Archbishop Henok speaks out about massacre of Orthodox Christians

The latest string of violence in Ethiopia was painted as ethnic violence. Archbishop Abune Henok, whose diocese is in the West Arsi zone of Oromo regional state of Ethiopia, said Orthodox Christians were targeted, and that he does not agree with the assertion that the attack was an ethnic one.

Archbishop  Abune Henok
Archbishop Abune Henok. Photo : screenshot from MK Video

July 12, 2020

Abune Henok was appointed as the Archbishop of West Arsi Diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church not even two years ago.

In an interview with Mahibere Kidusan this week, he said the reception of his appointment in the region was good and that he spent much of the time since his appointment by undertaking the foundational works of his dioceses in the zone which has eleven districts.

On the evening of June 29 around 9:30 P.M., singer Hachalu Hundessa (who was himself a member of the orthodox church with a baptism name Haile Gabriel) was assassinated in the capital Addis Ababa.

Before the news of his assassination was even heard in the West Arsi Zone, organized mob groups who covered their faces with cloths launched a savage attack on community members in the region. It appeared as if it was preplanned. 

The attack against Orthodox Christians in the region started as early as 4 a.m. local time.

Why Christians are attacked when the assassination of the singer has nothing to do with Ethiopian Orthodox Church followers? Believers of the church tend to think that the incident was a pretext.

“I think his death was taken as an opportune time to launch an organized and planned attack. The attack came before even we hear about news of his death,” said Archbishop Abune Henok

He confirmed 19 Christians massacred across 11 districts in Arsi are all Orthodox Christians, and they were killed savagely. Elder and youth were targeted in the killing. Somewhere hacked to death. Others were stoned and clubbed to death. The total number of deaths in the country was reported to be 239. And nearly 300 have been wounded.

In Arsi Negele, one person (who is a member of the Orthodox Church) was hanged upside down after he was killed.

As many as 3362 Orthodox Christians are displaced and taking refuge in Churches.

In terms of destruction of property, 72 cars and 934 businesses have been destroyed including clinics and four schools from Kindergarten to junior school levels (in Shashemene town and Arsi Negele).

According to Archbishop Henok, the owner of the schools are members of the Orthodox Church and many of those whose properties were destroyed were known for their social services in the church.

In addition to businesses, 493 residences have been burned – and all of them are followers of the Orthodox Church.

The Holy Savior Church in Kokosa, a district in Western Arsi Zone, is burnt down to the ground with all the Holy Icons and other sacred items in the church.

Most media outlets in the west did not depict the true nature of the attack. Some media outlets (local ones) reported the attack as ethnic violence as sources from Ethiopia painted it that way.

Archbishop Henok does not agree with that description. He said ethnic identity was used as a cover only. The targets were Christians, and that the attack was a coordinated one, he said.

In the region where the massacre took place, there appears to be intolerance towards the followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Minnesota based activist and owner of Oromia Media Network, Jawar Mohamed, once openly told an Islamic Oromo crowd packed in a town hall for an Islamic event that “Where I cam from 99 percent is Muslim. we do not tolerate a Christian who raises his head. We cut his neck with ‘matcha’. ”  The video of his speech is featured below.

Over the past two years, there has been a repeated and orchestrated attack against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in different parts of the country. The problem was severe in the south and southeastern parts of Ethiopia. At least dozens of churches have been burned over in a little over two years. 

In northwestern Ethiopia, mosques were burned too in what was said to be the works of political forces who are believed to have an intention to escalate tension between Christians and Muslims in the country.

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