Yonas Biru, PhD
Cry, Mother Tigray Cry
Throw not thy head unto thy knees
stand on thy toes
stretch thy hands out unto the sky
look at the heavenly bodies in the eye
and shout aloud: Why!
Shed, too, thy tears
for the heavenly bodies that fail to hear thy scream
shalt see the glut of thy pain
borrow tears from the sky
cry, Mother Tigray cry!
March 18, 1996
The Tigray war was devastating for Ethiopia. Words cannot fully describe the destruction it wrought on Tigray in terms of lives, livelihoods, and treasures. Daniel Berhane’s book [“The Book” hereafter], “War on Tigray: Genocidal Axis in the Horn of Africa” is a lawyer’s endeavor in blood laundering to cleanse the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Tigrayan Defense Force (TDF) of children’s blood.
I have written two brief articles on the book and debated Daniel on የሀሳብ ገበታ – Moges Zewdu Teshome’s YouTube Channel. One point that Daniel made during our debate is what prompted me to write an in-depth book review. At the beginning of the debate, the host asked Daniel if he sees the TPLF combatants who perished during the war as war heroes and martyrs. Daniel answered: Their sacrifice was honorable and blessed. Chances are high that similar sacrifices will be paid in the future [“የተከበረ እና ቅዱስ ነው:: ወደፊትም [ተመሳሳይ መስዋእትነት] የመኖር አድሉ ሰፊ ነው”].
Many of the perished combatants are neither meritorious war heroes nor martyrs. Nor are their deaths honorable and blessed. They were terrified children who were herded to their death as human-wave and child-soldier hoards. An intercepted military communication exposed that the standing order was to shoot those who retreated or ran to save their lives.
The book was released days before the Tigrayan regional administration declared a “three-day mourning period to honor the heroes and heroines of Tigray who paid the ultimate price.” It also coincided with a Tigrayan social media whirlwind campaign to cover the unmarked mass graves of the TPLF’s child soldiers with a façade of glory, heroism, and honor.
In a sardonic twist of irony, most of the child soldiers whose forced sacrifice is being peddled as glorious heroism perished in what the TPLF/TDF called “Operation Mothers of Tigray”. The blood laundering attempt is a despicable act of war against decency and humanity. Above all, it is a war on mothers of Tigray, who are mourning the death of their children as victims of an unnecessary war, not celebrating it as a heroic endeavor.
The book is 400 pages long. It is divided into 11 chapters and lengthy bibliography and index. It is structured in three broad areas: (1) the prewar years and months, (2) “the historical legacy that fueled the anti-Tigray mobilization”, and (3) “the genocidal execution of the War.”
The blood laundering endeavor starts with absolving the TPLF from responsibility in using child solders and presenting Tigray as a victim of a Genocidal Axis, not as a perpetrator of war. The alleged pillars of the genocidal axis are “the elites of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Amhara region.” There is a fourth axis of evil though not explicitly labeled as such – the international community. The book presents Tigray as a victim of the international community that has enabled (and continues to enable) Ethiopian leaders’ strategic agenda of “dismembering Tigray” from the time of Emperor Haile Selassie to the present day.
The book fails in presenting the true structural, historical, social, and political causes of the war and its wrath and aftermath. It employs common lawyers’ tricks, including morphing facts into emotional hot buttons, shaving sharp edges of hard facts that cut through the TPLF’s lies, and twisting the truth until it aligns with the TPLF narrative.
In reviewing the book, I will depart from traditional book review format. Rather than following the structure of the book’s narrative, I will construct it differently. This will help us to avoid falling victim to the book’s swooping anecdotal stories and hot-button tribal issues that are artfully weaved into a genocide narrative. Stripping its outrage-stirring anecdotes and hot button issues that are designed to elicit emotional reaction will collapse the book because it has little to no substance to stand on.
First, I will start with the Role of the international community. That is chapter 10 in the book. There is no chapter in the book that exposes the author’s strategy of presenting Tigray as a victim of national and international forces more than this chapter. Starting from chapter 10 will help readers to read the book with a different mindset.
Second, I will move to the structural causes of the war. The book avoids addressing the structural causes because it does not fit well with its strategy of enthralling its readers with heartbreaking anecdotes and sympathy-eliciting hot buttons sob stories.
Third, I will present the context, subtext, and pretext of the war. My focus will be on the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ parameters of the war (context), unveil the undercurrents driving the war (subtext) and expose false reasons given by the TPLF and its activists ecosystem (pretext).
Fourth, I will address the atrocities of the war and the damage suffered. Finally, I will
take the issue of Wolkait what the book bills as the “epitome of the genocide.”
The Role of the International Community
The chapter the book titled “The Role of the West” starts with a quote from an unnamed Irish MP: “The west is […] prepared to sacrifice Tigray to keep [Abiy] in place.” It accuses the international community of nonfeasance (negligence) and malfeasance (a deliberate act of wrongdoing).
“By omission and commission, the West has enabled the regimes’ anti-Tigray policy,” the book asserts. Pay attention. It is not by omission or commission. It is by omission and commission. This suggests there are deliberate international player who are anti-Tigray.
It goes on to accuse Western media outlets of being “replete with instances of framing bias in their reporting of the war.” Further, it suggests “there was a blatant underreporting and misrepresentation if not outright mockery of the suffering of Tigrayan victims.”
Why would the international community work with a string of Ethiopian regimes who harbor “anti-Tigray” historical impulses and policies, including a strategic desire of “dismembering
Tigray”? The book explains: “The racism-laden low expectation that dominates the Western foreign policy ecosystem demanded the dignity, aspiration, and security of the Tigrayan polity as expendable.”
This is a common narrative amongst extremist Tigrayans and Amharas. In December 2021, Professor Al Mariam shared a similar sentiment from an Amhara or Ethiopianist perspective: “What is happening in the relationship between Ethiopia and the U.S. is a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between a civilization founded on white European supremacy and an African civilization deeply rooted in black independence.”
Poor westerners are accused of siding with Ethiopia to dismember Tigray and supporting Tigray to dismantle Ethiopia, simultaneously. The #NoMore symphony is conducted in the streets of Washington and Brussels with Amharic and Tigrigna lyrics competing for attention. It is part tragic and part comic. At its core it is Ethiopian politics.
Western countries are not the only parties that the book portrays as agents of the evils of axis hovering around the periphery of the genocidal trio. By extension, international organizations such as the Amnesty International and the UN who are financed by Western countries are billed as adversarial to Tigray, some by omission and others by commission.
The book accuses the Amnesty International of making “hasty” conclusions and “fatal mistake” in documenting Tigrayan atrocities against Amhara people. Inexplicably, if not shamefully, it characterizes UN’s tweet accusing the TPLF of confiscating over 400 UN food aid trucks as “misleading, to put it mildly.”
The UN tweet that was posted on September 16 states:
“Only 38 out of 466 trucks that entered #Tigray since 12 July returned. We need trucks to deliver lifesaving assistance to people in Tigray”
The trucks were in the TPLF’s hands and were being used for the purpose of war. What was misleading about this factual statement? The UN went public with the statement after over two months of failed efforts to get the trucks back to deliver food to the people of Tigray. The book’s complaint is that the statement “failed to note about harassments, and detentions of truck drivers en route to Tigray by regular and irregular forces. Varying amounts of fuel was extracted from the trucks and taken away.”
What the book suggests is that the trucks were harassed en route to Tigray and that justifies confiscating them and using them for the war. Both the TPLF and the book accuse the Ethiopian government and the UN of not sending more trucks.
The book discredits the joint UN and Ethiopian Human Rights Commissions (EHRC). It suggests both “the process and operation” of the joint work were “effectively hijacked” by EHRC. It ridicules the UN as an unwitting victim of “a backroom diplomatic maneuvering” and portrays the joint report as “sub-par” and “fiasco.”
The TPLF strategy, of which the book is an integral part, is to overflood the social media, print and digital spheres with misinformation and lies and discredit critics until the TPLF narrative completely dominate the bandwidth in all outlets.
In this regard, the book paints critics of the TPLF as corrupt and inept enemies of Tigray. In contrast, it places those who echo the TPLF’s propaganda narratives on a high moral pedestal. One such person whom the book touts as morally virtuous is US Senator Bob Menendez. Yes, the corrupt US senator, who was indited of taking bribes twice in the last 10 years.
Currently, the good senator is under investigation after US federal agents searched his house and found hidden gold bars and nearly $500,000 in cash in envelops. The envelops contain fingerprints and DNA traces of Egyptian businessmen who served as agents of Egypt. The charges against him indicate, in exchange he provided Egypt with “highly sensitive information” and ghost-wrote a letter “to convince other U.S. senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt.” One cannot be faulted if one wondered as to whether Egypt commissioned the senator to work for the TPLF.
The Structural Causes of Ethnic-based Conflicts
The structural cause of the war is the Constitution. At bottom the war reveals a tug-of-war between the dead texts of the Constitution in want of burial and the unbending forces of Tigrayan extremists who want to keep it alive past its biopolitical life.
A prominent Tigrayan professor of constitutional law, Alemayehu Fentaw, who was one of the ardent defenders of the tribe-based constitution now believes differently. In December 2022 he wrote:
“Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism was meant to be a political experiment at accommodating ethnic diversity and managing ethnic conflicts. The experience so far shows that the system has failed. The system’s reliance on ethnicity as its singular organizational principle, asymmetrical constituent units, absence of an independent constitutional court, and one-party hegemony resulted in the disastrous failure. Ethiopia is at a moment of great constitutional crisis. Nothing short of a comprehensive constitutional reform can resolve the conflicts and halt the ongoing ethnic pogroms.”
The Constitution was crafted by the TPLF to make Tigray the alpha tribe. The political narrative that the constitution empowers all nations and nationalities in Ethiopia and allows them to nurture their cultures, traditions and languages and govern themselves is bad fiction.
In practice, the Constitutional governance has four different classes of tribes with different levels of constitutional rights and protections. The first class consists of Tigray, Amhara, and Oromo. They are fully recognized and granted constitutional rights to govern themselves. Though Tigrayans control the levers of power, Amhara and Oromo were part of the governing structure.
The second-class constitutes Somali, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, and Harari Peoples. The Constitution recognizes and grants them constitutional rights to govern themselves. But when it comes to national administration power play, they are excluded. PM Meles described the policy on national TV, stating they were not ready to assume national responsibilities.
The third-class consists of the Southern Peoples Region. Southern Peoples is the only region in the Constitution that is not a tribal entity. The group is a square peg that does not fit into the philosophical underpinnings of the tribal constitution’s circle.
Its establishment was an afterthought and driven by the need to form an economically viable region. The larger tribes within the region such as Sidama, Wolaita, Hadiya and Gurage each has more population than Afar, Benishangul, Gambella and Harari People. Yet, they were not given Autonomy to administer themselves.
Their rights to form their own autonomous region was stripped of them to form a region, consisting of a hotchpotch of dozens of smaller tribes. Since smaller tribes are not economically viable to exist on their own, the larger tribes were forced to serve as their constitutionally sanctioned adoptive partners, following the Oromo tradition of ጉዲፈቻ. Last year, Sidama relinquished its ጉዲፈቻ responsibility and made itself a free tribal land.
The fourth-class consists of tribes that the Constitution does not even recognize by name. The only place they are included in the Constitution (without being mentioned) is in Articles 61 and 62, as members of the House of Federation (HoF). Though the HoF is a part of the Constitution’s legislative organ (often compared to the US Senate), it has no legislative power. It cannot enact or block the enactment of laws.
Among duties mandated to the HoF includes “perform[ing] functions assigned to it” by the House of Peoples’ Representatives. As an additional layer of control, the HOF’s budget is subject to the approval of the House of Peoples’ Representatives.
Why did the TPLF frame the constitution as such? Supposedly, the purpose of the Constitution is to give the 80 plus tribes equal rights and protect vulnerable ones from disenfranchisement of their cultures, traditions and languages. If this was indeed true, one would assume more emphasis would be on smaller and weaker tribes. But this is not the case. Smaller and weaker tribes are denied equal rights by design.
As the architect of the Constitution, the TPLF was cognizant that small tribes are natural allies to Amhara that is the banner-holder of pan-Ethiopianism. Small tribes cannot form a viable independent nation by themselves and their survival as a free and prosperous people depends on their ability to live with others. Article 39 does not mean anything to them.
The TPLF’s two-pronged intention in framing the Constitution was to make Tigray the nation’s alpha tribe and ensure Amhara is undermined. The following discussion between a prominent Tigrayan journalist and the Godfather of the TPLF, Abboy Sibhat, after the TPLF was removed from office reveals their sentiment as the nation’s alpha tribe.
Tigray is the cradle of Ethiopia’s civilization. If the PM insists that Tigray’s influence over the nation’s business will be determined by the size of our population, we cannot accept that. “ትግራይ የ ኢትዮጵያ የስልጣኔ ምንጭ ናት። ሰለዚህ በኢትዮጵያ ሃገር አቀፍ የፖለቲካ ውሳኔ ላይ በህዝባችን ልክ 6% ድምጽነው የሚሰጣችሁ ቢሉን አንቀበለም።
This statement is not an off the cuff remark of fringe elements. Their thinking was the governing principle of the TPLF when it was in power. In the legislative branch, the Tigray tribal region had and continues to have 38 seats in the national Parliament, 40 percent more seats than the Somali tribal region that has more population than Tigray.
Tigray population accounts for 5% to 6% of the nation’s population, depending on different census results. However, in the nation’s administration it was given equal voting rights as Oromo, Amhara, and Southern People whose population accounts, respectively, for 32% to 35%, 27% to 30%, and 18% to 20%. The other regions, who were relegated as አጋር ብሄር (loosely translated as support tribes) were excluded from the administrative power play.
After the TPLF lost its monopolistic control over the levers of power, it was effectively downgraded from Alpha tribe (አውራ ብሄር) to support tribe (አጋር ብሄር). Hence the war.
The War’s Political Triggers
For 27 years, the TPLF enjoyed a discretionary power to decide what part of the Constitution to honor and what part of it to violate with utter impunity. It wanted the same privilege after it lost the levers of power. Some concrete examples follow.
First, when in power, PM Meles had an unmitigated authority to pick his cabinet members. Key ministerial positions were held by Tigrayans. After PM Abiy came to power, the TPLF waned to have a say in the cabinet selection process, at least in key positions such as defense and finance. For example, when Abiy removed two Tigrayan ministers from key positions to constitute a new cabinet that reflects the nation’s tribal representation, the TPLF called a meeting, demanding explanation, and reconsideration.
Second, when PM Abiy abandoned PM Meles’ revolutionary democracy and developmental State signature policy principles and introduced liberal democracy and market economy, the TPLF went ballistics.
The reforms PM Abiy introduced are policy issues and are within his constitutional authority. Neither revolutionary democracy nor developmental State is mentioned in the constitution as the nation’s governing modalities. The TPLF had only one option to stop the PM’s reform agenda. That is to gather enough vote to oust him and vote in a new PM that shared their views. The problem was that they could not get enough vote to oust him. The entire nation and all the regions barring Tigray were euphoric about the newly minted PM’s political and economic agenda.
The TPLF remained unfazed and continued its effort to derail the reform process. René Lefort, who has known the TPLF’s political history since the 1970s, had it correct when he wrote: “The TPLF is refusing to move one iota from its immutable dogma of ‘developmental state’ and ‘revolutionary democracy.’”
Shortly after PM Abiy started his reform agenda, the TPLF sent him a letter listing three preconditions to keep the TPLF in the EPRDF: (1) reinstate the revolutionary democracy as the nation’s political governance principle, (2) abandon his market economy reform agenda, and (3) disband the border conflict commission.
At the time there were border conflicts between most of the tribal homelands, including between Oromo and Somali, Oromo and Southern People, Oromo and Benishangul, Oromo and Amhara, Amhara, and Tigray and Afar and Somali. The PM’s intention was to present the Commission’s recommendations to the national Parliament’s consideration. The TPLF rejected any third-party investigation of the Wolkait and Raya land contentions.
When PM Abiy rejected the TPLF’s demands, The TPLF leaders retreated to Tigray. At the time, 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s military firepower was stationed in Tigray. They effectively confiscated tank’s, missiles and other heavy weapons and denied the PM (the Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces) the authority to move some of the weapons out of Tigray.
The proverbial last straw that broke the strained relationship was the TPLF’s position on the 2020 national election. The year 2020 was a referendum year to determine the fate of the
current constitution. Parliamentary elections were to be held in August 2020 that would give the people an opportunity to choose between those who wish to maintain the existing ethnic federalism with some reforms and those who call a constitutional overhaul.
In March, the Ethiopian National Election Board (ENEB) suspended the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic and announced that it will schedule a new timeline once the pandemic has subsided. Postponing elections because of COVID was not unique for Ethiopia. According to International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), from February 21, 2020 until March 2021, at least 78 countries and territories across the globe have postponed their elections. In Europe 33.3 percent of national and sub-national elections were postponed. The corresponding figures for Africa and Asia were 23.2% and 21.8%.
Article 104 of the Constitution gives the Election Board a wide latitude, dictating: “The National Electoral Board which shall conduct free and fair elections with impartiality and free from any interference in both the federal and state electoral districts shall be established.” The Federal government and many opposition forces accepted the Election Board’s decision. The TPLF dissented, arguing the Election Board does not have constitutional mandate to postpone it.
This is where Article 62, sections 1 and 8 come into play. Section 1 dictates: “The power of interpretation of the Constitution shall be vested in the House of Federation.” Section 8 proglumides: “The House of Federation shall order the Federal Government to intervene where any state, by violating the provision of this Constitution, endangers the constitutional order.”
The case was presented before the HoF. It found the postponement of the election by the Election Board as a legitimate decision. The TPLF rejected the HoF decision and conducted regional elections in Tigray. The Election Board and the Council of Federations declared the 2020 Tigray election null and void. Further the HoF blocked budget support to Tigray as long as it was ruled by people elected to office outside of the constitutional order.
In return, the TPLF declared the Federal government and national parliament null and void, stating:
“Given the expiration of the legal mandate of the federal government as of September 25, 2013 (Ethiopian Calendar), subsequent decisions by the federal parliament (the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of Federation), federal courts, any proclamations, directives, decisions, issued by entities at all levels of the executive branch, and judicial and administrative decisions aimed at the State of Tigray and Tigrayans lack legal force, and, as such, should be considered null and void.”
In the meantime, the TPLF demanded federal budgetary support to Tigray must continue with the following threat:
“The budgetary and other supports that the Tigrayan people are legally entitled to are not gifts from the pockets of the dictatorial junta rather revenues collected from the people of Tigray as taxes and custom duties. Thus, the share of Tigray shall be released without any precondition. Any reduction or suspension of budget is a violation of the constitutional right of the people of Tigray. The illegal and dictatorial junta in Addis will be responsible for any consequences thereof.”
Ironically, the TPLF is demanding budget support from the very government that it has declared null and void. The TPLF was doing what it used to do when it was in power. Cherry pick which part of the Constitution it honors and which part it violates on a whim.
Par for the course of the book’s bias, it presented the HoF’s budget restriction as “merely formalizing the socio-economic onslaught on Tigray and Tigrayans that had long been underway. It was war by another means…”
For two years, since the TPLF hunkered in Tigray, both the federal government and the TPLF were preparing for war. By September 2020, the question of war was not if but when the first trigger will be pulled and who will pull it. On November 3, 2020, the inevitable happened.
Who Started the War and Why?
On November 3, 2020, Tigrayan militias invaded the ENDF stationed in Tigray. The invasion was facilitated by Tigrayan members of the ENDF who attacked the Northern Command from within in the middle of the night. They killed ENDF leaders in their sleep and opened the garrison’s gates for the TPLF forces.
A TPLF official, Sekoture Getachew, described the attack as a “lightning strike” that lasted no more than 45 minutes. He added: “We brought the entire northern command consisting of 30,000 soldiers and 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s military firepower under our control, barring a few pockets of resistance.”
Before the war rang the death kneIl, the TPLF’s force was 250,000 strong, including soldiers and militia. The TPLF’s political calculus was simple. Overwhelm the government with a lightning strike, take over 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s military weaponry, march to Addis Ababa and take over the levers of power. Should that fail, hunker in Tigray with powerful weapons and threaten a civil war to win political concessions.
Par for the TPLF’s strategy of presenting Tigray as a weak and vulnerable victim of forces who are bent on “dismembering Tigray”, the book presents false information, regarding the size of the TPLF’s defense force and the circumstances of the onset of the war.
First, the book grossly underrepresents the number of personnel in Tigray’s defense force to 80,000, at its peak in June 2021. This contradicts with the 250,000-figure reported above by the International Crisis Group. In 2022, Alex de Waal, the executive director of the US-based World Peace Foundation, put the number at 200,000. This is consistent with Getachew Reda’s speech in Colorado this past July in which he revealed he still has a 200,000 strong standing army.
The TPLF has refused to disclose the number of casualties its combatants suffered. Independent estimate is north of 100,000. This puts the total number of combatants to 300,000 or more.
The book presents the circumstances at the onset of the war as follows.
“On November 3, 2020, when the ENDF, EDF and ASF were positioned across Tigray’s borders, the preemptive measure to neutralize the ENDF Northern Command stationed in Tigray was not taken from the position of strength but a desperate act of a person about to be strangled to death.”
Before the war, the TPLF and its activists were bragging about the invincibility of Tigray’s army. The author of the book was part of the bravado-peddling ecosystem. Months before the war, he arrogantly mocked the HoF’s effort to find a peaceful resolution, stating “አይጦቹ ተሰብሰበው ደመቷ አንገት ላይ ማን ቃጭል እንደሚያስር እየተነጋገሩ ነው” (the mouses are in a meeting to decide who is going to bell the cat).
Two weeks before the war, in an interview with Tigray Media House, the author of the book suggested launching a war may be necessary to force the government to the negotiating table. He added: Tigray needs to take care of it (the war) and go back to its development endeavor.
Immediately after the TPLF started the war, the author of the book made it clear the intention of the war was to topple the government. Here is how he put it:
His statement proves the war was well thought out, its motives to overthrow the PM was discussed before the war, and the power transfer process was agreed upon. Yet, the book talks about Tigray being dragged into the war more like “a person about to be strangled to death.”
The books narrative was beyond misinformation. It was an unadulterated and uncircumcised lie – a calculate one.
War on Mothers of Tigray: The Wrath of the War and Its Aftermath
Anyone who knows about the historical animosity between Amhara and Tigray, Tigray and Eritrea and Oromo and Tigray could not be surprised by the atrocities all sides committed against each other during the war.
Though the Oromo-Tigray conflict is not heralded as much as the Amhara-Tigray and Tigray Eritrea animosity, the Oromummaa movement literature is replete with statements such as “the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government is systematically attacking and terrorizing” the Oromos, “the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian regime has been focused on dismantling and destroying the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – the hallmark, symbol, pride, and hope of the Oromo nation” and “the Tigrayan authoritarian-terrorist regime has controlled the Oromo and denied them freedom.”
The pent-up animosity between the waring factions turned the theater of war into a theater of crime against humanity. The fact that both sides used child soldiers made the atrocities against each other all the more crueller and inhuman.
Shamefully, the book denies the TPLF’s use of child soldiers in human wave. This contradicts with the Organization for World Peace’s report that has confirmed “the TPLF uses child soldiers for the purpose of human shields against attacks.”
This is undeniable. The President of Tigray and Chairman of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, is on the record, announcing every Tigrayan “starting from children” will fight in the war. The TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda has publicly justified recruiting child soldiers, stating “these are children whose parents have been subjected to untold suffering” in the hands of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara forces.
A captured the TPLF military leader put the age-range of the TPLF fighters between 14/15 and 64/65. Even worse, he acknowledged that of the 1400 forces he was leading, only 800 of them were armed. The rest were children who were unarmed and used as human shields. Video clips abound showing children as young as 13 in the TPLF war theater.
There is also an allegation of rampant rape culture within the TPLF/TDF fighting forces. Recently, a Tigrayan medical professional revealed of the 400 young girls that came pregnant, 270 of them were found to be AIDS positive. That was only in one army unit, namely army unit 44. The young girl fighters were impregnated by their commanders.
These are the child victims dead and wounded as well as rape survivors that the author of the book peddles as “የተከበረ እና ቅዱስ” responders to the call for country. This is what the TPLF social media propaganda campaign touts as a celebration of Tigryan martyrdom and pride. This is a War on mothers of Tigray.
Atrocities Committed by ENDF, Eritrean Forces and Amhara Special Forces
Several international organizations and the US have released findings of their investigations. A US report stated: The ENDF, as well as Eritrean and Amhara forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution.
It also stated: “Members of the Amhara forces committed crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing through their treatment of Tigrayans in western Tigray.” The report stated: “Many of these actions were not random or a mere byproduct of war – they were calculated and deliberate.”
Similar allegations are echoed by international human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International (AI). Many of the alleged crimes are sadistic, including using “starvation as a weapon of war.”
The ENDF and its Eritrean ad Amhara partners were not alone in committing war crimes. The US and several international organizations have accused the TPLF of the same crimes. The TPLF was also accused of exposing Tigrayans to starvation. In 2022, its interference with international humanitarian efforts was denounced as “disgraceful” (UN), and “deeply cruel” (USAID).
In 2023, The TPLF officials were accused of stealing food aid that was intended to people at the verge of starvation. According to the Reuters, “General Fiseha Kidanu, the head of peace and security in Tigray’s interim regional administration, told Tigrai TV on Wednesday that the investigation he leads had confirmed the theft of more than 7,000 tones [7 million kg] of wheat and 215,000 liters of food oil.”
This is not the first time that the TPLF is accused of stealing from starving Tigrayans. Alex de Waal, one of the most ardent the TPLF supporters, is on the record accusing the TPLF of “starvation crimes…” during the 1980s. Similarly, in 2010, Plaut published a shocking article in
the BBC, revealing that the TPLF leaders sold sacks of grains mixed with sacks of sand to international NGOs who were buying cereals for food aid.
The TPLF’s crimes against humanity in the Amhara and Afar region is documented by Amnesty International as “despicable acts that amount to war crimes and defy any iota of humanity.”
The Tigray Genocide
The bio of the author of the book profiles him as “a genocide survivor.” As one who bills himself as “social media influencer and pioneer in the Ethiopian blogosphere”, he is on the forefront of the genocide narratice.
The book characterizes PM Abiy’s reference to the TPLF leaders as “junta”, and “daytime hyenas”, as “a dog-whistle” accusations against Tigrayans collectively.” The negative references are packaged and marketed as harbingers of Tigray genocide.
Soon after the TPLF began the war, killing ENDF forces in their sleep and abusing their corpse, General Debela Bacha (an Oromo) revealed a rhetoric-laden acts of the TPLF’s cruelty, Stating:
They stripped off the bodies of the soldiers and laid them on the sun naked. The bodies have not been buried to date. They did this to the army with whom they lived side by side for 21 years. An army that did everything for them, assisted in farming and built schools… They are human faced satans who escaped from hell… We shall not allow them to live as humans. We shall return them to hell.”
The book sees this as “a direct and public incitement to genocide delivered by a general in charge of the war.” The book does not deny the stated allegations of murder and abuse of corpse. The public announcement of the truth is what the book labels as genocide dog whistle.
During our debate, the author of the book claimed the ENDF and its Eritrean and Amhara war partners defecated in a Tigrayan museum and used this as an example of a genocidal act.
The book does not explain why no international body has found genocide in Tigray. During our debate the author of the book gave two explanations. First, he suggested the international community is concerned about the repercussion of declaring genocide. Second, he quipped “just because no international organ has found genocide in Tigray does not mean there is no genocide.”
Wolkait: Epitome of the Genocide
Claims of genocide need to be investigated with care. Though there are many reports on Wolkait, no one has found genocidal acts. Wild claims are not reliable in and of themselves, until they are investigated, triangulated, and confirmed. The book reiterates “genocide” in 73 places and “Western Tigray” (aka Wolkait) in 187 places. The strategy is repeating misinformation and outright lies hoping it will take traction in readers’ minds.
Even international reports are susceptible to misinformation. Amnesty International’s report on the Axum Massacre that was based on the testimonies of 41survivors and witnesses, and 20 others with knowledge of the events was duped. Believing the consistent testimonials of 61 people, Amnesty International published its report with what it called “compelling evidence.”
Not long after, the Amnesty International repudiated the “compelling evidence” as “incorrect as to the date and as to the circumstances.” How can 61 people give the same date and the same story that proved to be false? This is a classic example of planted victims and witnesses and rehearsed testimonies. This is not to say all claims of war crimes and crimes against humanity should be regarded as unreliable. What is important is the need for careful investigation and triangulation.
The book’s narrative on the Wolkait genocide represents reckless misinformation buttressed with brazen lies. It rejects the Amnesty International’s report of Tigrayan crimes against Amharas in Wolkait as a “help” to the Ethiopian government. It accuses the human rights group of “hastily issuing a statement characterizing the massacre as a killing spree targeting Amhara day-laborers by Tigrayan forces.”
The claims the statement was based on phone interviews with Amhara witnesses and characterizes it as “a fatal mistake. The fact, according to the Amnesty International is that apart from witnesses, the report was based on “digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers… “The images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra.”
It reported the victims were Amhara and the perpetrators were Tigrayans. The report stressed:
“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day laborers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.”
A follow up joint report by Amnesty International and Human Right’s Watch found:
Beginning at 3 p.m. and continuing into the evening, Tigrayan men and youth with knives, machetes, and axes, beat, stabbed, and hacked Amhara residents, killing scores, and injuring about 100. By the evening armed Amharas also attacked Tigrayan residents in town.
It must be noted that the report does not report any Tigrayan death. The book ignores the crime committed against Amhara and decries about exaggerated injustice against Tigrayans, stating:
“The vile crimes in Western Tigray were both the means and end of the genocidal axis. Western Tigray had always been seen or acted upon from the angle of dismembering the Tigrayan polity, denying Tigray a fertile land, and blocking its ground link to Sudan.
Two important points need attention. First, the book ignores statements made by several prominent Tigrayans who have publicly stated Wolkait belongs to the Amhara tribal land.
Ras Mengesha Seyoum, a Tigrayan and former governor of Tigray (1960-1974), told the Voice of America: “When I was the governor of Tigray, [what is now known as Western Tigray] was under present-day Amhara region. The same was true when I was a child growing up.”
Dr. Aregawi Berhe, the founding chairperson of the TPLF, who publicly stated: “Wolkait was annexed from current day Amhara during the TPLF gorilla days. The land was critical to get an outlet into Sudan to smuggle weapons and transport food for the TPLF fighters. It was unjust for the Amhara.”
Abraham Yayeh, founding member of the TPLF testified in 1982, Wolkait was taken from Gonder – aka Begemder – and Wello (parts of present-day Amhara). He further stated the people in both lands were Amharic speaking.
The book makes no mention of these testimonies. Instead, it summons a meta-analysis of historical map of the last 300 years to show Wolkait was part of Tigray. The meta-analysis was conducted by Professor Jan Nyssen – a known quantity in the circle of pro-TPLF experts at par with Alex de Waal and Martin Plaut. The good professor analyzed some 52 maps in which Wolkait’s geographic location is shown with clearly delineated boundaries.
Of the 52 maps produced between 1683-1990, in 19 of them Wolkait is mapped neither in Amhara nor Tigray. In 19 cases, Wolkait is mapped in Tigray region (1707-1941) and in 13 cases it is mapped in Amhara (1891-1990).
The problem in this study is that the Meta-Analysis of historical maps ignored maps from 15 to 17th century showing Wolkait in Amhara.
Most importantly, maps from 300 years ago have little value in determining geographic proper in 2023. Centuries ago, California and Texas were part of Mexico. Portugal and Spain did not exist.
The book uses grossly erroneous data as evidence for the Wolkait genocide. It claims that by June 2021, about 723,000 Tigrayans were forcefully displaced out of Wolkait (referenced source Amnesty International). By December of the same year, the number ballooned to 1.2 million (referenced source UN).
There is serious problem with these figures. According to a 2017 population projection, the total population of Wolkait was 434,879. Extrapolating the 2017 figure to 2021 yields a total population of 483,198, nearly three times less than the claimed 1.2 million forcefully displaced people. The displacement numbers do not add up.
What made present-day Japan and Germany great was their ability to accept defeat and humiliation during the second world war and turn them into inspiration for a new chapter. This required establishing accountability and showing humility, regret, and remorse.
From its inception, the TPLF has architected its politics on the foundation of lies, carefully curating its narratives and defending it with a relentless propaganda ecosystem. Tigrayan political elites are bent on hanging onto this foundational political culture. When the time called for confession, apology, contrition, and repentance, and seeking a new direction, they responded with romanticizing their defeat as a temporary setback and a springboard for a comeback.
The book serves as a lingua franca for their defiance. In this regard it is nothing more than a misinformation-laden propaganda project to justify the unjustifiable and resuscitate the TPLF back to life. On the Richter Scale of misinformation, willful deceit, and outright lies, the book hits a 10. This is a war on the mothers of Tigray.
Substance, and honesty aside, there are some areas where the book has valuable information, particularly in relation to power struggle within the EPRDF.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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