Many school children in Christian settings often learn the story told in the Gospel of Luke about a Samaritan who helps a Jew he finds on the road who was robbed and injured even though he is an enemy. Instead Abiy Ahmed and his allies who claim Christian mandates as justification for evil have twisted the classic story of charity to a new narrative. They now practice the idea that in such an encounter one should give just a drop of water and a grain of rice to the starving while robbing them of all their possessions. Faith has been replaced by blasphemy they celebrate the holiday with violation and deprivation.
During the Easter season while millions of Christians around the world recognize the message of hope Jesus gave to mankind the leadership in Ethiopia has built a golden calf in a cruel mockery. Many Ethiopians used to celebrate the holiday by buying a chicken to prepare the traditional doro wat but now that Abiy Ahmed’s reckless military spending has caused the price of a single chicken to soar to one thousand birr, three times the normal price, but now this time honored family tradition is not possible. Even the palm oil which used to cost about 300 birr for a month’s supply now cost over a thousand birr. While Abiy Ahmed feasts like a king Tigrayans are dying of starvation, Oromians are being killed, and about two thirds of the rest of Ethiopia is facing increasing food shortages.
Whilst videos of wealthy Ethiopian government supporters practicing their holiday hypocrisy emerge on social media prideful presentations celebrating this new “ethos” of torment showing truckloads of looted family possessions from the poor Tigrayan farmers in Western Tigray deliver their booty to Gondar. All the while the United Nations and many Western civilizations who also learned the story of the Good Samaritan as children now as adults seem to have forgotten it. During this holiday season one thousand a day continue to die in Tigray from starvation and lack of health services.
Over the past year I have been repeatedly struck by the sacrifices and endurance of Tigray women in the Ethiopian Tigray conflict. I used to live a block from the Mekelle University Business School campus where there was a statue of young teenage female fighter who died fighting the Derg and I am deeply sorry I cannot recall her name but the symbolism and message that sculpture carried I do understand so clearly now.
During the Easter season we mostly think about the sacrifice of Jesus on cross who was resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion. What we often do not focus on is the courageous and caring role women played in Jesus’s human life as role models and care givers who themselves suffered for the benefit of others. Mary known as Mariam in Tigray whose love and care for her son whom she had to watch suffer on the cross. God choose the “three Marys” to be the first witnesses to Jesus resurrection and tell the Apostles. More then once God has chosen women to be messengers of faith, hope, and truth. The women of Tigray have repeated that role. They often bear the greatest burdens of sorrow while showing the most courage.
Even though terrible atrocities were suffered by hundreds of thousands of Tigray women including rape, mutilation, watching their loved ones killed or starved, displacement, and isolation from family they as a group have shown a superhuman resilience to survive. Young women joined the Tigray Defense Force, other women while trying to keep their children alive still cooperated with community efforts to gather food and water. They willingly gave up their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and even grandfathers to join the armed struggle for freedom at their own personal peril.
When I review who is on social media writing in support of humanitarian aid and the suffering of Tigray I see many young diaspora women, often highly educated with advanced degrees and successful professional careers in developed countries, who mobilized to save lives and spread truth to the world. Most of them identify themselves openly risking not only ad hominem personal internet harassment but even physical attacks at demonstrations by agents of the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments.
Many times these virile attackers on Tigray women are anonymous making one wonder if they are really ashamed of what they do. The others who I will not name attack the womanhood of Tigray diaspora which only degrades the speaker by demonstrating her ignorance. They never talk about relieving suffering but instead are filled with hate and a unending pre-occupation with vengeance. I pray they will let the God into their hearts because mercy and peace are needed now more then ever.
I further pray the world will accept the Tigray women as messengers of truth and act without haste to relieve the suffering.
For Tigray mothers and their children running away from barbarous invasion by Eritrean, Amhara, and Ethiopian forces is just the beginning of an odious journey seeking just to survive. It is an exodus of Biblical proportions without liberation.
Life for a young mother in rural Tigray in which more than 80% of the population lives even before the eruption of war in November 2020 was a challenge. Women often traveled miles daily on foot to gather the daily water supply of 5 liters per person in the family. Added to this is helping care for farm animals, crops, the household and the children as well as an elderly parent. Studies have shown that a large percentage of women were somewhat underweight and undernourished with 25% requiring food aid.
Young mothers have often lost their spouse and other adult male family members to imprisonment or murder. They become displaced losing whatever previous food source they had for themselves or their children. Along the way they may suffer forced trafficking for labor or sex, personal violation, theft of their few possessions or cash, and isolation from their previous community. Lack of fuel and transportation means travel by foot without shelter from the elements.
Many women in Tigray are breast feeding two children as it is not unusual to see breast feeding extend to toddlers. The sudden decrease in caloric and protein intake can result in loss of breast milk production in just a few days to weeks. We know that in famine 50% of the casualties are children under 5 who cannot tolerate long periods of starvation. Especially vulnerable are infants who may sometimes live only days if mother has no breast milk.
The dominant Ethiopian Orthodox religion requires burial within a day of death. The lack of communication, transportation, and health care results in most of these not being recorded in a permanent record. The dietary laws they follow of the Old Testament prevent the eating of wild meats or other foods. During approximately 40% of the year they fast from taking meat, sugar, or milk products. Some forms of wild fruits and peas appear edible but in fact can cause chronic metabolic or neurological dysfunction and often there does not exist a community knowledge of this danger.
Even if young children or lactating mothers receive some food they may survive longer but still suffer permanent disability from poor brain and musculoskeletal development. Most often the cause of death is infection because of the loss normal immunity with starvation. Bacterial or parasitic contamination of water sources leading to diseases like cholera which under normal circumstances are treatable with antibiotics and intravenous hydration instead become killers of many affected.
Why are member denominations of the National Council of Churches all but ignoring the catastrophic suffering and death in Tigray while being fully engaged and concerned appropriately about the horrors of the Ukraine invasion by Russia. Apart from an initial statement in November 2020 the NCC has been silent ever since.
The situation in Ethiopia and Tigray should be especially concerning for Christians as the Christian faith has been horribly twisted by many Protestant and Ethiopian Orthodox leaders to justify extermination of the Tigray which is clearly blasphemy to the highest degree. It was just a generation ago the Christian Church was slow to act when Italian priests blessed weapons and justified the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. A few years later the world Christian community remained passive to the initial acts against Jews in Nazi Germany which no doubt empowered its ultimate descent into a genocide that killed over 6 million. Already half a million have died in Tigray from civilian deaths from military action followed by a siege which cut off supplies of medicine and food. Tens of thousands are incarcerated only because of their ethnic identity. Horrible violations of thousands of women have occurred. Everyday the siege continues brings death to another 1000 people.
The founding of the United States of America was based upon a core religious belief stated in Declaration of Independence that
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
This assumption comes the creation story of man by God in the Book of Genesis and is shared by the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament tells us
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)
It is not ironic that this week the Christian calendar shared by many members of the National Council of Churches honors the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and martyr, who died opposing Hitler’s rule. A major theme of his ministry was that Christians cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. He said
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
The sudden publication of photographs from an alleged mass grave site in Western Tigray by Amhara news sources boldly claims that these findings are ethnic Amharas who were killed in the early 1980s. This report omits any scientific data or methods used to reach this conclusion. Interestingly this was announced at the same time as a damning report on human rights violations of Tigrayans in Western Tigray by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. This conclusion apparently was made by “researchers” at Gondar University unidentified by their area of specialty or training. It seems highly unlikely that a team from Gondar University with their limited capability could publish such a report in a recognized peer reviewed journal. That would be the gold standard of expertise.
Ethiopia has very little resources for carrying out these studies . There is no reliable DNA sequencing facility in country and no significant post-graduate training program for this advanced area of inquiry. There is basic training for entry level forensic technicians. Mekelle University and St. Paul’s Medical School in Addis Ababa have post-graduate training programs in forensic medicine.
Just looking at the photo the changes seen of the bone look more recent then one would expect from a 20+ year mass burial. Even stalwart Canadian political science academic perennial defender of the Abiy Ahmed, Ann Fitz-Gerald, said that the remains should be evaluated by a panel of experts.
A proper scientific inquiry would require internationally recognized scientists to study the remains. We know that deterioration of skeletal remains can vary greatly depending upon the chemical composition of the soil and temperatures. There does not appear upon my initial review of published literature to be much if any research on this in Ethiopia. Additionally, trace DNA can often be recovered from such remains. This could traced to living relatives to help identify the ethnicity of those buried. Given this lack of expertise it would seem that Ethiopia would welcome the United Nations mandate to investigate human rights violations in Tigray and Ethiopia rather then oppose them.
The brutal occupation of Western Tigray over the past year and a half with hundreds of thousands of missing persons makes the Tigray government concerned that these remains are more recent and Tigrayan. The only way to know the truth is to proceed with the best scientific inquiry following international standards.
The easy passage of Senate bill S.3199 came as no surprise today given the catastrophic suffering of Tigray which extended to Afar and Amhara from war. Whilst Ethiopia talks of peace it is clearly mobilizing for war. Now this war fixation with seeking revenge is secondarily affecting all of Ethiopia due to economic collapse and poor national concern or planning for issues which were ignored due to the primary focus of the Ethiopian government on war. Ethiopia is accelerating into ruinous chaos in a growing rage of hate. They have abandoned their religious heritage and drifted into an idolatry glorifying tribal triumph rather than universal peaceful co-existence. While talking humanitarian truce just a few days ago now Ethiopia is sending three columns of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to the Tigray border.
How can the leadership of Ethiopia and Eritrea be so blind to the basic moral fiber expected of what was once considered one of the most religious countries in the world. While thousands are dying daily from starvation and lack of health care, Ethiopian representatives in the government and military were talking about extermination, cannibalism, and openly recording barbaric torture on social media. Their declared primary objective was not restoring peace but instead calling for complete humiliation, denigration, and finally annihilation for the Tigray. The only issue that mattered to them was the right to uninterrupted and complete sovereignty of the current Ethiopian government which has refused any participation of representation by Tigrayan elected representatives to do whatever they wished without regard to United Nations standards and principles to which Ethiopia is a signatory. Unfortunately the lack of leadership of the African Union and the United Nations not only served to advance the suffering in Tigray but encouraged the ghastly massacre now occurring in Ukraine.
This time of year both Christians and Muslims remember the kindness and faithfulness of the John the Baptist otherwise known as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā to Muslims, cousin of Jesus, and Jesus, son of God to Christians, an important messenger to Muslims. His mother holds a special place in both religions. At a meeting of John’s mother, Elizabeth, and Jesus mother, Mary, the Bible recants a song sung, Luke 1:46-55, by Mary called the Magnifcat, that reflects that God is the deliverer of justice to the oppressed and will provide for the hungry who are deprived. The high adoration of Mary in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church would surely not condone this lack of merciful intent by Ethiopia. Many theologians see Mary as a bridge between Christians and Muslims.
My prayer is that all the waring parties in Ethiopia and Eritrea will let themselves be influenced by divine intercession to look for a way to peaceful co-existence. To reflect on their faith and ask to be guided to righteousness. To search to fix the brokenness of hate and restore the wholeness of peace now missing in the Horn of Africa. It is not too late.
The United States cannot be an accessory to the cascading humanitarian crisis in Tigray and Ethiopia. Giving unrestricted aid which will support its continuance and foster a greater Tigray genocide. The pronouncements and actions of Ethiopia are a betrayal of her responsibilities recognized by being a member of the United Nations. The sanctions are morally justifiable and are intended to strongly encourage peaceful resolution with all due haste.
The veracity of promises to Tigray made by the Ethiopian government including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been totally lacking towards Tigray since even before the onset of armed conflict in November 2020.
The Biblical story of Ahab and Naboth recounts a similar situation to Ethiopia and Tigray illustrating that even powerful leaders have ethical and more limits in their actions. In 1 Kings 21 the powerful Northern Kingdom King Ahab covets the vineyard of Naboth, a humble subject, who owned the property by right of inheritance. When Naboth will not accept a land trade Ahab and his wife conspire to kill Naboth. Although Ahab is a powerful king he cannot escape his duty to protect the rights of those over whom he rules. His lack of concern for the rights and even the dignity for Naboth condemn him in the eyes of God.
Like Ahab Ethiopia’s leader Abiy Ahmed has denied the Tigray the right to live in Western Tigray where they have lived for centuries. It was in Western Tigray where the revolt against the Derg Regime began almost 50 years ago. Ethiopia choose to use war as a just weapon and ignore the humanity of the Tigray people. This goes against their right of autonomy in the Ethiopian constitution. Like Ahab wanting to kill Naboth to acquire his vineyard so the Ethiopian government sought to annihilate the Tigray through war, famine, and lack of health care. God speaks through the Prophet Elijah rebuking Ahab for his sins. This message remains as true today as it did then.
Now we hear that Ethiopia is putting in place an immediate truce to facilitate humanitarian access to Tigray. At the same time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is calling for the expulsion of U.N. officials complaining that there is no humanitarian access to Tigray provided by the Federal Ethiopian government. The world was witness to the recent videos ransacking and looting of trucks in Afar intended to deliver aid to Tigray. The fear of the imminent implementation of punitive sanctions by the United States is clearly the causation of the most recent pronouncement.
The history of communication from Ethiopia on Tigray has been an unbroken stream of nefarious declarations intended to fool the international community. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize over what is now known to be false pretenses by September 202o Abiy Ahmed had already lost credibility with many Western democracies. It is to be remembered that Abiy Ahmed in a speech before the Ethiopian Parliament said he would never go to war with Tigray. Once the war was started he called it a “law enforcement operation” done with the intention of “protecting Tigray civilians” which of course we now know suffered and continue to suffer atrocity, deprivation, and violation on a massive scale. Then in June 2021 he claimed a unilateral ceasefire to allow planting of crops in Tigray however his own appointees to the Tigray Interim Administration occupying Tigray told international media including France’s News24 that they were blocking planting.
It is well past due for Ethiopia to recognize the human dignity and rights of the Tigrayan people. To reaffirm their ancestral right to live in Tigray. To repent from the sins of nefarious greed and finally to seek peace.
This week the Ethiopian Public Health Association held its annual convention in Addis Ababa with the theme title “Conflict, Public Health and Health Systems Resilience”. In the introductory remarks it was noted that the national armed conflict is a major health problem. Additionally “alarm at the combatant’s destruction of health facilities was expressed in Amhara, Afar, and lastly Tigray as well as gender based sexual violence”. However, that was the only mention of Tigray. Live internet connections were done with universities in Ethiopia but not a single one to Tigray. No member from Tigray health services or university who used to normally contribute was invited or even allowed to attend despite a joint publication of Mekelle University and the Medical University of South Carolina published in the prestigious journal Lancet.
A person who attended but wishes to remain anonymous informed me that specific instructions were given by the leadership of the conference to avoid discussion of Tigray and insure no one from Tigray attended the meeting. Undercover security persons monitored the meeting. One the goals of the meeting was to project the “victimhood” of Amhara and Afar rather then to have real discussions on findings and developing strategy.
The confirmed reports of burning Tigrayan captives for possible later consumption and statements encouraging such behavior by Amharic and SNNP leaders is no surprise when the history of cannibalism in Ethiopia is reviewed. The joint action of members of Amhara and SNNP forces draws attention to documented previous cultural practices of these groups.
One of the earliest reports of what is called famine cannibalism are found in a report by YeHarer Tarik in Harar in the 17th century. In wars between Christians and Muslims there were severe famines leading those in Harar to kill weak individuals, butcher, and sell their remains as “goat meat”. Other reports exist of Amhara doing similar acts in fights against the Oromo in the late 19th century.
Mortuary cannibalism has been seen in the southwest area of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Southern Ethiopia. There groups of people called quamtut are known to secretly rob graves to harvest fresh bodies. For this reason recent burials are often guarded for over a month. A third group of cannibal behavior which occurs during daylight and involves the intimidation of its victims who are usually enemies is named gorogoro.
Cannibalism against enemy is also a form of ancient psychological warfare practiced in central and southern regions of Ethiopia. Pagan peoples and Christians both believe that destruction of the body before it is allowed natural corruption in the ground can have negative effects on future generations. From my experience in treating Ethiopian Orthodox Christians it is well established that believers fear life saving amputation for injury or diabetes complications because they fear it will affect their reincarnation. Consumption of the flesh of an enemy weakens the opposing clan’s powers.
Similarly the practice of the Ethiopian Orthodox believers is to bury bodies within 24 hours as their Syriac Christianity derived beliefs order by Old Testament Law. Mutilating the body or allowing its consumption by scavager wildlife and not being interred properly can affect ones reincarnation. This is well known by the Amhara and used against the Tigray as a form of psychological genocide.
It is indeed ironic that in December 2020 Amharic expansionists were spreading false rumors that the native Gumuz people were attacking and eating “light skinned people” a shady reference to Amhara to incite hatred against them and justify their extrajudicial killing.
The Eritrean and Ethiopian “law enforcement operation” which occupied Tigray resulted in the destruction of 90% of community water resources. Tigray is an arid land with very few ponds, lakes, or rivers. Much of the water supply was derived from government maintained wells. There is only appreciable rainfall during the summer months. Adult Tigrayans living a hard rural farming life which makes up 90% of a 7 million population generally need at least 2.5 liters of potable water to drink.
Water is essential for life. Death can occur if there is no water intake in just days. Water borne disease can cause febrile illness, diarrhea, and inability to carry out even the necessary labors of daily life. Without antibiotics or intravenous fluids to treat these conditions normally treatable disease becomes fatal potentially for thousands of people as always been seen in the past. The limited water intake of Tigrayans had already been documented to contribute to high rates of kidney stones and kidney disease which now without medical treatment become fatal. Just about any medical condition is made worse by lack of water. Pregnancy and child development become compromised by the lack of proper intake and disease.
Before the onset of the Ethiopian Tigray conflict in November 2020 most of the urban areas had water plants often with their own generators which provided water several days a week. Many of the modest homes had water storage at a low height that allowed low flow by gravity to dispense the stored water. Sometimes they had an electric pump to push water up to higher storage. The loss of electricity rendered city water supplies inoperative. In the rural countryside traditionally women would carry 5 gallon containers on foot often traveling for hours to government installed manual pump equipped wells. Many women searching for water became targets of violence and violation by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers.
In the urban areas the community now receives water delivered to the neighborhoods, kebele, by horse drawn tank carts which collect water from wells or natural resources. This is not purified in any way and may contain bacterial, parasitic, or chemical contaminates. While I was in Mekelle during the occupation we would try to filter the water by pouring it through blankets and then boil it. As there was no electricity we had to search for fire wood which was in short supply. The timing of the fire was key because it was used to keep warm during the often chilly evening hours and used to cook food as well as to kill pathogens in the water.