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Welkait: The Redline that cannot be crossed in Ethiopia

Wassy Tesfa _ Wolkait article
Wassy Tesfa

By Wassy Tesfa

When looking at the Senate and House bills, HR. 6600 and S. 3199, that are currently being pushed through the US Congress, and the discussion about the conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), there is an area in Northern Ethiopia that is central to the discourse. It is one of the main reasons for the protracted and unending nature of the conflict, yet it is not referenced in the bills. This is the region that encompasses Welkait, Tegede and Tselemt.

The area was quietly and methodically annexed to the Tigray region by TPLF during their three decades in power to create the artificial construct of “Western Tigray”.

It is the ancestral home to the Amhara who have documented evidence that they resided there for a millennia. Also, more recently, interviews with both Prince Ras Mengesha, the grandson of Emperor Yohannes of Tigray, and TPLF’s leaders Aregawi Berhe and Gebre Medhin Araya, have verified that there is no question that this geographic and strategically important region belongs to the Amhara and the land beyond the Tekeze river where this area lies was never Tigray.

This large region bordering Sudan and Eritrea is rich in farmland and resources. The TPLF has systematically and brutally tried to erase all trace of Amhara ever living there. The identity, history and cultural makeup of the Welkait was forcibly transformed by the TPLF. Moreover, many thousands of Amhara were displaced, killed and imprisoned. 

When TPLF was defeated following its failed coup attempt in November 2020 it withdrew back to the borders of Tigray proper. On its way, through Welkait, it killed and looted, targeting mostly Amhara. Somewhere between 500-1200 civilians were massacred in Mai Kadra as they sought refuge in neighboring Sudan. When former Ethiopian Dictator Meles Zenawi and the rest of the TPLF leadership were fighting the military dictatorship DERG in the 80s it is through this area their weapons came from the Sudan, Egypt and other sources. So, for the TPLF, annexing Welkait is a simple matter of resource. Welkait is not only home to the Amhara but it is central to the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. While the TPLF continue its efforts to declare independence and tear the country apart, it is critical this region is protected as Ethiopian sovereignty. 

Throughout Ethiopia’s very long history people from Tigray came and worked and even settled in Welkait living in harmony with the local Amhara, and indeed there are people who are dual language speakers of Tigrigna and Amharic. But the population of the area before the TPLF took over and the last open census that was done showed more than 80% of the population were Amhara with only 6% from Tigray. When we look at the latest census data these numbers have been changed to reflect that the overwhelming majority of the population is of Tigrayan origin. Even if the number of the census are inflated to favor TPLF, this begs the question what happened? How can the demographics of a whole region be so drastically changed in such a short period?

Below are the methodical and systematic actions taken by the TPLF during its 27-year rule to try and erase the Amhara out of Welkait. The plan to do this was agreed even before TPLF came to power. It was mapped out in the greater Tigray aspirations of the TPLF which incorporated the annexation of this area.

  1. The systematic killing of Amhara people as soon as the TPLF took power. The most drastic of this incident was the rounding up of Amhara boys and men over the age of 13 who were thrown into  holes (called “Gehaneb”, hell), either killing them with bullets or smoking them to death so the “bullets would not be wasted”. Recently some of these mass graves have been dug out by members of the University of Gonder, and the fossilized remains of these men and boys were recovered. It is estimated that this was the fate of 50,000 people.
  2. Forcefully impregnating Amhara women, one Tigrayan man was to impregnate at least 5 Amhara women. This policy was carried out by forced marriage or rape of Amhara women.
  3. Linguistic and cultural domination was carried out by changing the official language from Amharic to Tigrigna so Amhara children would grow up speaking Tigrigna while at the same time the history of the area was rewritten. Meanwhile, the elders who were the sustainers of culture and history were killed so they could not pass on history.
  4. Amhara’s were forcefully removed from their homes and lands by levying exorbitant taxes so people had to give up their land or business, and finally, Amhara’s were officially kicked out by being told this is Tigray you have to leave. Most of the displaced people went to Gonder, and other places.
  5. Demographic engineering was further conducted by mass resettlement of Tigrayans into the area from Samri, Shere, Tambien to change the ethnic heritage of the populace.
  6. Ensuring that the area becomes isolated from the rest of Ethiopia and the world by not allowing any NGO’s, investments nor journalists into the area while they “cleaned up” so there are no witnesses to their crimes.

The TPLF had 27 years to refine their transgression and implement their macabre plan. But what remains encouraging today is that the people of Amhara have managed to keep Welkait within its ancestral borders. No matter how aggressively the TPLF has tried to take back Welkait, it has not been able to since they were kicked out in November 2020.

All peace-loving Ethiopians are very much looking at and waiting for Prime Minister Abiy’s administration to disclose the plans for this region (Welkait, Tegene, and Tselemt) post-conflict. I believe like most Ethiopians; it will continue to stay within its ancestral borders for Amhara, this issue for me is non-negotiable.

I also believe the process of unifying Welkait and the whole region has already taken place by the fearless people residing there and only needs to be ratified by the Abiy administration. There has been enough delay that is feeding all kind of speculations as to where the government stands on this issue. The Abiy administration should expeditiously and unequivocally lose all officious blockades to expedite the solution. Budgetary resources should also be made available through the Amhara Regional or Federal administration and not held back because of bureaucracy. I would like to note that PM Abiy’s government reported as they spent over 100 billion Ethiopian Birr to support the recovery of Tigray after its first round of law enforcement operations. On the other hand, the people of Welkait were forgotten for nearly 18 months. The lack of resource going into Welkait is very demoralizing for the inhabitants and makes them feel unwanted. This needs to be resolved. Welkait has basic needs that cannot wait until the constitution has been revamped or until the national dialogue is conducted. People live there, children need to go to school, health care should be available as well as food and shelter.

As I write, the TPLF is mobilizing its forces for the final battle, its international allies have already started the false propaganda. The truth is the ethnic based violence in Welkait was against the Amhara who were killed, displaced and denied their culture and whose history was almost eradicated.

Wassy Tesfa is a leading member of AEPAC and Vice President of GLEAN

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14 COMMENTS

  1. The Amhara elites should work very hard to make it clear to the world these bitter truth.As is seen now the Tegarus are making the world see that they are victims ,the truth is they are genociders.The government i think wants to do whatever is necessary to make the party stay in power.
    So everything lies on the shulders of the Amharas abroad.Collect signatures,show the world what was and is done to eradicate the Amhara people,Show the world,shout,demonstrate ,sacrifice,….
    May God help the innocent people there.
    Thank you

  2. From what I read in so many articles in the part the area mentioned in this one is going to be a flashpoint for years to come. What will keep it smoldering is the runaway population explosion and the waning away of available arable land. The old country is not alone on this one. Iraq and Syria have it going back for decades. Syria and Jordan, Armenia and Azerbaijan(Nagorno-Karabakh), countries in Central and South America on and on. Many of them had risen up above ravaging raw emotion and have been able to work through the issues or at least put it back in the burner. I hope my dearest brothers and sisters from Amhara and Tigray will also be able to work through the issues amicably to something that will benefit everyone. They must be able to swallow the pills no matter how bitter and get hold of this out of control population explosion. People are multiplying like there is no tomorrow over there. We have seen so many video clips that show the cloth on the backs of moms and dads turning into dirty and torn rags but proudly presenting their 10 or 12 children in front of their one-room dilapidated huts. This reality exists in every rural areas and small towns across that country. There must be a national plan to put a kibosh on this extremely harmful issue first. The leaders of both major religions and traditional creeds must be brought in the effort. Yes The Almighty Our Creator had rewarded mankind this blessed earth to make a living off the land but did not tell us to overpopulate it. When I left that country more than 6 decades ago it was said to have a population of less than 25 million but now it has close to 130 million. By 2030 it may surpass 150 million. By 2050? Forget about it! It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it! For now I hope and pray that these two neighbors will be able to work through the issues where zerraaf and laloye war drums have gone silent. Insha’Allah!!!

  3. Meanwhile, there is another conflict faraway from here and the old country which becoming more and more an international incidence by the day. It is now reported that the thug in Moscow has given the Biden Administration a formal last warning either it has to stop sending military aid to Ukraine or face dire consequences. The bully in Kremlin is being embarrassed on the battle fronts. His win-quick battle plan has fallen flat on its face because the war is still raging costing the lives of tens of thousands of Russians. Just look what he has done to non military targets of civilian quarters in Ukraine. The war he started is very personal to him. That is what despots have always been. What does it mean when a despot sitting on stockpiles of nuclear warheads is given warning of dire consequences? You see, Khrushchev at least had Brezhnev, Shelepin and Semichastny around just in case he started acting funny. But this bully Putin doesn’t seem to have anyone that can stop him from doing anything he wants. I’m getting unsettled by this latest warning.

  4. The liberation of Welkait from the occupation and misrule of the fascist TPLF forces should have an important chapter in the history of the region. The liberation struggle of the inhabitants of Welkait against the fascist and oppressive rule of the TPLF has born fruit and the region is liberated. But the TPLF is still in charge in Tigray and will not give up its claims because it sees Welkait as a strategic region for the would be republic of greater Tigray. Thus, tightening the noose around Tigray to weaken and eliminate the threat from the TPLF is indispensable for the security and stability of Welkait. Defascitizing Tigray (ridding Tigray of fascism) is also in the best interest of the Tigray people because Tigray under fascism will be an isolated and more deprived region.

  5. Very strong and true statement. Truth always win. Playing victim and accusing the victim is methodical tactic of tyrants and dictators. Peaceful Ethiopians including intellectuals must not allow victims to be victimized over and over again. The world must know the truth and held TPLF accountable for five decades of systematical and brutal crimes and killings to erase all trace of Amhara ever living in Welkait.

    Every Ethiopian who were born before 30 years know well the historical provincial map of Ethiopia including the provinces of Begemder and Tigray.
    The artificial west and south Tigray is only 27 years old fictional and Genocidal that took hundred thousands of Amhara lives and livelyhood.
    History of Welkait Amhara residing for millennia as part of Begemder, Gonder cannot and will not be changed by the land thief, 27 TPLF brutal genocidal rule.

  6. No ifs and buts. Amhara people and land is not for sale or negotiation.
    Begemeder stays Begemeder!
    Tigray stays as Tigray!
    So called Humanitarian and Crisis will not define and should stay OUT of Amhara and Ethiopians internal issues.

  7. The only way forward is negotiating with TPLF the Amhara take it today, the tegaru takes it tomorrow. No body will give away what it claims his. I see the article to be one sided. The Targaru can produce evidence after evidence. Instead of encouraging modern way of settling conflict the article encourages more violence between the two peoples the winner takes all attitude .

  8. No matter what Wolkiet belongs to Wolkiet Amharas people. No body knows about Wolkiet except the people of Begemider. Westerns should stay out of Ethiopians matters! Leave Ethiopia alone. Redline has been crossed,

  9. It is amazing how Ethiopians not mobilizing together, government or not. If you are strong and one, government will be in fear and abide by what people want however, there is reality that the impossible demand from people that can not be fixed over night will make people or Ethiopia pay the price. Instead, the people must work together to protect self and the nation. For example, l would rally against Asmera’s genocider of 1.2 million Ethiopian babies, unknown numbers of selling Ethiopian children to the West by non other than Tedros Adanom. Freedom is not free! Instead of dancing, partying as if nothing had happened under Tedros Adanom reign, or now or future, better work hard!

  10. 27 TPLF misrule, looting and murdering created all the tensions between people and ethnic zone boundary problems of today. God only knows how many Amharas ruthlessly suffered and murdered before and during TPLF occupation of Welkait and Raya regions. Today Welkiat Amhaars are breathing a sigh of relief while mourning and searching for their loved ones who disappeared and brutally massacred by TPLF Tigres.

    Forcing Amharas to convert to Tigray and forcing them to abandon their mother tongue and speak Tigrigna was very brutal and fascist that never worked. The unti-Amhara and Ethiopia, TPLF will not defines Amharas and Ethiopian history.

    The only way for peace is when TPLF comes to reality and stop the aggression because Amharas will never allow another Genocide and rape.

  11. subject: “Welkait: The Redline that cannot be crossed in Ethiopia”. By Wassy Tesfa, April 15, 2022

    Humble Commentary, 20 April 2022
    Reading the above critically, one can’t help wondering whether the TIME is already at hand for the DISINTEGRATION of the Area into pieces. In other words, in human history, there are always strange lunatic individuals who are tuned to the disintegration of what they see. They cannot help to. They are simply incapable of appreciating peaceful life.
    Peaceful lifer is simply boring to them.

    Do you remember Hitler? And how could you forget that what we have at hand is a reflection of the past –in this particular example, it is Putin the OPEN ADMIRER of Hitler. OH, YES, WE AFRICANS TOO HAVE our own ‘mini Putins’ in our Dear Black Africa too. By the way, did you read the latest news where admirers of Putin are going to Moscow to help in his agitated war.?!?!?!?!?

    With extreme humble, may I also be cruel enough to remind you of “WelKait”, in the province of Gondar or Tigray? Well, Well, Well Quote: “sew balewy yselefal, new neggeru ” Unquote More will come, that is what we are — and then tranquility and peace may emerge, that is what we are. LOOK AT YOURSELF ON THE MIRROR — and smile, because you [WE} are simply incapable of …………… fill the gap in reaction to your mood and start counting your days. THE END of my diatribe.

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