By Dr. Caleb Tadesse
The conflict in the Amhara region is driven by a combination of triggering factors and long-term grievances. Political discontent tracing back to 1991 served as a foundation for the ongoing conflict. In May 1991, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) introduced ethnic-based politics. Since then, ethnic politics has become the modus operandi in Ethiopia and served as a basis for the country’s existing federal arrangement and party politics. From the start, the EPRDF regime and other ethno-nationalist forces used derogatory labeling and anti-Amhara narratives to mobilize other ethnic groups against the Amhara. Even the Western reporters and Western policymakers discussing what’s happening in the Amhara region today are repeating nonsense narrations that there was an Amhara-dominated area in Ethiopian history. So, you can’t examine a conflict without historical roots unless. In this paper, the writer deeply examines the proper history and the root cause of the current conflict in the Amhara region.
1. The Drivers of the Conflict
Since the 1990s, the Amhara people of Ethiopia have been subject to ethnic violence, including massacres by Tigrayan, Oromo, and Gumuz ethnic groups among others, which some have characterized as a genocide. Large-scale killings and grave human rights violations followed the implementation of the ethnic-federalist system in the country. In most of the cases, the mass murders were silent with perpetrators from various ethno-militant groups— from TPLF/TDF, OLF–OLA, and Gumuz armed groups. Consequently, the Amharas people of Ethiopia have been subject to ethnic violence-like attacks including harassment, mass expulsions, and massacres. Various means of state-organized ethnic cleansing against Amharas, perpetrated by the federal and regional governments, from causing serious bodily and mental harm using rape, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced pregnancy, and other forms of attacks to pre-planned massacres, state-planned evictions, and induced infertility. In 1991 before introducing an ethnic-based constitution the TPLF annexed the Welkait territory to the Tigray region renaming it West Tigray. Amhara in the region were persecuted: they were not allowed to practice their culture; the use of the Amharic language was prohibited; place and
personal Amharic names were changed; ethnic-based identity cards were enforced. In 2016, the Welkait Committee members had been arrested and tortured for petitioning for identity recognition of the Welkait Amhara population. The ethnic-based structure of its Constitution, and decades of failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
The conflict in the Amhara region is driven by a combination of triggering factors and long-term grievances. Political discontent tracing back to 1991 served as a foundation for the ongoing conflict. The armed groups mobilize from region to region with alleged collaboration with local government officials and from these groups
• Ethnic Oromo militant perpetrators such as the OLA (former military wing of the OLF) also known as Shane or Oneg. The Qeerroo youth groups are also accused of collaborating with these groups.
• The Tigrayan actors such as the TPLF, TDF, and pro-TPLF youth groups in the annexed, and various places in the Amhara region.
• Gumuz actors in the Metekel Zone which is in the Benishangul-Gumuz region.
• Other actors in the Southern SNNPR region and other places.
3. Annexations during TPLF regime
The Greater Tigray autonomy that was designed by the TPLF involved the annexation of lands from neighboring former provinces of Gonder and Wollo, with a coastal possession strategy from Eritrea. Immediately after TPLF secured governmental power in 1991, the Raya Alamata and Welkait Amhara lands were annexed into the Tigray region. These lands have been ruled as southern and western parts of Tigray for three decades. Following the outbreak of the Tigray War, the Amhara forces occupied these disputed territories – with reported tension in these areas. Metekel is also another strategic land from the point of view of accessing the Nile River and annexed to the Benishangul-Gumuz region from the former Gojam Province. Similarly, the Dera and surrounding lands in Shewa, Amhara region are also forcefully administered under the Oromia region following the Oromo-led ruling since 2018. These annexations are protested by the Amhara and described as systematic measures taken to access various resources in the Amhara region. One instance is the Tana Beles national project which incorporated the Lake Tana, and Beles rivers of the Nile— both in the Amhara region. In addition, the GERD became the largest Nile hydroelectric project with significant geopolitical influence on the Horn of Africa with the ongoing large-scale mass violence against the Amhara who live in the annexed regions, many expressed grave concerns about the lack of political and economic representations and fear for their security.
4. Massacres and crackdowns during the TPLF regime
The 27-year rule of the TPLF regime has been characterized as a repressive system with many forms of massacres, enforced disappearances, and systematic destructive measures taken against the Amhara, and other resisting groups. Reports showed that mass killings of the Amhara started in the Assosa zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region in the Metekel zone (which was then part of Gojjam Province) in 1990, After the 1991 power control by the TPLF and insurgents, mass violence and crackdowns on Amhara intellectuals and its public figures launched. A political opponent who was also a medical professor and surgeon, Asrat Woldeyes was imprisoned and abused along with other members of the All-Amhara People Organization (AAPO) civic group. The cause of the elderly doctor Asrat’s death is associated with the lack of timely medical treatment following the abuse that he endured during and after his imprisonment. TPLF ruled the country for nearly three decades with multiple rigged elections that led to mass violence and killings of innocent people in Addis Ababa, abuses, and torture against journalists and public figures in various regions, including in the Amhara region.
5. Massacres and crackdowns during the Oromo-led Prosperity Party regime
During this transition, many hoped for peace when the TPLF-dominated regime was replaced with a new Prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, from the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) but the hope was a miscarriage in the early stage and providing impunity of perpetrators, with concerns over repressive ruling as in the case of the TPLF’s authoritarian regime. Moreover, this period is active with large-scale massacres in Wollega, Oromia.
5.1 State Incitements:
In the Oromo region, tens of thousands of innocent Amhara have been killed since Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018. The Oromia region has reportedly become one of the hostile regions for the Amhara to live in, since the ethno-nationalist insurgency took power in 1991, but more so, since the new Oromo-led regime came to power in 2018. Abiy’s governmental decision to bring the exiled and fully armed Oromo rebels back and controversial diaspora activists was condemned for lack of disarming measures and for subsequent widespread hate speeches against the Amhara. This event led to the parallel Amhara mass killings in various locations. The OLA, which was formerly the military wing of the OLF – carried out similar massacres in the 1990s. In addition, the polarizing and open remarks were made at a large Oromo public gathering by the Oromia President, Mr. Shimelis Abdissa. His speech, “We broke the Neftegna or Amhara” was broadcast on national television. Such incitements are believed to be the reasons for the launch of waves of violence against Amhara in many regions, with no obvious punitive measures and the lack of formal acknowledgements from officials. Abiy Ahmed’s parliamentary speeches are also another reported instance of politically charged statements given by Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy’s argument highlighted the default Oromo eligibility and entitlement for a high share in comparison with the other ethnic groups, an inflammatory and politically charged factor that prompted violence— the June to July 2022 Amhara massacres by the OLA, with alleged collaboration with the regional state officials. Abiy also presented accusations against residents of Addis Ababa for what he described as deep-rooted hate against the Oromo. These and other many Abiy Ahmed and Oromia State officials’ statements are triggering further ethnic tension that is believed to revive the already fragile ethnic violence and intolerance in Oromia and other regions where the Amhara are a minority and targeted, especially in Welega, in the last five years.
5.2 The Burayu and Shashemene massacres
These are selected cases from the series of Amhara mass murders—The Burayu massacre occurred on the outskirts of Addis Ababa in September 2018. The Oromo Querro youth groups reportedly carried out mass violence against non-Oromo residents from the Dorzes, Gamos, and other ethnicities including the Amhara. This was one of the first violence that occurred after Abiy took power. Reports show that the perpetrators demonstrated mixed motives— ethnic origin, religious origin, or both. For the 2019 Sha-Shemene massacre in Oromia, witness statements revealed that the attacking mobs were coordinated. Primarily the Amhara, and Orthodox Christians from other ethnic groups— from Guraghe, Wolayita, Tigrayans, Oromo, and others were murdered in this violence. Due to these mass killings, Christian religious leaders were abused and killed, churches turned to ashes, and treasures and literary works were destroyed. Similar heinous acts were orchestrated in many regions by the various perpetrators. Statements disclosed that the killers demanded conversion to Islam when executing Orthodox Christians from Amhara.
This was followed by mass violence following the assassination of an Oromo singer, Hachalu Hundessa. in 2020. Although the ethnic origin of the shooter was not disclosed at the time of the attack Oromo youth mobilized and started to attack Amhara civilians blaming the death of the singer on them- demonstrating pre-meditated and coordinated violence against Amhara and Orthodox groups. As a result of this mass violence, over 200 people were massacred by armed Oromo groups with no clear punitive measures. The government accused OLA rebels for these massacres.
5.3 Abductions and massacres:
Another mass murder occurred in Oromia when a controversial Oromo political elite, Jawar Mohammed, made a social media call to his supporters, complaining about the government’s decision to remove the personal guards assigned to him. Following his call at night, organized Oromo actors came out and reportedly massacred Amhara— at least 86 people were killed. In parallel to the mass killings in Oromia, the abduction of 17 University Amhara students in 2019 by the OLA from Dembi Dolo University, and in other places were also reported. The families of these girls communicated that their children never returned. This case remained open with no obvious action from officials. Other forms of abductions include— Amhara kidnapping in Wollega, Oromia, and other OLA-targeted parts of the Amhara region. In addition, a series of mass killings and displacements of Amhara and other groups have been reported in the Benishangul-gumuz & Metekel, and the Southern SNNP regions. These are some of among many cases from the series of Amhara mass murders in various regions.
5.4 The Ataye massacre:
The militant group was emboldened to the point that it took its war to the Amhara region – for example, The Efrata ena Gidim was attacked at least nine times. The attacks have been launched by the OLA and other Oromo militant groups with aggression into the Amhara Region in North Shewa— in Efrata Ena Gidim, and Kewet districts. The attacks included door-to-door mass executions in Ataye, Shewa Robit, Jewuha, Senbete, Majete, Molale, and the surrounding villages. Ataye was once a vibrant Amhara business and a tourist town before the series of attacks carried out in 2020. The nine consecutive mass violence within a short time reportedly ruined the majority of the city. Witness statements revealed that perpetrators were equipped with snipers and artillery when attacking ethnic Amhara civilians. Surviving IDPs reported systematic collaborations between the killers and alleged state officials. These frequent attacks in the Northern Shewa are associated with acts of expansion and ethnic cleansing.
5.5 The Gimbi Massacre:
One of the 2022 deadliest massacres of the Amhara occurred on 18 June in the place named Tole and neighboring villages, in Gimbi Wollega of the Oromia region. The government blamed rebels, and witnesses accused the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) as perpetrators, but the rebels blamed government forces. Witnesses from the area have stated that ethnic Amhara have been selected and “killed like chickens”
5.6 The Kellem massacre:
On July 4, 2022, the massacres occurred against the minority Amhara people who lived in Kellem, which is one of the zones in Wollega, Oromia. The specific Amhara villages are also known as Mender 20 and Mender 21 in the Hawa Gelan Woreda.
5.7 Annexation, ethnic restructuring, and violence in Addis Ababa:
At the start of the 2018 Prosperity ruling, attacks in and around Addis Ababa, the Capital of Ethiopia, began with the Burayu mass killings of non-Oromo residents, which caused many to flee the area. Forced removal of the Amhara, property destructions, mass Oromo transfer from other areas with settlement programs, frequent attacks against residents by the Oromo Querro youth, police shootings, murders, and abuses of those turnout to public and religious celebrations, with plain Green-Yellow-Red tri-color cloth or items, are some of the reported violence against citizens. The controversial and aggressive annexation mechanisms imposed on the Capital Addis Ababa— to annex it to the Oromia region. Analyses indicated that the “special interest” claims of the Oromo regime are tied with terms agreed upon between some ethno-nationalist groups before coming to power. Some of the actions include the enforcement of new policies and systematic administrative changes to Addis Ababa and its surrounding jurisdiction. These measures have faced resistance from residents, and civil voices.
Previously disclosed annexations following the Tigray regional demarcation included forceful integrations of Welkait and Raya-Alamata to Tigray, the Metekel zone to Benishangul Gumuz, and Dera, to the Oromia region. Amhara was the most affected by the Oromo forces’ house demolition campaign to establish Sheger City and Amhara was the most affected by the house demolition. In addition, road travel between the Amhara region and Addis Ababa has become impossible at times because of the hostage of passengers by Oromia region government security forces and radical ethnic Oromo extremist gunmen.
6. The alleged crimes against the Amhara
Across many regions, ethnically motivated, targeted, and organized gruesome mass killings have been committed against the Amhara— causing serious bodily and mental harm using rape,
sexual and gender-based violence, enforced pregnancy, and other forms of attacks. Manner of killings includes dismemberment, immolation, point-blank executions, enforced miscarriages with lacerations, and creating deplorable living conditions in the annexed and outside of the Amhara region by preventing them from accessing medical treatments. Other acts include the enforced removal of Amhara through evictions, burning of their homes and their harvest, and looting of farm animals with the destruction of hospitals, schools, water sources, and other necessities. Additionally, witnesses reported prohibition from speaking and learning their language in the annexed and other regions.
In Mai-Kadra, a Tigrayan militia ordered the Amhara to stay in the house before they were mass murdered and looted. Researchers from Gondar University exhumed bodies in thousands in Welkait where the territory was annexed and under the control of the Tigray Region. Additional mass graves of the Amhara exist in various regions and are awaiting exhumation. In many of the places, survivor statements revealed that perpetrators were coordinated, organized, and brought name lists when carrying out door-to-door executions. In most of the violence, ethnic Amhara have been separated from other groups and executed— both Muslims and Christians were murdered and buried together against their religious practices. In other cases, the perpetrators targeted Orthodox Christians. The Amhara are victims of abduction, enforced removal and disappearance, detention, torture, enslavement, and blockades. Rape, sexual violence, and enforced pregnancy, and targeted infertility sterilization cases are also reported. Deplorable living conditions were created against the group causing preventable death by exposing them to high-risk infectious environments and denying malaria treatments and other critical medical care. Other systematic oppressions such as persecution, and physical and mental abuses with arbitrary imprisonments are reported.
In addition to the Mai-Kadra massacre, Tigray forces invaded Amhara and executed civilians since June 2021 with cases accompanied by sadistic acts, physical abuse and torture, and verbal abuse or dehumanization including regular use of ethnic slurs and humiliation which inflicted irreparable physical and psychological trauma on survivors. Numerous victims died as a result of this specific violence. In addition, civilian properties were pillaged, and schools and health facilities, villages, towns, cities, farm animals, harvests, and religious institutions were ransacked. Witness accounts also exposed Tigray rebels for coercing Amhara children as frontline war shields. The Oromo OLF-OLA armed groups created an alliance with the Tigray
TPLF rebels and pillaged many Amhara and Afar towns. In addition to civilian mass murders, the attacks caused the displacement of millions of Amhara, and Afar people with over 11 million Amhara seeking urgent needs. Mass graves of the victims were discovered and exhumed in many shelled towns and villages.
The groups that constitute Fano say they were forced to pick up arms and defend the Amhara people from “decades of marginalization, subjugation, and genocide. In the real sense, the most noble cause of trying to prevent genocide. That’s what Fano is about. That’s what eventually triggered this movement, the reorganization, and the re-emergence of Fanos because Fanos were traditional to protect the integrity of Ethiopia, the rights of Ethiopia, and the human rights of Ethiopians. Fano is not merely an ethnic army, but a mass movement with a code of conduct and a mission to save not only the Amhara but all of Ethiopia.
To sum up with the following three main points: The first one is the solution, the Abiy Ahmed administration is a huge part of the problem given its track record in the past 5 years. The exclusion of Amhara voices from the recent peace processes including the Pretoria peace talks with the TPLF and the Tanzania peace talks with the Oromo Liberation Army, uncertainties regarding the fate of contested territories such as Welkait and Raya, and reluctance to disarm the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray Defense Force but, the federal government’s move to disarm Fano along with Amhara regional special forces. This decision was untimely and would leave the Amhara people defenseless from potential attacks and unable to protect its borders from the TPLF in the North, the OLF/OLA to the South, as well as from Sudan in the West.
So, the Fano movement is in fact, it is about questions of existential threats to the Amhara people. So, American policymakers in the State Department should not be completely ignorant of the realities. The Horn of Africa is the most complex security zone in Africa, and probably in the world. It can easily explode and become a prelude to another Third World War. The complex nature of politics in the Horn of Africa, this war in Ethiopia can easily spill over and consume the entire region, and when it consumes the entire region, it means another big, big war. The second one is Ethiopia is the Semitic Outpost in Africa. That aspect of it also has, should be seen because under that it can easily turn or be over to a war between the Cushitic and Semantics. That is part of the problem, the problem is the movement known as the Cushitic Empire (re-construction of the Cushitic Empire is the daydream of Abiy Ahmed and Oromo extremists). That’s one aspect of the war against Amhara. If that’s the case, then it can go beyond Ethiopia to Kenya and to Somalia and to other places.
The third one is the Wahabi movement which always thrives in chaos, it thrives in instability and it’s easy there is always there. There’s already a Wahabi movement inside Ethiopia that can thrive, and violent extremism can be introduced in Ethiopia. So that’s one aspect of violent extremism, the Cushitic movement, and then the strategic importance of the Red Sea should be considered because there is Ethiopia in the Red Sea. Eritrea is very much part of Europe in terms of security. In terms of geopolitics, it’s the Persian Gulf, it is the Red Sea, it is the Arab interest expansion policy, and it’s about the Nile. There will have been so many things. So, all these interest groups certainly will have their own agendas and will end up either it will end up the country with a proxy war or some interventions by some groups. But it’s not going to be an easy war. It’s going to be complex. At this point the Americans it’s their own interest to stop the war now and go for a peaceful change. But if the Americans go for a destructive regime, it would be wrong, absolutely wrong, to support this regime, not for Ethiopia, not for the entire region, and not for the globe.
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