My Christmas Thought for Tigray and Ethiopia

A 500 year old iconic artwork showing Mary with the infant Jesus from what was once the Abyssinian empire where we what call Tigray is today

A little more than 2000 years ago a man was born into the Middle East not far from what is Tigray today. He came from an ancient tradition stemming from a covenant made between God and Abraham that would lead to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This shared heritage saw human beings as being created in the image of God, with each having a life with dignity and value, and that the affairs of man should be done in accordance with the commandments of God given to the prophet Moses.

The world Jesus was born into was corrupt and morally lost. The ruler of Jerusalem was a half-Jew who had made an unholy alliance with the Roman Empire to seal his complete power over his domain rejecting the Jewish faith.  A seemingly unquenchable bloodthirst compelled him to kill many of his subjects and even his own wife and her family who came from a ancient rabbinical lineage. When this ruler named Herod heard that a Messiah was born his fear of losing power became so enraged he killed every male child born in the kingdom in a cruel mockery of the Passover story.

Today is the second celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in the West (while in Ethiopia this will occur in a few weeks) since then the people of Tigray have been under siege, depravity, violation, starvation, isolation, and risk of violent death without end.  I appreciate what God’s grace has given me and my family and am grateful yet everyday my heart sorrows for the suffering of the Tigray people.

As a researcher and physician I have cared for and interacted with thousands of families in distress traveling through much of Tigray. Most of them live a very simple hard life working everyday to have minimal water, food, and shelter which most of the world takes for granted.  Yet they unwaveringly hold their faith in God even in the midst of genocide. Their life is not much different then that into which Jesus was born.

Today the power that brought this suffering to these children of God lies with group of clerico-fascists who have twisted ancient words of wisdom to their own selfish ends like the Sanhedrin that questioned Jesus. They uphold a  ruler who played in a park while his people fought locusts destroying their crops. Whilst children and elderly die from agonizing hunger  he denies them any food. Who forbids any communication between families who for more than year have been in darkness. Who brings death from the sky randomly targeting innocent souls.

Under the leadership of this dark leader, Abiy Ahmed and his associates, Tigray has suffered like the kingdom of Jerusalem did under Herod. I pray that the Holy Spirit will somehow find its way into the dark hearts causing so much misery. Jesus Christ, the son of God, told us that love between the brothers and sisters of God’s creation is the only way to salvation.


United Nations inability to stop genocide gives Tigray no option but to fight to the end

The failure of definitive action of the United Nations to decisively act against genocide since World War II predicts the victims of Ethiopian genocide on Tigray can expect no real help.  As a result of the genocidal actions of the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed towards the Tigray beginning on November 4th, 2020 it is possible that 750,000 people will die, thousands have suffered rape and other humans rights atrocities, and a population of more than 6 million people have been deprived of food security, personal safety, shelter, education, health care, transportation, and all means of communication for 9 months.

Unfortunately this catastrophe is just the latest of many genocides that have occurred in which the United Nations having recognized the crisis and its potential for horrific damage to human life yet accomplished nothing to stop or prevent it.

Critiques of the United Nations (UN)  have noted that it has a history of acting  “as a slow, reactionary bureaucracy, failed to effectively combat the genocides”. The UN is guided by the principle that military action is always to be avoided and that prolonged negotiation is the only answer. Unfortunately what this means is that usually the aggressor will get to maintain whatever territory or enslaved population already captured and often the oppressed have little chance for return to the previous status quo. This type of response is recognized by aggressors who know they have weeks to months to quickly do whatever immoral and egregious action they wish to take before the UN will even begin to discuss it. Knowing this the government of Ethiopia has taken a strong stand that it will not negotiate with the Tigray believing it faces no real threat of significant sanctions from the international community. For the Tigray it means they have no other course of fighting to overturn the government of Ethiopia.

Even when UN peacekeepers have been deployed they have failed to protect civilians when confronted by threat of attack by aggressors as they are directed basically to never engage as was seen in Bosnia in the 1990s. Former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon acknowledged, for example, that UN troops were pulled out of Rwanda “when they were most needed” and further acknowledged that the innocent at Srebrenica were “abandoned to slaughter” in 1995.

Genocide was recognized officially in 1946 in response to the genocide of 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime. Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe which lead to the UN Resolution 96(1), 11 December 1946 formally recognizing it. The definition of a genocide was created in this resolution:

“Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the form of cultural and other contributions represented by these human groups, and is contrary to moral law and the spirit and aims of the United Nations. Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious, political and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part.”

Yet only three genocides have been officially recognized by the UN  Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia (and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre), and Cambodia under the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime.

Human nature is that we will take action to protect another based upon what their relation is to us. Evolutionary biologists talk about actions which preserve those closest to the same gene pool. Although the religions of the Abrahamic covenant (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) preach universal brotherhood mans ability to selfishly not see that the needs of others beyond his immediate circle of family and local community makes us reluctant to get involved. In Christianity this concept noted by Saint Paul was felt to be the greatest impediment to becoming a true Christian.


Physicians duty in war

A woman is taken to Ayder Referral Hospital, in Mekelle, after an airstrike in Togoga, Ethiopia’s Tigray region June 22, 2021. Picture taken June 22, 2021. Tigray Guardians 24 via REUTERS

Being in the middle of the Tigray-Ethiopian conflict for three months and now following it I have pondered about were do health care workers duties fit into this all too common human situation. In the midst of war questions may come up about what are called conflicts of dual loyalty for doctors. However physicians of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith recognize that they have a duty to their patients be they ally or enemy. This ethic goes back to the times of the medical scholars Hippocrates, Maimonides, and Al-Ṭabarī.

Religious medical scholars on ethics of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths

The Jewish rabbi physician Maimonides in discussing his interpretation of the Jewish law in the Mishneh Torah said that everyone who found anyone missing a possession should have it returned to him. That included health which meant physicians had to treat all comers including those of different faith and ethnicity. He said “ On the basis of this reasoning, the art of medicine is given a very large role with respect to the virtues, the knowledge of God, and attaining true happiness. To study it diligently is among the greatest acts of worship.”

Religious medical scholars on ethics of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths have given a very large role with respect to the virtues, the knowledge of God, and attaining true happiness.  Al-Ṭabarī , Islamic and medical scholar, expanded upon Hippocrates incorporating Islamic principles found in the  Qur’an of dignity of the individual, charity, dutiful study of the healing arts, and faith playing a role in the formation of a good healer.

Christians are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus tells the story of an abandoned injured man presumable a Jew on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem a place of frequent violence who was ignored by a Jewish priest and a Levite. Traditionally there was hatred between Samaritans and Jews but when a Samaritan encounters him he decides to render him aid and pays his expenses to recover in an inn. Jesus demonstrates charity when asked Who is my neighbor? The response is that all men are our neighbors (All men are a part of God’s loved creation?)

The Islamic faith has long seen medical practice has having an intimate relationship with their faith. A good physician is a faithful one who shows mercy and charity to all men. Incorporating their beliefs into a commonly used oath of which a partial quote is “The doctor will protect human life in all stages, in all circumstances and conditions, and will do his utmost to rescue it from death, disease, pain, and anxiety. He will extend his medical care to the near and the far, to the virtuous and the sinner and to friend and enemy.”

There is a shared believe among the descendants of the covenant that Abraham made with God so many centuries ago that physicians have a common ethic to care for all who are in need.

Although  health care providers around the world have been consistent in following this universally accepted moral imperative especially since the medical experimentation done by the Nazis the same cannot be said about the destruction of medical facilities and killing of health care workers. Although the United Nations and member countries have signed multiple treaties forbidding these actions.  Despite these diplomatic measures ongoing research has shown their progression.

In Ethiopia during the onset of the Tigray-Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict I spoke with physicians and nurses who had to escape military bombardment and ransacking of medical facilities in Humera, Axum, Adigrat and other places often killing both staff and patients. One wonders what if any consequences will come of these illegal war crimes?