*This article contains descriptive sexually violent content pertaining to the Tigray Genocide; viewer discretion is advised.*
Did you know that there are rules in warfare? A just war is fighting to right a wrong. The goal is to restore peace. Sexual violence cannot be used as a weapon of war, nor should prisoners of war be harmed. No one should be stripped of their humanity.
The people of Tigray who reside in Ethiopia are made up of the Kunama, Irob, and Tegarus. Together, they comprise 6% of Ethiopia’s total population. In particular, the Tegarus of Tigray are fighting a just war to right a wrong. The wrong officially started on Nov 4, 2020. The Ethiopian government disguised it as a ‘law and order operation.’ Still, it is, in actuality, a genocidal war with the aim of eliminating all Tegarus in Tigray and throughout Ethiopia. With the help of the Amhara Fano Militia, the Amhara elites, and the Eritrean government, the Ethiopian government declared a total war on Tegarus. Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace winner Abiy Ahmed has publicly said, “we work to remove the weeds, when we remove the weeds, we take care of the wheat. The weed is being removed from our country.” Also, Ahmed’s advisor, Daniel Kibret, has said, ”they should vanish by erasure from the human mind and the consciences and from historical records.” Other terms used to degrade and dehumanize Tegarus include calling them ‘daytime hyenas,’ ‘aliens,’ ‘Satans,’ and ‘venomous snakes.’ In no uncertain terms, the Ethiopian government is calling for the extermination of the Tegaru people.
The systemic mischaracterization of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) and the demonizing of the Tegaru people began long before this current conflict. Prime Minister Ahmed and his cabinet are to blame for the role they have played in creating an environment ripe for the genocide of Tegarus. Unfortunately, the effects of this genocide are far-reaching and have destabilized Ethiopia and potentially the East African region as a whole. It is understandable to criticize and hold the TPLF accountable for its misdeeds when it was in power. Still, it is not acceptable or warranted to punish and aim to kill every Tegaru in Ethiopia collectively. This is what Tegarus are protesting against: the collective, inhumane punishment of its people. Tegarus are fighting for their survival in every sense of the word. I will highlight seven specific strategies and tools that Ahmed and his cabinet have used to carry out this genocide and show that this war is more than holding the TPLF accountable.
The genocidal allies have systematically destroyed most, if not all, of Tigray’s economy. They have robbed, looted, and destroyed important infrastructures that people need to survive. They have strategically set about to damage Tigray for many, many years to come. This includes the destruction of schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums, and water pipes, resulting in the destruction of up to 90% of Tigray’s assets. Consecutive airstrikes throughout Tigray have killed hundreds of Tegaru people and rendered countless others without basic needs. For example, an airstrike in Mai Sabri targeted a local hospital, and an airstrike in Mekelle targeted the Mesfin Industrial Engineering factory. To date, there have been over one dozen airstrikes launched by the Ethiopian government.
Rape and sexual violence have also been used as a weapon of war to humiliate, dominate and instill fear throughout Tegaru communities. Thousands of Tegaru women and girls have been mercilessly raped. Cowardly men have been fighting this war through the bodies of women and girls. Tegaru girls, some as young as 10, and elderly Tegaru women have been brutally assaulted, even in houses of worship. Some have been sexually enslaved for months and gang-raped by 30 to 40 men at a time. Men have hurled ethnic slurs while raping women, telling them that they will never give birth to a Tegaru child again. Family members have even been forced to watch while their loved ones are being raped or forced to assault their family members. According to Amnesty International, one of the many victims of sexual violence said, “I don’t think they realized I was a person.” According to an United Nations report, “1,200 incidents of serious sexual and gender-based violence have been reported – a number that is likely just a fraction of the actual number of cases in a conflict that is impacting women and children especially hard.”
In addition to these brutal acts, the Ethiopian government has been engaged in the deliberate destruction of Tigray’s ancient holy sites. These are historic, sacred sites, which the Tegarus value highly. Ancient churches have been damaged and looted. Some of the ancient churches that have been destroyed include the Debre Damo Monastery, Cherkos Church, Inda Medhanealem Church, Al Nejashi Mosque, and Enda Abune Aregawi Church.
Where is the outcry from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre?
Among the estimated 100-plus massacres that have been carried out throughout Tigray include the Axum massacre, where Tegarus were murdered while attending church. Additional massacres include the Maryam Dengelat, Bora Selewa, Debre Abay, Adi Hutsa, Sheraro, Mekelle, Shire, and Humera massacres. According to an April 2021 article in The Guardian, “Ethiopian soldiers appear to have been responsible for 14% of the killings, Eritrean troops who fought alongside federal forces 45% and irregular paramilitaries from the neighboring province of Amhara 5%.”
The people of Tigray are being intentionally starved, with food aid being blocked. These war crimes are being committed in the dark. United Nations Emergency Coordinator Mark Lowcock stated, “There’s not just an attempt to starve six million people but an attempt to cover up what’s going on.” And according to Human Rights Watch, ordinary civilian Tegarus are stopped and arrested in the streets, cafes, homes, and workplaces without search warrants. Police look at their identification cards before taking them to detention centers and unknown places. Dozens of Tegaru-owned businesses in the capital city Addis Ababa have been shut down. Meanwhile, high-ranking Tegaru officials have been let go from their jobs and forcefully taken to detention centers, along with other civil servants and teachers.
Ethnic cleansing of western Tigray by Amhara militia has been strategic to weaken Tigray’s economy and independence. Western Tigray, which includes Kafta Humera woreda (district), is home to Tigray’s largest exporter of sesame. Other western Tigray land that continues to be occupied include Wolkait, Tsegede, and Tselemti. The government has used this opportunity to annex Tigray’s land. According to an AP News source, the Amhara militia have forced the remaining Tegarus to carry Amhara identification cards and have forbidden them from speaking their native language. Even the U.S Secretary of State, Anthony Binken, has said that ethnic cleansing has occurred in Western Tigray.
What is to be done about this genocide being perpetrated by the Ethiopian government? Firstly, it is to shine a bright light on what is happening there; secondly, to build pressure that goes beyond denunciations but applies meaningful international economic and even military intervention. It is unconscionable what is going on to the Tegaru as we are witnessing a genocide unfold. Please tell everyone you know about what is happening.
Mulubrhan Kidanu is from East Africa studying African American and African Diaspora Studies at UNC Greensboro.