Commanders in the Tigray Defense Army are now reporting in several Tigray media sites that atrocities suffered by the people of Tigray were committed by Beni Amir factions of the Eritrean Army. This news comes after many Eritrean army soldiers have been captured and interrogated.
Easily identified by their dialects and characteristic facial markings they are now being heavily implicated in the raping, ransacking, and killing which happened in Tigray and still happening in Western Tigray. TDA sources say that Eritrean soldiers were acting under orders from the Eritrean and Ethiopian command structure.
Witnesses to the killing of more than 80 civilians and priests at St. Mary’s Church in Axum, an important Ethiopian Orthodox shrine, toldAl Jazeera in February 2021 that many Eritrean soldiers had the dialect and facial markings of the Beni Amir tribe. Investigations by Amnesty International also report Eritrean Beni Amir soldiers committed many killings of civilians in Tigray.
Eritrea is semi-divided between Christians in the mountains and Muslim tribes in the valleys and periphery. Beni Amirs are a clan originally based in Sudan and present day Eritrea which traces its roots to at least the 15th century CE of the clan leader, Amer Ibn Kunnu. They have similar lineage to Kushites along the Nile River rather than the Tegaru people of modern day Tigray who are Semitic in origin. For centuries they were allied with Egypt and Sudan and then with the Italian colonists. They frequently have a facial scar on the cheek below the eye consisting of two lines which is different then the “eleven sign” of the Tegaru of Tigray.
A Beni Amir leader known as Awate (Hamid Idris Awate) who trained and served in the Italian Army is credited with starting the armed struggle for independence. Then Idris Mohammed Adem started the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1960.
A little more than 50% of the Eritrean population are Tigrinya (Semitic origin). While Beni Amir make up only a small percentage they have a long history of involvement with the Eritrean Army. Although initially in the 1970s the tyrant leader of Eritrea, Esaias Afwerki, was associated with the Christian Eritrean People’s Front which defeated their Muslim rival it now appears that Esaias who is now an atheist has created new bonds with at least a faction of the Beni Amir who have stayed in Eritrea serving in the military while many others left. They now have been reported as accepting Esaias Afwerki fascist ideology as their own.
The Beni Amirs were once cattle grazers but destruction of farmland drove them to city dwelling. Over the past century they have frequently been involved in land disputes and conflict between Sudan and Eritrea.
The government of Ethiopia while claiming a law enforcement operation has committed genocide to the people of Tigray and turned Tigray into a concentration camp.
What is the definition of a concentration camp?
According to the highly respected encyclopedia Britannica a concentration camp is “defined as an internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order”. What the Ethiopian government has done to the Tegaru, Irob, Agaw, Kunami, Afar, Orthodox, Catholic, Christian, and Muslims who live in Tigray meets every requirement stated in this definition of a concentration camp and in every way just a deadly as those recalled from previous examples when evil predominated a society.
Actions of Ethiopia against Tigray are more than law enforcement
When the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and Eritrean Army units invaded the Regional National State of Tigray in November 2020 the leadership of Ethiopia specifically stated that was being undertaken was a law enforcement action to capture the leaders of a “terrorist group”, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and that there was no intent to take action against the civilians of Tigray. In fact they explicitly stated they were proceeding with this invasion to not only capture the leadership but also to protect the security and life of their “brother” Ethiopians.
At the time of invasion I was Chief of Neurosurgery and on the faculty of Mekelle University, a federal university not under the Tigray state, which had medical students and specialty trainees from almost every regional state in Ethiopia as well as surrounding countries. Additionally it administered Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital which served a population of about 10 million including not only Tigray but also Afar, northern Amhara, and recently even Eritrea intermittently when the border was open. Additionally we occasionally cared for patients from Addis Ababa and the SNNP (Southern Ethiopia).
Following the complete take over of Tigray we were initially told by the Interim government and military commands that the government, medical, and educational services would be quickly restored. But instead they quickly deteriorated well before the reorganization and re-emergence of the Tigray Defense Forces. Except for a very short time of a few weeks early on the following have been cut-off and never restarted including banking services, electricity, telephone and cell, internet, water, civil infrastructure management, hospital supply, schooling, etc.
Although the Federal government claimed it was giving 70% of the trickle of very basic aid that was coming in reviews by well established international authorities revealed it was less than 3% of the total which was in itself dramatically less than required.
As the weeks progressed the undeniable evidence was increasingly seen that sexual abuse of women now estimated to be in the thousands, extra judicial killing of whole villages, routine execution of males even those below or above that generally considered to be militarily capable were reported even by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Although there may be a possibility of some actions by Tigray militia which also require investigation the exponentially greater magnitude affecting hundreds of thousands of violation of human rights and killing by soldiers under the direct command of the Ethiopian government cannot be denied. If not stopped the number being threatened will rapidly accelerate to millions.
Instead of taking corrective action to improve the humanitarian situation which would possibly yield the benefit of making the civilian population of Tigray more peaceful instead new arguments surfaced from mouthpieces of the Prime Minister’s advisors that due to previous claims of unfair treatment by the TPLF that justified the violations of human rights currently underway. Videos emerged stating that every Tigray should be killed at birth. Eritrean and ENDF soldiers have stated to neutral third parties that they were instructed to rape women to destroy the chance for Tigray to have children.
Religious institutions, artifacts, and worshipers were targeted for destruction which had nothing to do with a “law enforcement” action. One of the most important Mosques in the world in Negash where the followers of Mohammed took refuge from prosecution from pagan Saudi rulers at the invitation of a Christian king was intentionally bombed and ransacked. What does that have to do with “law enforcement”? Monasteries in Western Tigray with religious texts hundreds of years old were attacked with their treasures destroyed and clergy assassinated. The ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots to the early Jewish religion of Menelik I and then the Christian kingdom of Ezana in Axum was desecrated with the murder of at least 80 unarmed worshipping civilians. What does that have to do with “law enforcement”?.
It is well documented that Eritreans, ENDF, and Somali mercenaries destroyed factories and businesses including those of foreign investors who generated income for the Ethiopian government and provided employment for civilians. Many pieces of equipment of not only these but also the national Ethio-telecom company were taken by Eritreans as war bounty to Eritrea. How does this destruction of Ethiopian federal property qualify as “law enforcement”?
The invading forces were instructed to destroy seeds and prevent farmers from planting crops. Many livestock were killed to be consumed by no one or taken to Eritrea in trucks. Both aid and commercial food supplies where blocked from entry to Tigray. Gradually both the Federal Government and the government of Amhara began to change their tune to explain this by saying that the population of Tigray was too supportive of the TDF and that NGOs were smuggling weapons with the aid. They accused organizations with much greater long standing reputations of wrong doing with no evidence instead trying to cover their own genocidal intent.
The government of Ethiopia as late as 2019 was a signatory to the Genocide Convention of the United Nations which states verbatim any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The treaty recognizes the following two elements of the crime
A mental element: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”; and
A physical element, which includes the following five acts, enumerated exhaustively:
Killing members of the group
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
The saga started by invasion of Tigray by Ethiopia and Eritrea in November 2020 is now well documented by numerous sources of evidence of a pre-invasion planned build up by Ethiopia and secret pacts with Eritrea. Killing thousands of innocent villagers, raping thousands of women and girls, as well using starvation as a weapon in the name of Jesus Christ does not justify war as claimed by Ethiopian Parliament President Agegnehu Teshager and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Instead more than a thousand years of history and theological tradition for both Christianity and Islam about what constitutes a just war supports that the Tigray regional state is the righteous party.
When is conflict a just war (Jus ad bellum)?
Both the Bible and the Qu’ran both say that war is a condition that will always afflict mankind. Jesus Christ said that man will always suffer calamities both natural and war between states. The Apostle James said that wars are caused by the “lust” of what the other party has obtained and selfishly wishes to take through violence.
The ancient Jews, the Babylonians, and the Romans believed that a violent response to war was appropriate if it was of an appropriate measure to the offense suffered. A principle known as lex talionis.
There has always been a Christian disagreement on whether Jesus called for complete pacifism in responding to violent offense which would theoretically best diffuse malintent and prevent a sinful response. Ultimately the righteous would be rewarded for their suffering in this world or the next. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century German theologian, advocated complete pacifism which led to his execution.
For centuries beginning just a few hundred years following Christ an alternative theory has been that war was justified under specific circumstances. Jesus’s call to “love thy neighbor” and that “giving up one’s own life to save another” are acts of faith as well as his “righteous” anger at the money changers in the Temple have been interpreted to mean violence can under certain conditions be responded to by violence.
Discussions of just war began with classical Greek and Roman philosophers like Plato and Cicero and were added to by Christian theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Continuing to contemporary times Catholic Pope Benedict XVI said that “defending oneself and others was a moral duty and obligation”.
The following are principles which have been generally agreed upon by Christians for a just war
1. The war must have a just cause – such as against invasion, or for self defence – and not to acquire wealth or power.
2. The war must be declared and controlled by a proper authority, such as the state or ruler.
3. The war must be fought to promote good or avoid evil, with the aim of restoring peace and justice after the war is over.
4. The war must be a last resort when all peaceful solutions have been tried and failed, such as negotiation.
5. The war should be fought with “proportionality”, with just enough force to achieve victory and only against legitimate targets, i.e. civilians should be protected.
6. The good which is achieved by the war must be greater than the evil which led to the war.
Islamic law allows the use of force in self defence and in defence of those who are oppressed and unable to defend themselves.
1. Only under certain conditions allow anticipatory self defence.
2. Only the head of a Muslim state (a ruler or caliph) is allowed to declare jihad.
3. Islamic law imposes certain restrictions on the use of force in self defense, i.e., military necessity, distinction, and proportionality.
4. Accepting an offer of peace and humanity are also relevant conditions. If an enemy stops fighting then the war must stop and peace immediately sought.
The onset and course of the conflict
After the selection of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018 he began to diminish the power of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Being just 6% of the population they had little representation in the Parliament. Although there was a brief honeymoon, the PM began to decrease their power by cutting the regions budget, labeling them as terrorists, and removing them from positions of authority in government. There existed a bitter feeling of resentment especially in the Amhara region against the TPLF for claims that the TPLF had illegally taken land from the Amhara region and carried out violations of human rights on Amhara in past decades. Ultimately the Parliament under the PM’s direction labeled them a “terrorist group” unable to hold any position in government. No formal actions called for or specified in the Ethiopian constitution were carried out which were created to settle disputes between member regional states. Action by fiat was carried out without attention to legal remedy for accused wrongs.
Several attempts were made to land Federal police forces in Mekelle to arrest prominent TPLF members which were repelled. Then on the early morning hours of November 4th the Ethiopian National Defense Forces in Tigray and the regional Tigray police and militia forces went into conflict. The exact circumstances are unclear although it seems to may have been a pre-emptive attack by the TPLF.
The Tigray region was overrun by Amhara militia, ENDF, and invading Eritrean forces causing a retreat by the TDF(Tigray Defense Force). There have been reports of atrocities by both sides although clearly the enormity of starvation, extra-judicial killing, prisoner execution, raping of women, killing of children, theft of property, destruction of medical facilities and utilities, ransacking of schools, etc. is overwhelmingly evident to be by the Ethiopian forces and their allies.
The TDF rebounded and was almost at the gates of Addis Ababa having basically decimated the Ethiopian forces whilst the Tigray civilian population has no water, no food, no electricity, no hospitals in good shape, no medical supplies, ransacked schools, no phone, no internet, and an ongoing siege against supplies except for a small trickle.
Western diplomats and others being fearful that a break-up of the Ethiopian state would bring regional instability pressured the TDF to withdraw if a promise of a truce was given by Ethiopia. Yet the siege continued along with continued drone strikes, imprisonment without due process of many Tigray throughout Ethiopia , and no clear intention to seek peace by Ethiopia. That Abiy Ahmed’s real intention was that Tigray would be starved and deprived into submission is now evident.
The government of Ethiopia has maintained that it is performing a law enforcement action against Tigray while maintaining that there is no hunger problem and that they are acting on the best interests of the Tigray people despite the fact the TPLF won more than 9o% in an election shortly before the war started and by the words of the Prime Minister that the people of Tigray were too supportive of the TPLF.
By any reasonable measure the evidence is clear as to the aggrieved status of the Tigray
While at the same time saying that the Tigray people(Tegaru) are somewhat innocent of wrong doing the government of Ethiopia has not recognized that they have any standing or rights in persecution driven by ethnic identity. The elected government of Tigray acted in self-defense against egregious acts of failing to provide basic human services which threatened the security, livelihood, and lives of over 7 million Tigrayans. There are constitutional and federal proclamations available which could have been used to address the grievances against the government of Tigray. It is glaringly obvious that the savage military campaign carried out and continuing by the Ethiopian government is really a lust for revenge and power. There was no threat to Ethiopian government evident until the situation escalated by the unconstitutional actions of the Ethiopian government.
How a community of different faiths and ethnicities came together to save their hospital, Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital, in the city of Mekelle, Tigray region of Ethiopia in the face of a horrific invasion by Ethiopian National Defense and Eritrean forces. In the previous post I described the culmination of events that deterred the ransacking. Here I will tell the story of how it began.
I have gathered some more information on how the heroic unarmed resistance began to stop pilfering and ransacking of Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Mekelle from the occupying Ethiopian National Defense Forces and Eritreans.
Among the first to call citizens to action was the muazzin of the Adishmdhun Mosque. Although there was no electricity in the city using the mosque generator and microphone he called people to guard the hospital. The message was ” to all residents of Mekelle be Muslim, Christian, males or females : Ayder is being looted, so go and protect your hospital “. Immediately the people began to make the gatherings. There was was a group of motorcycle men who tended to gather at a pub just a few blocks from the hospital who began calling the same thing using a speaker. Youth groups and community elders answered the call. The demonstration and blocking of the roads was done with people of all faiths and different ethnicities.
The Muslim community would later hear about the desecration of the Nejashi mosque in Tigray by ENDF and Eritrean forces. This mosque is particularly significant as it was founded by the first followers of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) who were given refuge in Ethiopia from the pagan Saudi rulers.
Throughout the occupation young men volunteered to patrol the streets around the hospital in defiance of the night time curfew pronounced by the ENDF and the Eritreans. Unfortunately some were shot and killed on sight. How many we do not know yet. Sometimes the body was just taken away so that relatives do not know what happened to them.
This is the story I witnessed of the brave unarmed civilians peacefully protesting and blocking invading forces from ransacking Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Mekelle, Ethiopia in November of 2020. I had been performing neurosurgery, teaching fellows, and medical students at Mekelle University in the Tigray region of Ethiopia since 2015 in a federal university and hospital. As such I was present in Mekelle from the onset of the war between the Tigray Defense Force and the Ethiopian/Eritrean forces from the onset until my evacuation near the end of December 2020 at the behest of international influence and my family which was three days of driving through multiple checkpoints and unstable areas until we finally arrived in Addis Ababa.
Following the retaking of Mekelle by the Tigray Defense on June 28, 2021 there has been a mixture of sadness and joy. For sometime I have wanted to tell the story of what I think was the most heroic thing I have ever seen in my life which was the unarmed defense of Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Mekelle. Prior to this time I felt telling it would result in reprisal to the citizens of Mekelle. Now that Mekelle is free it is important to tell it.
For almost 24 hours on November 25, 2020 the city of Mekelle was attacked constantly by artillery, rocket attack, and airstrikes even though the Tigray Defense Forces had left the city to only civilians. In my own immediate neighborhood just a few blocks from the Mekelle University hospital, Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital many homes and buildings were destroyed and many killed. A market and home for elders was directly hit killing and wounding many.
About 200 yards from my house, a home that housed a large extended family suffered a direct hit that sent shrapnel breaking my windows at about 6:30 in the morning. I ran over there to find a young woman in the street with a severe bleeding wound in upper leg but that was just the beginning of the horror. The walls of the house had been destroyed on two sides and the rest looked like a Swiss cheese with many perforations. On the ground was a motionless young woman who had only a red spot on the ground where her chest was supposed to be. Her lifeless arms were extended with each one holding toddlers. The children where crying. When I pulled back their hair I found that hundreds of small munitions fragments had penetrated the scalp of both children although the eyes seemed okay. There was nothing we could do for the mother nor her mother who lay beside her dead as well from penetrating shrapnel. Remaining family members rushed the sister with the injured leg and the children to Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital.
At the hospital emergency room there was wave after wave of ambulances and private vehicles bringing those hit by the attack who were all civilians. Some could be helped but many were beyond hope. We were able to save the children and their aunt from the attack near my house. Although we would sometimes previously do mass casualty from bus accidents in the past this was a much greater magnitude as we saw more then 120 patients in the first few hours.
Before the invasion of the city, we had been receiving civilian causalities, Tigray Defense Force causalities, and also Federal/Eritrean causalities. We treated them all the same. The local people even brought food and blankets for the all the groups. However after the invasion the tenor of the invading force changed. Many patients were just suddenly whisked away to parts unknown and we were not allowed to inquire.
The next day on November 26, 2020 at which time Federal Ethiopian armed forces and Eritrean forces invaded unopposed the city of Mekelle. For the next few days in Mekelle there were Ethiopian and Eritrean forces looting, shooting, robbing, and harassing civilians all around the Ayder area where I lived and the hospital was located. The hospital was occupied by Ethiopian army regulars, then Special Forces from Oromia, and so-called Federal Police. Then suddenly for about half a day they disappeared.
Rumors where flying in the city that Eritreans where ransacking public utilities, schools, etc. The hospital had always been a source of pride and necessity for not only Mekelle but all of Tigray. The local population of civilians began to put tires, logs, and stones to block trucks or other vehicles in the streets surrounding around Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital, the main teaching and tertiary hospital for Tigray, fearing that the hospital which was highly valued by the city would be destroyed or looted. Special Red caped soldiers showed up and began harassing the locals more and more.
The locals did not back off. They gathered by the thousands and began to surround the hospital 24 hours a day. Many times semitrucks and smaller trucks driven by Eritreans which were empty tried to make it to the hospital to loot it but where physically blocked by protestors standing in their way. At one point a group of young men were shouting about ten feet in front me to the soldiers. Suddenly the soldiers fired at them killed one and injuring two others. At that time there were tires burning all around the hospital with thousands of protesters. The soldiers were scared and I feared the worst was going to happen. It was tense until morning. Finally the lined up trucks driven by plain clothed Eritreans were told to leave by the invading forces. The two that survived to be treated were hauled off from the hospital by the invading forces and have not been seen again as far as I know.
Pictures I had of the event were erased by Eritrean patrols that would search me everyday I went to the hospital but I will never forget the bravery of the people in Mekelle who unarmed defended their hospital.