Birth of a Nation
Dedicated to Abbay Tsehaye, my classmate from primary school to the History Department, H.S.I. University, who dedicated his entire life to the struggle. Murdered by the genocidaire (a Rwandan term), he lives giant in our hearts.
When the Amhara ganged up with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Eritrea, and Somalia to slaughter Tegaru en masse and launched the scorched earth policy of burning farm crops, killing livestock, and uprooting and/or destroying any economic infrastructure, the extermination of the people appeared a real possibility. Just like the Armenians vanished from eastern Anatolia in 1915, Tegaru could disappear from their cradle in 2021. It was truly scary, given the glaring imbalance of power. Against all odds, the democratically elected government (mengisti) Tigray and the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) have sustained the flames of resilience and resistance that historically have characterized Tegaru. Hand in hand with their diasporic brethren, they have managed to attract world attention. Notwithstanding the unabated killings and massive atrocities, with the eyes of the world fixed on Tigray now, it is highly unlikely that the Amhara and their partners-in-genocide will succeed in annihilating Tegaru the way the Young Turks did with the Armenians.
The imminent issue now, however, is providing the 7-8 million people with basic needs of subsistence. Regardless of the price, though, the dust will settle sooner or later. At that point, Tegaru will have to seriously reevaluate their relationship with the polity known as Ethiopia and reach a correct and historic decision on their political fate. They have been loudly and clearly told, over and over, that they are not Ethiopians. The Amhara have irreparably ruptured their historical, political, and social ties with them. Anticipating the two to live under the same political roof is like expecting wolves and sheep to amicably share the same ecosystem, as articulated in the Facebook of Ras Alula Engeda: “Dear Ethiopians, we the people of Tigray are requesting you only one thing: to leave us alone. The social fabric that used to hold us together is completely destroyed beyond repair. There is no way we can live together in peace anymore.”
As people deal with the dire issues of survival, though, it does not hurt to start thinking about the fate of the post-genocide Tigray. Much like the Armenians in the aftermath of WW I, the Jews in the post-WW II, the Kosovar Albanians in the post-Yugoslav break-up, post-genocide Tegaru have the natural right and the moral standing to freely chart out their political destiny. Although it may appear bringing the cart before the horse, there is no harm in pondering the political future of Tigray as we deal with the more dire and immediate concern of saving lives.
War revives and consolidates collective sense of identity. The ongoing unjust and uncalled for war, in tandem with unimaginable atrocities, committed by the Axis of Autocrats-- the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia, against the democratically elected mengisti Tigray, has birthed a nation in the hearts of Tegaru.
Intrinsically, the genocidal war at home ingathered Tegaru all over the world in a single imagined household. The relevant others are the Amhara and Eritrean racists, gang-rapists, looters, scorched-earth perpetrators, and child hunters who use axes, machetes, machine guns, cluster bombs, chemicals, drones, and starvation to wipe out innocent souls. The intensity, pervasiveness, and indiscriminate nature of the mass atrocities did not require a long incubation period for the nation-- not nine months or nine years. The day the Fano started their slaughter in Mai Kadra, the day the Orthodox Church blessed the mechanics of genocide, the day their axes and machetes began cutting up Tegaru as if they were “chopping wood”, the day both ethnic cleansing and mass murder rendered a million Tegaru from Western Tigray unaccounted for, the day the Eritrean “large locusts” (ዓብይ ኣምበጣ), as their victims refer to them, defiled mosques and churches, the day young girls and women started being gang-raped, the day the UAE drones started killing villagers en masse, … that was the day Tegaru ceased to see Ethiopia as theirs and sealed the birth of a nation in their heart—the Tegaru heart! That was the day Tegaru felt ejected from the Ethiopian polity they had built for so long and the day that almost every Tigraway instantly made the milestone decision to say ጎይታ ባዕለይ -- maitres chez nous, as the Quebecois sloganize.
Tigray is left with no choice but to breakaway, as stated by Kibrom Berhe of Baytona Abbay Tigray: “If a wife is being poked in the eye, no religious or legal system would expect her to stay in a marriage.” One of the drivers of the 184 Trans-Ethiopia trucks of EFFORT who were stranded in Djibouti was even more succinct: “The country that was built with the sacrifices of our forefathers has now betrayed us. It has invited foreign forces to annihilate us by every means possible. Ethiopia is an enemy country.”
How did we get to this point? Or, more appropriately, as the veteran activist, Dawit Seyoum, wonders, “Where did we go wrong?” The young and promising activist, Woyni Abreha “Manjus”, had seemingly preemptively answered the question: “We Tegaru have been late to accept what they [the Amhara] have been telling us that Ethiopia is not ours. At long last, though, after paying a heavy price, we clearly got it that Ethiopia is truly not ours.” A generation apart, both Dawit and Woyni, in apparent severe collective self-criticism, concur that we have failed to see the obvious that we have been othered in our own native land. The severe collective self-criticism is not entirely unwarranted if it is seen in historical trajectory.
For Emperor Menelik II, the homeland of Yohannes IV and Raesi Alula, Tigray, was so expendable that as soon as he assumed power in 1889 he sold half of it, including the one thousand kilometers long Red Sea coast, to the Italians for financial and military payoff. Italy named its “first-born-colony” Eritrea. Whatever remained of Tigray proper too was so disposable that he cut off its western part of Welqait and merged it with the fiefdom of his wife, the Amhara region of Begemder. Historically, geographically, and ethnically an integral part of Tigray, Welqait had never been part of Amhara. Sources from as early as the middle of 19th century such as Nubia and Abyssinia, for instance, list the eight sub-provinces of Amhara without including Welqait: “Amhara proper, Dembea, Damot, Gojam, Begemder, Angote, Walata, Marabet.” The political geography of Tigray, on the other hand, had twelve sub-provinces, including “ … Lasta, … Walkayt, Waldduba.”
Having geographically downsized Tigray, Menelik further neglected it administratively and economically, as stated by a young contemporary intellectual, Gebrehiwot Baykedagne:
የትግረን ህዝብ እንደ ሀዝባችው አልቆጠርቱም ... ትግረን የምያህል ትልቅ ነገድ ቢጠፋ ለኢትዮጵያ ታላቅ ጉዳት ነው
The policy of geographically, demographically, and economically emaciating Tigray survived Emperor Menelik. Following the ejection of Italy out of Africa in 1941, the fate of Eritrea was in the balance and the principal political actors of the region wanted to patch it up with its other half across the river Mareb. The imagined pan-Tigrayan polity was expected to be placed under a descendant of Yohannes IV, namely Raesi Seyoum Mengesha. Scared, Emperor Haileselassie kept Seyoum under his watch, confining him to the capital, Addis Ababa. The absence of the hereditary and credible leadership and the attendant lawlessness in the region led to the 1943Weyane popular uprising. Ethiopia requested financial and military assistance from both the US and the UK to suppress the uprising. The British Royal Airforce (BRA) came to its rescue and bombed Mekelle and southern Tigray indiscriminately, killing thousands of innocent people. The power of technology prevailed over the just cause of the people. The emperor was so delighted that he
… sent messages of sincere thanks for their help during the Tigray revolt to His Majesty’s Minister, the Commander-in-Chief East Africa Command, the Air Officer Commanding at Aden, the Head of the British Military Mission to Ethiopia and all those under their command.
Haileselassie, like Menelik, did not see Tigray as Ethiopian. Nor did he want to see the return of Eritrea to Ethiopia with any alacrity. Fixated on Assab, he did not care for the rest of Eritrea. Unfortunately for him, Assab was inseparable from the rest of Eritrea. Yet, for the emperor, acquiring Eritrea, in whole or in part, was not going to be a walk in the park. Dubbing the suppression of the Weyane “satanic”, “barbaric”, “Shewan fascism”, etc., Tegaru north of the Mareb felt the pains of their siblings to the south and put the atrocities in historical perspective to conclude that the Amhara were the historical enemies of the tans-Mareb people. Rejecting unification with Ethiopia, they preferred a pan-Tigrayan (Tigray-Tigrignie) sovereign state as revealed in the public fora. In the weekly ሓንቲ ኢርትራ, a writer said
ኣብ ልዕሊ ትግራይ ኣሕዋትና በዚ ዝሓለፈ ቀረባ ጊዘ ዝተፈጸመ ናይ ኣረመነ ሥራህ እሞ ብባዕዳዊ መንግስቲ እኳ ዘይተገበረ፤ ክሳብ ሰላማዊ ህዝቢ ከይተረፈ ብቦምቢ ምጭፍጭፍን ብዘይሰልጥነ ሰራዊት ገርካ ንብረት ምዝራፍ፤ ቆልዓ ሰበይቲ ምብልሽው ተረክበ፤ አረ ምድሪ ካብ ዝወግሓሎም ጅሚሩ ሽዋ ነዓና ትግሪኛ ዝኮነ ቅዋንቃና፤ ...ኣብ ጉድኣትናን ቅትለትናን ጥልመትናን ዝርከቡ ... እያቶም
Another pan-Tigrayan activist concluded his piece bluntly: “Shewa is the enemy of the people of Tigray-Tigrignie.” Although these political views did not spill over the Mareb, Haileselassie was panicky. On the one hand, he desperately sought access to the sea; on the other, he did not feel comfortable to take the whole of Eritrea. He was worried that the return of Eritrea would strengthen a trans-Mareb entity either as a potential power contender or a breakaway region. Thus, in the late 1940s, Haileselassie resigned to seeking the port of Assab alone. However, Eritrea was one and indivisible and the emperor had only a choice of “either/or.” Nervously, and uncomfortably, he had to go for the whole of Eritrea which he acquired in 1952. Expectedly, Eritrea ended up being a misfit in the medieval Ethiopian political and economic setting, what a scholar dubbed “difficult to chew, impossible to swallow.”
Worried of the possibility of a trans-Mareb reintegration, Haileselassie relentlessly pursued Menelik’s policy of economically, geographically, and demographically downsizing Tigray. He continued to levy heavy taxes from the region even when it was being devastated by drought and desert locust swarms.
የትግረን ህዝብ እንደ ህዝባችው አልቆጠርቱም ... ትግረን የምያህል ትልቅ ነገድ ቢጠፋ ለኢትዮጵያ ታላቅ ጉዳት ነው
Worse still, he took the entire Raya region up to Alewaha from Tigray, attaching it with his son’s fiefdom, the Amhara and Oromo region of Wollo. At the expense of Tigray, both Begemder and Wollo were enlarged, incorporating a huge Tegaru population.
For Tegaru, conditions worsened during the Derg era (1974-91). Unsurprisingly, the Derg too did not see Tegaru, including those who had been relocated in the Amhara regions, as Ethiopians. That was why Megistu Hailemarian complained during the 97th Ordinary Session of the Politburo of his Communist Party: “Have no doubt, let alone the people of Tigray, even the Tigrigna-speaking people of northern Gondar support the TPLF.” Thus, he condemned all Tegaru, including those of Welqait and Raya, to starve by denying them access to international aid. The Derg too did not see Tegaru as Ethiopians:
የትግረን ህዝብ እንደ ሀዝባችው አልቆጠርቱም ... ትግረን የምያህል ትልቅ ነገድ ቢጠፋ ለኢትዮጵያ ታላቅ ጉዳት ነው
In the 80th Ordinary Session of the Politburo of his Communist Party in 1989, Mengistu warned that “aid workers want to bring in food through other directions. They should stop. If they want to come through Sudan, they would be responsible for what happens to them.” Since Mengistu knew that Tigray was the TPLF and the TPLF was Tigray, he wanted to use starvation as a weapon against the TPLF and its Tegaru constituency. In 1990, during the 23rd emergency meeting of his party’s Politburo, he candidly said “The bandits are starving. There is no means of differentiating the bandits from the people.”
After a costly 17-years-long armed struggle, the TPLF freed Ethiopia from the clutches of the Derg and gave it an unprecedented peace, stability, and economic miracle for nearly three decades. Diversity was accommodated in an ethnic federal system which was resented by the unitarian Amhara. With foreign aid, the Amhara returned to power in 2018. Treating the federalist Tegaru as enemies, they launched a genocidal was against Tigray. Currently, Tegaru are fighting an existential war.
Bequeathed to us from the interwar brutal Italian regime is the term and concept of fascism. When the regime invaded and occupied Ethiopia in 1936, my mother was four years old. Enamored by her innocent and lovely face, the soldato used to give her pane and caramella. Human compassion bonded the innocent Habesha child with that of the white bona fide fascists from Rome. With no trace of compassion in their bones, the black fascists from Bahr Dar, Asmara, and Addis Ababa, though, are of a different breed. Unalloyed genocidaires, they do not hesitate to pump bullets in the innocent faces of three- and four-years-old children. Although the “Extermination Order” supposedly said to take anyone four years and older, at least as revealed during the massacre in Axum, they do not mind killing even younger children. From her hospital bed in Adigrat, the 11-years-old Teke’a Negusse testified that the killers stormed to her home in Zalambessa and showered her and her three siblings with bullets. The three-years-old child died instantly. The Amhara and Eritrean genocidaires are more fascistic than the Black Shirts and acolytes of fasci di combattimeto!
Anti-Tigrayanism glues the Addis Ababa leaders with the public, particularly the Amhara. In general, the Amhara do not disagree with their leaders because they share the same cultural and social tilt. Leaders do not drop out of the thin air; they are products of their respective societies. A savvy political entrepreneur, Adolf Hitler effectively harnessed the existing anti-Semitism at home and abroad for his political consumption. When he launched the holocaust, he faced no opposition at home and abroad. A staunch believer in eugenics, as he started killing disabled “Aryans,” though, the German public opposed him. He listened and stopped. The German silence during the anti-Jewish holocaust, on the other hand, was pure complicity. The Nazis also took the silence of the international community as complicity; so much so that their minister of propaganda, Goebels, wrote in his diaries that “At bottom, I believe that the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riff-raff.”
Similarly, in the Tigrayan context, by their silence, the Amhara, particularly the intellectuals, are complicit with the genocidal regime. For others, silence is not enough. Some, such as the Dergist Messay Kebede, come out to defend the genocidal regime, blaming it for not doing “… enough both to inform the West about the origin and purpose of the war and to counter the lies and propaganda of Tigrayan activists and their Western allies.” Really, ”lies”? “Western allies of Tigray” lied when they broadcast the military officer bragging that his tanks had surrounded Mekelle to shell it with “no mercy” to civilians? Was Susan Rice lying when she dubbed this a crime against humanity? Was Secretary of State Blinken lying to Congress when he testified that ethnic cleansing was taking place in Western Tigray? The gang-raped young girls and women as well as the amputee children in hospital beds lied? The girl who was dumped with her private part filled with toilet paper, sticks, and nails lied? The video tapes showing 72 barely teenagers being rounded up, machinegunned, and thrown off the cliff in Mahbere Dego lied? Did the UN Human Rights Commissioner lie when she revealed the massive and multifaceted violation of human rights? Did the NASA images of burned communities lie? What was so lying about the appeal of the Finnish Foreign Minister to Ethiopia to let aid workers and monitors go to Tigray? Who was lying about the involvement of the Eritrean troops, the Finnish Foreign Minister or Abiy Ahmed? The Amhara denial of the Tigrayan genocide resembles the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide. It is heartless and despicable to call all those facts “lies”. No matter how heartless and jingoistic the Dergist Messay Kebede is, facts are stubborn things. His denial of the on-going Tigrayan genocide is as glaringly ludicrous as Abiy’s claim of capturing Mekelle without killing a single civilian. What is incensing, however, is that whilst the latter is a buffoon who is placed in the saddle of power by foreign forces, the former is an academic in a university. Expecting traces of academic honesty of Messay Kebede should not have been such a misplaced reckoning. Shame!
Almost in unison, the Amhara, whether it is those who come out demonstrating in Western cities or the silent elite or the outspoken intellectuals like Messay Kebede, are solidly behind their genocidaires kin. One cannot help but wonder what they are thinking. They chant about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. If the close to a thousand Tegaru the genocidaires “chopped like wood” or “slaughtered like chicken” in Mai Kadra are not Ethiopians, who do they think are Ethiopians? The Amhara invited the Eritreans to shell the inhabitants of the farm town of Humera while they were deep in their sleep at 2:00 am on November 8. Who are the Ethiopians for the Amhara—the Humera Tegaru or the Eritreans? When the Amhara expropriated EFFORT from Tegaru, one wonders how they viewed their victims. Why did the federal properties of the Universities of Adigrat and Axum have to be looted and destroyed? If they hate Tegaru so badly and despise Tigray so mercilessly as a barren, rocky, and waste land, why don’t they allow the region to breakaway in an amicable divorce the way the Czechs and Slovaks parted company? What do they want when they willfully destroy the country that had been so peaceful and so orderly for nearly three decades; so much so that it was supplying the world with peace-keeping forces and was either the fastest- or one of the fastest-growing economies in the world? For goodness sake, what do the Amhara want? Why are they destroying the country?
Against this backdrop, Tegaru feel ejected from the very country they sacrificed so much to build. Like father, like son, for over a century, Menelik, Haileselassie, Mengistu, and Abiy have uniformly othered them, leaving them with no choice but to go it alone,
የትግረን ህዝብ እንደ ሀዝባችው አልቆጠርቱም ... ትግረን የምያህል ትልቅ ነገድ ቢጠፋ ለኢትዮጵያ ታላቅ ጉዳት ነው
That going it alone will be a lonely and uphill struggle along a rocky road, Tegaru should have no illusion. Tigray is neither Slovenia nor Croatia. The paucity of rainfall and worn out soil in some parts of the region will make agricultural productivity dismal. Thus, no Tigraway in their right mind is as infantile as Abiy Ahmed to fantasize that “by 2050 there will be two superpowers in the world and sovereign Tigray will be one of them.” ዓሻ ትግራዋይስያ ልቢ ከም ሃገሩ. However, it is not that dim. Tigray has immense potential to develop its tourist industry. Its mineral wealth is also plenty. Even the Derg, which cherished publicly disparaging it as barren, could not hide, at least behind closed doors, that it has plenty of mineral resources. During the 21st Ordinary Session of its Central Committee, convened on May 20, 1985, the Communist Party admitted that “Tigray is rich in copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, potash, salt, and other minerals.” The “other minerals,” of course, include gold. Thus, with an accountable and responsible political system, the viability of a sovereign Tigray is not all that gloom and doom, at least given the alternative of a genocidal existence.
Thus, what Dawit Seyoum raised, “Why do they hate us? Why do they want our subjugation and possible elimination? Where did we go wrong?” become entirely academic questions. We failed to heed the advice of our siblings across the Mareb in the 1940s and early 1950s. As Woyni Abreha correctly reminds us, we have been late, very late, to see the obvious. For whatever reason, they hate us; yes, they do hate us and hate us with passion. We are out! ጎይታ ባዕለይ!
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