WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Amhara Association of America (AAA) issued the following statement in response to several recent reports on the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s February 27, 2021 call for the “immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray” as “essential first steps” to ending the conflict:
A February 26, 2021 New York Times article claims that “an internal U.S. government report” documents a “systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” in Western Tigray by “Ethiopian officials and allied [i.e. Amhara] militia fighters.” Western Tigray is a reference to the woredas (districts) of Welkait, Kafta Humera, Tegede, and Telemet, which Amharas refer to collectively as Welkait.
Beyond brief, paraphrased references to attacks on ethnic Tigrayans in several towns, a “land of looted homes and deserted villages,” and a note that “towns with a majority Amharan population were thriving,” the article does not provide any further details of the internal U.S. government report.
No additional context is given as to the history of the land in question, which is now administered by the Amhara Region. In addition, the article makes no mention of Raya, a woreda previously in southern Tigray and also now administered by the Amhara Regional Government.
AAA, its members, and its broader support base vehemently oppose any actions – either in isolated incidents or as part of a systematic campaign – that harm or threaten to harm Ethiopian civilians of any ethnic background. As Amharas have recently suffered multiple, targeted ethnic massacres in Mai Kadra, Oromia, Metekel, and Guraferda, we would never wish a similar fate upon any other group. We condemn any actions by military forces or militias that have resulted in injured or killed civilians, stolen or damaged property, or expulsion from homes.
That said, AAA finds the allegation of systematic ethnic cleansing in the U.S. government report, as conveyed by the New York Times, concerning and confusing. The article itself begs many questions that make it difficult for AAA to speak to the full allegations, such as:
- Which department, bureau, agency, or office of the United States Government produced the report, and who was its intended recipient?
- What methods were used to collect the information in the report and the timeline of the alleged incidents? If said methods included human intelligence, who were used as sources?
- Does the report use the exact phrase “ethnic cleansing,” and if so, how does it define the term?
- Does the report detail the history of Amharas in the Welkait area or the Mai Kadra Massacre?
- To whom does the report attribute ultimate responsibility for the alleged actions of ethnic cleansing – the Amhara regional government, the Ethiopian federal government and military, or a combination of federal and regional forces since the war efforts is a synchronized operation under Ethiopian National Defense Forces?
- Was the Ethiopian Government or Amhara Regional Government aware of the United States Government’s report prior to the New York Times article, and if so, how did they respond to the allegations?
- If the report was produced by an agency of the United States Intelligence Community, what is its analytic confidence? Was an analysis of competing hypotheses applied to the assessment?
- How does the U.S. government report reconcile its findings with assessments by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Ethiopian Human Rights Council, and Western media that have done ground investigations and reports of the areas in question and have not reported actions amounting to ethnic cleansing?
- Why is the report not available to the public nor the United States Congress on the grounds that it contains classified information, yet was provided – either in part or in full – to the New York Times?
- Despite the report being written in early February (per the New York Times), why has the State Department not provided a similar assessment to the United States Congress in its regular stafflevel briefings on the Tigray Conflict nor to AAA in its conversations with Department officials?
- Why did the article omit the November 9, 2020 Mai Kadara Massacre of hundreds of Amharas by forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the same area?
When these questions are answered, or if AAA is provided access to review the report, we will be able to fully evaluate its claims and respond appropriately. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and as of yet, the public has not seen that evidence.
Secretary Blinken’s Call for the “immediate withdrawal of…Amhara regional forces from Tigray”
AAA appreciates Secretary Blinken’s concern for the increasing humanitarian crisis in Tigray, one which affects both Tigrayans and Amharas who live there and are refugees in Sudan or internally displaced persons. Throughout the conflict, AAA has advocated for full access in Tigray to humanitarian assistance, independent media outlets, and human rights organizations to investigate allegations of atrocities such as the Mai Kadra Massacre.
Unfortunately, Secretary Blinken’s call for the “immediate withdrawal of…Amhara regional forces from Tigray” in his February 27 statement has upset many in the Amhara diaspora community for its perceived lack of historical context and ignoring of the current security situation for Amharas outside the Amhara Region.
In addition, the statement implicitly equates Amhara forces operating under the direction of the
Ethiopian military with those of a foreign state within Ethiopian territory. We are concerned that the Secretary’s request will sow further divisions in the Ethiopian American community, in Ethiopia, and feed into an incorrect narrative that the United States does not care about the plight of Amharas in Ethiopia. It is critical for any U.S. policymaker, elected official, or Ethiopia observer commenting on the conflict to understand the complex history of the land and the people who have lived there. Prior to Ethiopia’s
current federal system in which regions are based on a supposed indigenous ethnic community, Welkaite and Raya were administered by the provinces of Gondar and Wollo, respectively.
After the TPLF took control of these areas during the Ethiopian Civil War and claimed them as part of an independent Tigray State, many Amharas who lived there were either forcefully expelled or intimidated into leaving. Those who left became refugees in Sudan, moved to countries around the world, or relocated to other locations within Ethiopia.
The current Constitution of Ethiopia, written in 1994 by a TPLF-led committee, codified regional boundaries along strict ethnic lines, creating Ethiopia’s ethnic-federalist system that exists through today. These arbitrary boundaries have no historical or factual basis, and there is no region in Ethiopia that is completely ethnically homogenous.
Under TPLF administration, the remaining Amharas in Welkait and Raya were subject to restrictions on their political, economic, civil, and cultural rights. Petitions by the larger expelled Amhara community to redress these issues through constitutional mechanisms went unanswered by the TPLF-dominated federal government and the current Prosperity Party government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Amharas originally from Welkait and Raya view the forced incorporation of these areas into the Tigray Region as a deprivation of their rights guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution and international law. However, when AAA highlights the issue of these territories, we do not argue that only Amharas can and should live there. Instead, we envision a non-ethnic federal system for all of Ethiopia where anyone regardless of their background can live where they choose and enjoy an equal application of political, economic, civil, and cultural rights.
The TPLF’s administration of Welkait and Raya did not provide that freedom to Amharas. Sadly, the same can be said for other areas of Ethiopia where certain “non-native” ethnic groups live as secondclass citizens under their region’s constitutions. As a result, Amharas have been the targets of multiple massacres in Mai Kadra, several parts of the Oromia Region, Metekel, and Guraferda.
In all of these killings, the ENDF and local security forces had a responsibility to protect Amharas and other minority communities from attacks by armed militias. And in each case, they failed to do so. AAA is concerned by Secretary Blinken’s failure to acknowledge the security situation for Amhara civilians in his statement.
The Secretary’s call for “the immediate withdrawal of…Amhara regional forces from Tigray” with no further context or explanation, sends a message – presumably unintentional – that the United States endorses the TPLF’s narrative about Welkait and its environs. AAA would welcome the opportunity to speak with Secretary Blinken or any relevant policymaker at the State Department about the situation for Amharas in Welkait and Raya.
Reporting on Atrocities Against Civilians by Eritrean Forces
The Ethiopian and Eritrean peoples have a shared heritage and culture, and peaceful, diplomatic relations between the two countries is a win for the region.
However, AAA is disappointed by the Ethiopian Government’s lack of transparency regarding the presence of the Eritrean Defense Force (EDF) within Ethiopia. The EDF’s operations in areas of northern Tigray has been publicly acknowledged by the United States Government, numerous international humanitarian organizations, and even by Ethiopian government and military officials. If the EDF has been formally invited by the Ethiopian Government, then Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed needs to communicate the role and limits of the EDF within the country.
The recent reports by human rights organizations and multiple media outlets on the massacres of unarmed Tigrayan civilians by the EDF, including in churches, should horrify all Ethiopians, regardless of ethnicity or religion. As the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission also investigates these alleged atrocities, if proven to be true, there needs to be accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims.
We also remain concerned for the safety of the 15,000 – 20,000 Eritrean refugees who were displaced from the Hitsats and Shimelba camps in northern Tigray. The harrowing accounts of attacks on these refugees by the EDF and TPLF militias must be taken seriously.
AAA supports the United States’ call for independent, on-the-ground investigations of the reported incidents in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Future of the Conflict in Tigray and the Need for a National Dialogue
Although AAA continues to believe that the Government of Ethiopia was well within its rights to respond to the TPLF’s November 4, 2020 surprise attack on the ENDF Northern Command, that does not excuse conduct by any belligerents that falls outside the scope of the law of war and international humanitarian norms. No civilians – be they Amharas, Tigrayans, Eritreans, or otherwise – are legitimate targets for armed actors in any circumstance.
We call on all belligerents to abide by international humanitarian norms and the law of war, allow full, unfettered access to humanitarian assistance by the international community, and permit independent media access and ground investigations of all alleged atrocities by the appropriate international bodies.
Furthermore, AAA supports calls for an inclusive, national dialogue representing all of Ethiopia’s ethnic and religious communities to discuss common ground for systemic reforms to the country’s ethnic-based governing institutions. We feel these institutions and the governing philosophy of ethnic federalism are at the heart of the multiple crises facing Ethiopia.
Tewodrose (Ted) Tirfe, Chairman, Amhara Association of America firstname.lastname@example.org
About AAA: The Amhara Association of America (AAA) is a nonprofit organization that represents the