A review of the actions of military forces supporting Ethiopian invasion of Tigray since November 2020 demonstrates a strategy of persecuting intolerable terror to the civilian population to force an unconditional surrender contradicting the latest pronouncement from the Ethiopian government is that they have deep concern for the welfare of the Tigray. All the while paradoxically calling for them to bare the sacrifice of suffering concurrently the punishing military operations against their elected leaders in the TPLF. They add that the Tigrayan people need to understand that their sacrifice is necessary during this military operation because ultimately it will be to their benefit.
Over the past two years we have heard and seen time and again from Abiy Ahmed supporters that the military action and removal of human rights of the Tigray people by Ethiopia was necessary. The Ethiopian Prime Minister complained following his “withdrawal” from Tigray in 2021 that he could not persuade the Tigrayans to stop supporting the TPLF. His Social Minister Daniel Kibret said that the Tigrayan people should be totally erased from history. Other leaders in the Amharic community stated that Tigrayans should be killed at birth.
Just to review what has been well documented since the onset of conflict in November 2020. In fact lets start even before that. Whilst about 3 years ago Abiy Ahmed gave a speech to the Ethiopian Parliament that the TPLF was a good example of government that works for its constituency just a year later he called them terrorists. At the time the leaders of the TPLF had pretty much left Addis Ababa and focused on Tigray. They had accepted the change in leadership. Yet Abiy Ahmed and his coalition of Amhara supporters decided that they all of sudden wanted no tigray in the parliament at all so they outlawed the TPLF.
At the same time in the year before the conflict Tigrayans were removed from administrative posts, academic counsels, and budgets for everything in Tigray began to be sharply cut. As the Tigrayans were no longer allowed in Parliament they had no voice. Amhara Prosperity Party members created and voted on a proposal that they were “Terrorists” without any due process. The Ethiopian Constitution which clearly states that the different regional states have a right to maintain defense forces and forbids one region’s defense forces from attacking another.
We know that a military buildup occurred in the regional states adjacent to Tigray well before November 2020. In anticipation of a bloody conflict, the Ethiopian federal government had set medical teams to care for military casualties month before. The “peace agreement” between the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea had contained an agreement for military alliance against Tigray. An immediate payment of $ 6 billion was given to Eritrea quickly at the onset of hostilities.
If the Ethiopian government was so concerned for the welfare of the Tigrayans consistently through this conflict the evidence to the contrary stands against this claim. The Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces have killed thousands of civilians, destroyed villages, farms, factories, homes, and places of business estimated to be worth worth one hundred billion birr by the Tigray Interim Administration appointed by Abiy Ahmed before Mekelle was retaken by the TDF.
Thousands of Tigrayans not even in Tigray proper have been detained without due process, allowed no right of free speech, had assets and property confiscated without cause, blocked from receiving medical care, and driven off land their families have worked for generations. Their representation in the Parliament has been effectively abolished.
For more than 2 years Tigray has endured an almost complete blockade of food, medical supplies, and fuel has been performed by the Ethiopian government. Electricity, phone service, and internet have been blocked. Clearly the intent of the Ethiopian government to was to convince the leadership of the TPLF that they would make the Tigrayan people suffer more and more hardship as a way of convincing the TPLF to give up. There was no attempt by the Ethiopian government to try the traditional approach of winning hearts and minds instead the strategy was one of one intolerable terror.
The intentional escalation of hate of the Tigray demonstrated by Abiy Ahmed and his supporters beginning well before the onset of the Ethiopia Tigray conflict closely mirrors how the Nazi movement in Germany labeled and then persecuted the European Jews. The Nazi movement lead by Adolf Hitler began its rise to power in part by naming European Jews as the cause of Germany’s economic woes in the post World War I period. Although initially seen as radicals the failure of German democratic movement to effect jobs and economic growth in the face of a punishing treaty that called for punitive payments eventually found the Nazi’s gaining popular support. Abiy Ahmed intimated by naming his new political party, Prosperity Party, like the Nazis could bring economic success by attacking a minority just as Hitler had done.
The Nazi’s capitalized on this idea that they had majority support in the same way as Abiy Ahmed supporters currently proclaim to begin a gradually escalating policies toward the Jews and other non-Aryans who became the strawmen for all of Germany’s woes. First they were labeled as different then the majority and seen to have evil motives to the general population. Public badges of Jews were then legislated into place to point them out. Then in 1941 and increasing rapidly through 1942 the concept was put in place to detain all Jews and place them in concentration camps leading to millions becoming slave labor and executed. This progression from labeling to genocide seen again in the Ethiopia Tigray conflict to be coming true.
Although he once praised the Tigray People Liberation Front as an ideal regional government to his Parliament after agreeing to a cooperation pact with Isaias Afwerki the praise turned to condemnation. At first the scenario painted was that the Tigray population was a victim of a despotic TPLF leadership. During the initial takeover of most of Tigray, Abiy Ahmed placed many TPLF Tigrayan critics in key interim administration positions. However these appointees began to complain almost immediately about the conduct and policies of the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. This included destruction of factories, high rates of violations against women, and blocking of farmers planting a harvest.
The resurgence of the Tigray Defense Force following the occupation of Mekelle leading to the Ethiopian Defense Forces forced withdrawal and defeat marks an important change in the Ethiopian rhetoric towards the Tigray. Now Abiy Ahmed was saying that the strong support of the Tigray fighters by all Tigray justified actions against Tigray civilians. This was the beginning of a spiraling decline from the recognition of Tigrayans as Ethiopian citizens with rights to conversely all be enemy combatants so evil that even the elderly, small children, and mothers must be urgently confined as necessary for “national security”.
At this moment nobody knows the exact number of detainees but estimates now exceed 70,000 throughout Ethiopia. No clear definition of what constitutes a dangerous person requiring detainment has been given. Under terrorism law and the emergency state there are no clear cut rights to legal representation or due process. Many are being held in warehouses without provisions for bathrooms, feeding, or medical care. Family members have no rights to know where their loved ones or in what condition they are in. We know by way of a statement of a member of the Federal prosecutors office that some extrajudicial killings have already occurred. FANO leaders and others in the Prosperity Party have already posted on the internet that these Tigray and other detainees should be executed automatically to force the Tigray Defense Force and their alliance to surrender.
In April 2018 Abiy Ahmed the new appointed Prime Minister of Ethiopia came to visit Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, with a message of hope, cooperation, and development. As a teenager in the Ethiopian Army he had served in the Tigray region and learned Tigrinya, the native language. He watched a circus show, sat with Tigray People Liberation Front leaders, and talked about a future together. Before his visit he had stated that it was time for a new era for all regions to work together. That the country should look forward and not be focused in the past.
He talked about infrastructure development including hydroelectric dams, a railroad project, the Mekelle water problem, giving support to private sector development , loans for investment, export support from the national bank, improving tourism, bringing public meter taxi for Mekelle, and a short lease proclamation for agriculture. None of these things ever happened.
Instead after his visit there came to be a movement in Ethiopia about the need to deal with the past. In late 2018, the Prime Minister created a Reconciliation Commission “to maintain peace justice, national unity and consensus as well as Reconciliation among Ethiopian Peoples.”
Discussion began about injustice under the Monarchy, the Derg, and the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Front under whose auspices Abiy Ahmed came to power as a compromise between Amhara and Oromia factions. Soon however, this effort which lacked any clear mandate, become a mechanism for consolidating power.
By the 2019 budgets for the Tigray state which were calculated by population formulas used for all regions were beginning to be cut. Many former political leaders including those of the TPLF were sought out for arrest. Ethnic identity in the Amhara region, and other regions as well, which normally had about 10% Tigray became an issue. There were pushes which began subtilty but then became open and forceful causing many Tigray to leave other regions and move back to Tigray. Abiy Ahmed was using the usual formula for dictators by creating a Tigray strawman. He began to turn on even those who facilitated his rise namely Jawar Mohammed from Oromia.
On the occasion of the 2019 harvest and women’s festival Ashenda , Abiy Ahmed sent a message that Tigray culture was an important and vital part of Ethiopia. In a speech to Parliament he stated that the TPLF and Tigray leadership were examples to follow for other regions in Ethiopia.
The Tigray Ethiopia conflict which was the end result of almost two years of escalating actions against the Tigrayan ethnicity was touted as a “law enforcement action”. That the Ethiopian government was going to free the Tegaru people from the crimes committed against them by the TPLF. Instead with its expatriate Eritrean allies it looted, killed, raped, and stole from the very people Abiy Ahmed said he would “liberate”. Finally he sarcastically complained that he had to remove his army from Mekelle because the Tegaru were helping the Tigray government too much.
Today more than 300,000 Tegaru are suffering famine. Aid is being actively blocked by the Ethiopian government. Revolts are now active in Beningshagul, Afar, Oromia, Agew, Somali, and Gambella who also feel betrayed. Hope has been replaced to a fight for survival against a great betrayal.
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.
There is a global misperception often forwarded by Amhara expansionists that Ethiopia has been a nation for centuries. But instead the area we call Ethiopia came into being less than 200 years ago when Amharic kings become dominant over the Tigrayan monarchy and then conquered Cushitic peoples in Oromia, the Southern Nations, the Afar, and were “gifted” part of Somalia by European powers. In reality the Tigray have always thought of themselves as a nation in an empire.
Recently the world was stunned when the very small region of Tigray managed to retake most of its territory back from the federal forces of the Ethiopian national government last summer who had one of the largest armies in Africa. To those who know the past 100 years this is not so surprising. A look at the recent history of the Ethiopian empire, a collection of many ethnic groups struggling for dominance, over the past century lends insight to current events.
How Western Civilization Has Looked at Ethiopia
Many scholars had looked at what had happened to Ethiopia in the 19th and 20th centuries trying to understand its evolution and how it would progress. Donald Levine wrote in his work Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society that Ethiopia would develop a national identity due to experience of war, famine, religious conflict, trade development etc. The dominance of Amharic emperors during this time period until the late 1960s favored the development of an idealistic concept of Amharic elitism as a central theme as well.
Although many languages both Cushitic and Semitic are spoken in Ethiopia, for approximately the past 150 years the Amhara leadership of the country (beginning with the monarchy) as well as the Ethiopian orthodox church essentially mandated that the Amhara language would be the official language of commerce and government. Elite schools and universities taught in Amharic thus its speakers were seen as superior to the non-speakers of Amharic. Those wishing to become “educated” had to learn Amharic. Political ideas and policies thus became mostly associated with this Amharic elitism. Until just the past two decades attendance of the prestigious Addis Ababa University was limited to the Amhara.
What is the Tigray Identity
The Tigray people claim their ancestry to the Axumite empire which was started by the Queen of Sheba, a Biblical figure, who lived thousands of years ago ( an aristocrat of the ancient Saba people who lived about the eastern and western areas bordering the Red Sea and spoke a Semitic language). Legend has it she conceived a son with King Solomon of Israel and converted to Judaism. Centuries later the Axumite empire converted to Christianity under King Ezana. Although early kings of Northern Ethiopia were Tigray they eventually lost power to the Amhara whose background is also related to that of the Tigray. The Tigray have a long tradition of being a warrior clan. In fact going back centuries in both domestic battles and battles against foreign invaders their abilities as fighters and commanders of armies were always sought. At same time these qualities have always fostered suspicion by other ethnic groups especially when the military services of the Tigray were no longer needed. Most recently the term Tigray is most often used to describe the region while the term Tegaru is coming more into use to describe its people and now even being used to differentiate them from Eritreans.
The Rise of the Tigray
The rise of the Tigray who make up only 6% of the population of Ethiopia to lead an alliance that would topple a powerful government without any outside assistance starting from essentially no resources was unexplainable to scholars. Daniel Young a journalist with the Sudan Times began to follow their rise in 1988 and eventually wrote the definitive scholarly work, The Peasant Revolution of Ethiopia.
He did numerous interviews with peasants after gaining their trust. He noted then as did others that although there has always been talk about a greater nation for the most part over the past century there have always been nationalist movements within Ethiopia. Ethiopia has always been a empire and not a nation. Although the goal of the Tigray (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front) was primarily to overthrow the Derg (a quasi communist-socialist multiethnic movement which included many military leaders and was supported by the Russian communist party) the TPLF developed the concept that to be successful they had to gain great support from the countryside peasants. One important component was they incorporated educated Tigray women into leadership roles. The Tigray were remarkable for developing and sticking to their ideals and goals, creating alliances, strong action against dissent for which they have been criticized, and finally for basing their strength from a bottom up approach which is significantly different then the Amhara elite model which is a top down scenario.
Bottom Up versus Elitist Lead Revolution
From a social science perspective there has always been controversy over whether a revolutionary movement can be driven by perceived peasant led initiatives (bottom up) or by elitist lead initiatives. The successful revolt of the Vietnamese against French Colonialism and American interference is often demonstrated as a model of the bottom up approach. Thus what we are seeing now is a repeat of this ongoing struggle in Ethiopia of peasant based vs elite based focus and empire vs nation identity once again. How will it turn out?
This article has been updated from its original form