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“Why they hate us” response to “A Requiem for Our Tegaru Martyrs”

This is a response to Dawit Seyoum’s article on Aigaforum: “A Requiem for our  Tegaru Martyrs”. A Requiem for Our Tegaru Martyrs ( 

Tegaru _ TPLF
TPLF chairman , Debretsion Gebremichael (Photo credit : The Reporter)

Dear Ex-comrade Dawit, 

I read your article with great sadness and amazement. I only know you as a  talented basketball player(with your brother, Zemariam) at the YMCA, in Arat  Kilo. My friends, however, know you in the mountains of Tigary and Gondar as  one of their compatriots and a commissar in the EPRA (armed wing of EPRP).  Your comrades in arms felt betrayed and wondered how a onetime ‘Marxist’  degenerated into a vulgar tribalist and joined the traitorous and atrocious group  that killed your comrades like, Yitzhak Debre Tsion, Tsegaye Gebremedhin,  Belete Amaha, Aberash Berta, Gaayim …. 

Your tedious narrative(with meaningless rhetorical questions) would require a  book size response. However, I will try to be brief and deal with only the historical  facts between Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes) and Zemene TPLF. You  have some ironical rantings against Eritreans, EPLF and Isaias. I have very few  remarks on those paragraphs. I will not return in kind, to your venomous,  derogatory words and epithets against Ethiopians( you prefer Amharas). I have  no comment on the current TPLF’s madness, however tempting it is. 

My purpose in this piece is to defend the truth. I have no desire to laud or  demonize any historical event, personalities peoples or groups. Your piece encapsulates ‘all’ alleged grievances the Tigrean elite have against  Ethiopia. We should debunk your false narratives, specially when presented in  mediums like Aigaforum. Haven’t all Ethiopia’s problems began with fallacious  propaganda? 

Before I delve into his charges, I have to express my sadness for being dragged  into this ‘us against them’ altercation. I am sorry I took the bait and I apologize for  the polemical character of the rebuttal. Please note that every time I say  Ethiopians, it includes Tigreans.  

Dawit begins his complaint with rhetorical questions, ” Why do they hate us?”,  “Why do they want our subjugation and possible elimination?”, “Where did we go  wrong ?”. 

TPLF, whose very existence is predicated upon Amhara hatred has the audacity  to accuse Ethiopians of doing the same thing against Tigreans. One need only  read their founding manifesto to start with. They substituted “Amhara ruling  class” for the Marxian tenet ” class struggle”. TPLF(in Dedebit), deficient in self esteem, was competing against the more popular Marxists in the mountains of  Assimba. Firstly, the Amharas were not the only ‘ruling class’. Of all the others, 

the Tigrean ancestral nobility (privileged by intermarriage and blood) lasted with  the Monarchy until the end. Ironically, the leader of the counterrevolutionary  group, EDU, that wanted the return of the Monarchy was the Tigrean Leul Ras  Mengesha Seyoum. Dawit, doesn’t Wallelign Mekonnen, the patron saint of the  nationalists, tell us the ‘Amhara and Tigrean ruling class’ were the oppressors, in  his pamphlet ‘you’ celebrate? The seeds of hatred was buried in that phrase.  TPLF chose the easy way out; ethnic agitation over class based propaganda.  Could a Tigrean peasant see through the crafty words and the demagoguery of  TPLF? Not in a million years. Melese Zenawi’s book, “Eritrean Peoples Struggle,  from Where to Where “, is another declaration of their resentment against  Ethiopia. The best critique of that book comes, ironically, from the reformed TPLF  member and Tigrean, Abraham Yayih. Read it, to learn the extent of TPLF’s  betrayal. 

Dawit, Ethiopians have no reason to hate you, indiscriminately. You are  intertwined with us by blood, history, religion and culture. Our relationship was/is  based on mutual benefit and understanding. You owe us nothing. We owe you  nothing. We don’t claim any part of your tribal territory. We have not settled in  your “land”. We haven’t denied you anything that we had. We have no  resentment against you because of ‘your’ forefathers. We don’t dwell on our/your  past. We have not erected monuments for civil wars we won or lost. We haven’t  poisoned our children with ethnocentric lies in our text books. We abandoned  parochialism and provincialism a longtime ago, replacing it with  Ethiopianism;(reasonable people and most Ethiopians have fought and continue  to fight the chauvinistic, jingoist nationalist interpretation of Ethiopianism). We  didn’t create the historical famines and plagues in northern Ethiopia. We have  nothing to do with the ecological disaster of your ‘land’. We did not start a  movement to separate from you. 

Could you imagine what our relationship would have been if any of what you say  had any truth? You are not careful. Remember that Tigreans still live with us. 

Isn’t, in fact, your antipathy the driving force behind all your actions. Don’t tell me  that it was love that made you kill Ethiopians with the Somali invaders in late  seventies (recent information). Was it brotherhood that made you declare Eritrea  an Ethiopian colony and kill us with EPLF for 16 years? Was it endearment that  made you torture, maim and kill us in the prisons, streets and bushes of  Ethiopia? Was it love that enticed you to play divide and rule along ethnic lines?  Was it patriotism that made you rob us blind? To mention just a few!   

You allege that we want your subjugation and possible elimination. It is a shame  that you would talk about subjugation and elimination of Tigreans, only three 

years after the world heard about the horrors and crimes of the Tigrean  elite’s(TPLF) against Ethiopians; from the mouth of it’s own surrogates. Have Tigreans ever suffered oppression that other Ethiopians have not? Has any  Ethiopian government ever excluded or punished you, because you are Tigrean?  Is there any law in Ethiopia that discriminated against you? Have you ever been  denied political rights(whatever little we had) or economic rights that other  Ethiopians had? Was there any government policy that deprived you the right to  work, educate, trade or farm? 

The fact is that you were never treated discriminately. In fact, your ruling elite  were appeased throughout the Monarchy. We can talk about the ills of feudalism  like nepotism and prejudices of one kind or another, which I have no doubt you  experienced as well as participated in. 

Whatever subjugation, historical or current, the record shows Tigreans have  participated in it as rulers(the elite)and suffered as the ruled(the masses). It is  obvious why TPLF wants Ethiopian history to begin with Menelik. The earlier  records are not favorable to any particular group. When we come to the recent  past, is there any part of Ethiopia or tribe that has not been abused, plundered  or suppressed for the benefit of TPLF? Doesn’t the balance sheet of subjugation  show your side was the culprit against more of us than the other way around? 

Dawit continues “Were we wrong to be responsible for and to be the original  center of Coptic Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa? To have Axum Tsion in our  midst …” he goes on to tell us that they are heirs to the Axumite Civilization,  Kingdom and Empire and that they are the original Coptic Christians in sub  Saharan Africa and that they are the bearers of Geez script and many  manuscripts, rock hewn churches … and that they contributed to humanity …  and absurdly remarks, “maybe, our downfall was wanting to make our history  theirs?” 

Let historians ridicule you for your broad and simplistic assertions. We have no  problem with your imaginary ‘unique’ & distinct(if, chauvinistic) history. We don’t  have to fight you over ‘our’ legacy but will fight your lies. Dawit, I assure you we  

have not forgotten that Ethiopia’s current problems are deeply rooted in the false  and delusional narrative of a once great & unique tribe sidelined by other(s),  Amharas and now ironically Eritreans; who must now pay the price for your  tribe’s failures. Please don’t take this myth too far(if it is not already late); you will  be disappointed and hurt. 

Dawit continues: “Were our ancestors wrong as Axumites, to welcome followers  of the Prophet Mohammed …. to be civilized enough to welcome them?”

It is true the Prophet sent some of his followers to the land of Habesh(Abyssinia)  to protect them from persecution in Arabia, in the seventh century. You can own  that history as that of Tigray, exclusively. Where is the continuity of the  ‘civilization’ you bragged about? Civilized in the 7th and intolerant in the 19th  century? Muslims suffered horrible atrocities in the hands of Tigreans more than  anywhere else in Ethiopia. Most enduring intolerance in Ethiopian history also  came from Yohannes the 4th himself. His anti Muslim fanaticism, in the name of  “religious unification” is very well documented. I refer you to The Boru Meda  Council of 1878, convened by him. What befell Muslims (and others) following  that Council’s resolution reverberates to this day. Ask today’s Muslims of Raya &  Azebo, Wollo and other places what happened to their ancestors. Dawit, if ‘you’ are so civilized as you claim, can you explain why Muslims are still  denied the right to build a mosque in Axum? 

You can’t choose the past selectively. You have to own the good, the bad and  the ugly too, as we do. 

Dawit contiues, ” Where do you who dislike us think we went wrong? Were we  wrong to defend our homeland from foreign invaders …? Or was it because  Yohannes responded to the pleas of Gondar when it was ransacked, burnt,  looted by Mahidists ..? Or when he fell fighting gallantly …at the Battle of  Mettemma …rout the Mahdists as they defend Yohannes’ domain”?   

What are you insinuating? Was Gondar an independent state? Somebody forgot  to tell you that the Ethiopian empire was run from Gondar from 1632 to 1855.  Your ancestors’ power and titles were conferred on them by one or another of the  emperors from Gondar. Yohannes the 4th was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1872 to  1889. He had asserted his suzerainty over Ras Woldeselassie of Gondar  /Begemdir, since 1873 and Debre Tabor was his imperial seat for sometimes.  Why would Gondar plead for his help? Wasn’t it his duty to defend his country? In fact, we can blame Yohannes for his failure or neglect to defend Gondar in the  first place. Was he not himself ransacking Gojjam and heading to Shoa for the  ‘eventual’ confrontation with Menelik, delaying the defense of Gondar? Just in  case you didn’t know, the confrontations between Ethiopia and the Mahdists  were the unintended consequence of Yohannes’ 1884 Treaty of Adwa, also  known as The Hewett Treaty, with the British. Under (one of the articles) the  Treaty, Yohannes allowed and assisted in the evacuation of the defeated and  garrisoned Egyptians(from Sudan) through Ethiopian territory to the port of  Massawa for their return/escape to Egypt. This enraged the Mahdists and they  vowed to retaliate against Ethiopia. And they did; Yohannes the 4th paid the  price with his life.

Dawit has another accusation against Menelik, “of splitting our family and land  …”.with his intent to harm Tegaru, …conspired with a foreign force and disposed  of Bogos … for the creation of Eritrea .. as part of the Treaty of Wuchale(1889)  ….” 

Dawit conveniently skipped relevant historical facts leading up to the Treaty of  Wuchale & he/they assigned, as usual, a conspiracy theory that is very  hypocritical. 

Long before Menelik, ‘your land’ or parts of it was occupied for centuries; by the  Turks, the Egyptians &( for a little bit by the British) later, the Italians. Sometimes,  some of the places were partially liberated and then reoccupied. ‘You'(‘We’, more honestly) were unable to dislodge them completely for  historically complicated reasons. Among these are geopolitical (geographic  location & competing powers) internal rivalry, betrayal from within and without.  Nevertheless, attempts were made to dislodge the occupiers over the centuries.  Some tried and failed. Others perished trying. For example, Sarsa Dengil, all the  way from Shoa, tried to dislodge the Turks from Massawa in 1589. He couldn’t.  Yohannes the 4th tried to liberate Bogos and other areas from Egyptians  repeatedly and succeeded partially at Gundet & Gura (despite traitors like Ras  Woldemichael) but were reoccupied by Italians when Britain betrayed him.  Yohannes & Alula Aba Nega’s attempt to dislodge Italians also failed in spite of  their success at Dogali, in 1887. They retreated to the south due to logistical  problems aggravated by the Great Famine and to attend to the Mahdist’s threat  from the west and internal rivalry from the south. By the time Menelik became  Emperor of Ethiopia(1889), a good chunk of today’s Eritrea was under de facto  occupation of Italy and it was continuing to expand further into the highlands.  Dawit, what could Menelik do from 1000 km away, what ‘you’ in the  neighborhood couldn’t for centuries, at the time of the worst famine(known as the  Great Famine of 1888-1892) in Ethiopian history? Could he have been able to  raise an army & provisions from starving people? 

Why didn’t the Tigrean nobility dislodge the Italians, instead of rivalry between  themselves(some even became collaborators) and vacillating between Ethiopia  and Italy? Why didn’t they revolt against Menelik opposing the Treaty instead of submitting to him? In 1894, Ras Mengesha Seyoum, Alula Abanega,  Woldemichael Solomon and Bahta Hagos sought Menelik’s mercy by prostrating  in front of him(in Addis Ababa) carrying stones on their shoulders. They were  pardoned after they renounced their shenanigans with Italy. Poor Bahta Hagos of  Akale Guzai was the only one who subsequently revolted against Italians at the  end of the same year and lost his life. Are you not accusing them of  collaboration with Menelik to divide ‘your land’, if we were to accept your  allegation? The fact is that they realized that it was fait accompli and that Italy 

was playing them against Menelik for the ultimate occupation of Ethiopia. They  didn’t want to be seen as traitors to the majority of their people and fear of being  excommunicated by the Orthodox Church, made them fall in line. It is in the context of all these that Menelik’s cession of territories must be seen.  He knew he couldn’t stop them. In fact, Italians had expanded to more  territories(including into Tigray) even before ‘the ink dried’ on the Treaty of  Wuchale. He was a pragmatic man; saw it coming and tried to avert it by  concessions of some lands(as did Yohannes and others). Remember that ceding  one’s territory under threat of aggression does not deprive one’s right of  reclaiming it later. 

You assigned a sinister motive to historical challenges Menelik and Ethiopia had  faced; like the ethno-nationalists who only see conspiracy everywhere. Just a reminder, your claim is hypocritical too. TPLF fought and killed Ethiopians  with EPLF by declaring(Melese Zenawi’s book) Eritrea was an Ethiopian colony.  Why the crocodile tears now, over a settled issue whose beneficiaries seem to  be happy with? I am sorry EPLF ‘forgot’ to include you in their narrative of  Eritrean history. 

Dawit continues ” ..we allowed Menelik to forcibly take our land up to Metemma,  give it to that expansionist force in Begemdir? …” Was it because we destroyed  the Italian imperial army at Dogali(1887) … Amba Alagi(1895)? 

Dawit is inserting, slyly, TPLF’s territorial claim(for it’s future homeland) on parts  of Gondar. Dawit, Metemma (also known as Galabat or Galabad or Qallabat in  Arabic) has always been part of Begemdir/Gondar of Ethiopia, except when  occupied by Egypt and Mahdists for short periods. Yohannes, to his credit, did  not invade Gondar for territorial gain but to assert his suzerainty over Ras  Woldeselassie and for the extraction of tributes. Yohannes lost his life in  Metemma for Ethiopian territorial integrity. He was a much more broadminded  Ethiopian nationalist than many of your elite. 

Dawit expands his claim “….Or was it because Ras Mengesha Seyoum and Alula  Abanega with Awalom and Hailemariam help made the mistake of absolutely  annihilating Victor Emmanuel ….along with his askari at the Battle of  Adwa(1896)while the so called “Emeye” Menelik was attending a service at St.  George church asking the almighty’s deliverance and support” 

I would have no problem if you were talking about unsung heroes. However,  your claim that Tigreans defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adwa is laughable.  It is too trivial for me to respond to this nonsense. Even the patron saint of TPLF,  Melese Zenawi, didn’t insinuate, let alone go that far in his speech at the  centenary of the Battle of Adwa in 1996.The world knows about the Battle of 

Adwa and Menelik’s role in it. He is, foremost, recognized as the leader who  brought all Ethiopians together, led the campaign to defeat Italy. There is nothing  in the history books that diminishes the contribution of the Tigreans. Many others  from all regions of Ethiopia fought heroically too and everyone’s part is chronicled  orally and in the history books. Unfortunately, we can’t help you and your kind if  history shines on leaders, overshadowing others, fairly or unfairly. 

Dawit, goes on to allege; “perhaps our cardinal mistake was that we tolerated  and allowed the brutality of Menelik that rained upon the captured Tegaru, our  Eritrean brothers, a brutality which saw chopping their arms and legs, while ‘we’  let thousands of captured Italian prisoners of war go scot-free. Or was it also that  we failed to protest and expose when he, with barbarism, chopped off the  genitals of male Tegaru toddlers in Tigray”? 

You accuse Menelik of brutality and barbarism selectively, ignoring the brutality  of his contemporaries everywhere. Let’s hear from anyone who has the nerve to  compare the violence of nations and kingdoms to their own or other peoples with  that of Menelik’s and come out innocent from the barbarities of 19th Century. Wasn’t slavery part of America until 1865, the year Menelik became king of Shoa? Remember the Trail of Tears and extermination of the indigenous peoples  (Canadians, Australians included), Manifest Destiny against, Mexico, Philippines,  Cuba, Porto Rico? Britain’s 19th century brutal colonization of a quarter of the  world? King Leopold’s horrors in Congo, Bismarck’s and Garibaldi’s rampages  through European lands to unite Germany and Italy? France’s barbarity in Algeria  and Madagascar etc., Portugal, Spain and others were also delivering horrible  violence in countries they occupied. Nothing worse happened in Ethiopia that  has not happened in the ‘civilized’ world and elsewhere. 

Ethiopia’s powerful noblemen and kings had their share of brutalities, in pursuit of  power and wealth. Contrary to what ethno-centrists have us believe, there were  no innocents and Tigreans were part it. For a comparison of atrocities between  Menelik and his contemporaries; I recommend Bewketu Seyoums compendium:  Ke-Amen Bashager 

Perhaps, Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes) was the climax of brutality in  Ethiopian history. Some examples: The famous Scottish explorer, who visited  Ethiopia around the 1770s tells us the horrors of Ras Michael Sehul of Adwa(the  first of the four Tigrean princes of Zemene Mesafint) in graphic details. In one of  his notes he describes how Michael punished those he defeated” … upon  returning to the capital, Ras Mikael immediately killed a troop of traveling actors  who had performed a satire of him. A number of former rebels, who had switched  sides, brought to him a number of prisoners, including the Aqabe Sa’at Abba  Salama: after a show trial Ras Mikael had them brutally executed. In the days  that followed Ras Mikael wrought his vengeance on all who opposed him. Fifty 

seven died publicly by the hand of the executioner … The bodies of those killed  by the sword were hewn to pieces and scattered about the streets….I was  miserable, almost driven to despair at seeing my hunting dogs …bringing into the  courtyard the head and arms of the killed men…the quantity of carrion, and the stench of it brought down the hyenas in hundreds few people in Gondar go  out ….”. 

Bewketu tells us more on Michael’s atrocities as follows; Michael defeated an  Oromo chieftain, Warragna Fasil, who escaped. Michael had 20 of the captives,  had their eyes gouged and left them by Tekeze river for the hyenas. Wacheka  was another captive who was skinned alive at Michael’s order. Bruce tells us how  Wacheka’s skin was made a public spectacle. I am not picking on Yohannes to take a side. All his contemporaries did atrocious  things; I am simply trying to teach Dawit not to be too enamored of his clan, when  it comes to the past( and even the present).

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