotiate. Understandably, the Amhara and Eritrean genocidaires refuse to negotiate because they had planned the genocide for more than two years and they do not see any reason to run away before fully accomplishing their mission. The Tegaru victims, on the other hand, may be willing to negotiate if the Amhara and Eritrean occupiers leave from every inch of Tigrayan territory and the legitimate government is restored in Mekelle so that life-saving aid can reach the millions of hapless Tegaru civilians. Then the issue of bringing the genocidaires to justice, the return of properties stolen by the Amhara and Eritrean marauding forces as well as the so-called federal government, and most importantly what kind of relationship Makelle will have with Bahr Dar, Asmara and Addis Ababa can be discussed.
Unsurprisingly, the seven-month-long genocidal war has forced Tegaru to revisit their sense of identity. Normally, separatist nationalism is the ideology of elites. Indeed, it was the young Tegaru intellectuals such as Girmay Berhe and Mehari Yohannes who promoted centrifugal nationalism, forming the Tigray Independence Party (TIP). Before the outbreak of the genocide, the idea of going it alone remained an elite outlook which did not resonate among the public so much so that TIP had a crushing defeat by the federalist Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the September 2020 democratic elections. The genocidal war, however, has been a turning point. Now it is not the nationalist ideologues who are in charge; it is those who are enduring displacement, starvation, gang-raping, mass murder, and all kinds of humanly unthinkable atrocities who are considering going it alone so much so that if the elections were held today TIP would likely win the elections unless the TPLF listens to the heart beat of the people. Now, more and more Tegaru are inclined to go for a clean break from Ethiopia, the very country that has invited foreign forces to cluster bomb them, subject them to chemical (white phosphorus) attacks, starvation, rape, massacres, …. Of course, only a referendum can show the will of the people. Be that as it many, some do not shy away from sharing their clear mind. Freweini Mekonnen, who experienced the atrocities in Western Tigray, had to flee to the Sudan with her five children, leaving her husband to join the Tigrayan struggle. She firmly said:
When will I be back in Tigray? If there is a God, when Abiy and Isaias are dead, that’s when I will go back to my home in an independent Tigray, even if it is a pile of rubble.
Leaving a family behind with an uncertain future is not an easy decision. However, it is hardly an uncommon decision. Many veterans of the Tigrayan struggle (1975-91), now in their late 60s and even early 70s, have left their families behind and joined the armed struggle. Young heads of families also do the same thing. Desta Gebremedhin, a senior BBC correspondent in Nairobi, too, gave up his comfortable life in Kenya leaving his family behind to join the struggle. The inter-generational camaraderie of the combatants is captured in Amanuel Gebreassay’s revolutionary song መንፈስ ኢሎሙኻ. Some refrains of the song go as follows:
ዉሉድ ንወላዲኡ ብጻይ ክብሎ
ወላዲ ንዉሉዱ ብጻይ ክብሎ
በረኻ ወፊሮም ማዕረ ክቃለሱ
ዕድመ ቁጽሪ ኮይኑ ነእስነት መሊሱ
Tegaru are fighting for survival and no war can be more just. For this reason, the international community needs to act immediately and save lives. If condemnations and warnings sufficed, the genocide would not have lasted for so long, claiming many thousands of lives and threatening millions.
The international bystanders know too well that no genocide has been halted through pleadings and warnings. Henry Morgenthau, US ambassador in Istanbul, pleaded with each of the triumvirate leaders (Ittihadists) many times to stop the Armenian Genocide. Philip Gaillard of the Red Cross and Romeo Dallaire, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), pleaded with the Hutu leaders to stop the mass atrocities against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus. Neither worked. Nor did the Western attempt to resolve the genocidal war in Kosovo through negotiations go anywhere. The international bystanders had a much softer heart to the Slavs than to the Africans! They had to resort to force. They bombed Belgrade for eleven weeks until they got the surrender of Slobodan Miloševiċ and his entourage who were given The Hague for a domicile. And that did indeed stop the mass killings. Even if the international community does not have to go that far to apprehend the Amhara and Eritrean genocidaires, to expect them to stop with a half-baked mission is a far cry. The only fruitful pressure is force. Force, and only force, is the antidote to genocide.