Editor’s note: The account below is written by Getu Mak. Getu Mak is a lecturer at Adigrat University, a founder of TigraiCodes, and active member of Tigrai Hiking Group. His previous article was What happened in Aksum? My personal account.
Hello world. I am Getu Mak again, writing from Tigray that is in total darkness. Last time, I wrote to you about what I witnessed in Aksum in general. I also mentioned that I lost my younger brother—the little one whom I treasured as my own life, and that my younger sister has been heavily wounded. Today, I will tell you more about what happened to them. I will also tell you about what transpired on the days before and after Hidar Tsion, the big annual festival of Saint Mary of Tsion of Aksum.
My sister, after her graduation from Aksum University in Animal Science, had been working at a newly opened milk factory in Humera for about a year. My brother was in his junior high school and he wanted to be an auto mechanic. We had the idea of helping him find an internship opportunity at Mesfin Industrial Engineering. But before that, he found out that there was a technical and vocational college, in Humera, that gives short training courses in the area of his interest. He decided to go to Humera and stay there with his sister, for a while.
After a stay of one month, the ugly war started. On 10 November, Humera was shelled heavily by the Eritrean forces from their camp in Omhajer, Eritrea. This unexpected attack and invasion created a mayhem in the city of Humera and its surroundings. Many residents fled to Sudan while many others migrated to Shire, Aksum and Adwa. My brother, my sister and her husband left their house behind, like everyone else, and together with their neighbors, about 10 people in total, were in search of safe places to shield themselves from the indiscriminate shelling.
My sister’s husband ran around searching for landmarks and caves they can hide in. After he thought he had found a good hiding place where he could take them all, he returned to the place. Then an artillery hit the group killing almost all of them. When my brother-in-law saw my sister breathing heavily, he rushed and took her to their home and came back to check my brother and the other people. From the 10 people, only my heavily wounded sister and her husband survived. He called for help and they took them to Kahsai Abera hospital. They were told that they were all dead, except my sister whom he also brought to the hospital. They registered their details and then buried them.
The Eritrean forces in collaboration with the Ethiopian forces continued shelling the city, and a few hours later, they attacked Kahsai Abera General Hospital. The nurses and doctors started to leave the hospital. My brother-in-law took my sister out of the hospital and fled to Adebai, 78 km southeast of Humera. After a few hours, he met some friends who lent him around 2000 ETB. This meant a lot since they left home without anything. They continued their journey to Shire in search of a safe place. Since my sister was in need of urgent treatment, they went to a hospital in Shire. Unfortunately, after a few days, Shire was shelled like Humera.
On 14 November, they fled to Aksum and joined the whole family. It was at this time that I learned the unbearable news that my younger brother was killed and that I saw my sister was wounded. With what I saw and heard that day, I was devastated and heartbroken. I hadn’t had a chance to meet and talk to my brother in person for a year or so. We only spoke on the phone. I promised him that I would give him the laptop I brought to him from Sweden. I regret not celebrating the Meskel Holiday with them, for he was in Aksum for the holiday. At least, I could have had a farewell talk with him. If it was not for brother-in-law who survived that artillery, my sister would not be alive today either. Hhe saved the life of his wife and the three-months old baby in her womb.
This is a collective grief for Tigayans. I tried to find courage and encourage the whole family to be strong. I didn’t waste time in grieving; I felt I had an assignment. I lost my brother, my sister is wounded, my work was disrupted. I felt we Tigrayans were betrayed by Ethiopia!
I borrowed 1500 birr from the hotel owner and gave it to my family. I am grateful for his generosity. I was only able to pay him back after I arrived in Mekele and was able to withdraw money from my account. I also had the idea that the youths in Mekele including the teams I am a member of were going about their businesses while I was in devastation and blockaded in Aksum. I have later learned they were not. Our TigraiCodes team members had permission to use one of Aksum University buses. We were scheduled to travel to Mekelle on 19 November 2020. But that did not happen since no bus showed up and everything was in chaos. Since then, let alone to Mekelle, finding transport to Adwa became impossible. Adwa became a destination so far as to seem a dream, like thinking of traveling to Mars during pre-war days.
In Aksum, death was waiting for us at our doors. I spent two two horrific months in Aksum.
When I eventually managed to travel from Aksum to Mekelle, I saw an overwhelming number of enemy troops, making me invoke God’s name. Upon realizing what I said, I said to myself “if God exists, why would he unleash such horror on the land of Tigray?!”. Eventually, I arrived at Mekelle on 09 January, 2021 and was able to meet my other family.
The past months have been of great pain and suffering for me and for Tigray. Why all this pain and suffering? The psychiatrist Dr. Frankl, in his famous book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ said “life is not complete without suffering”. Could this pain and suffering mean something deeper for me personally and for Tigray in general? Something that will complete us in some way? I feel something good must come out of this; it cannot just be for nothing, can it?
Hidar Tsion, the Festival of Saint Mary of Aksum
30 November 2020 was the start of ‘Hidar Zion’ (the annual celebration of St. Mary’s day). Hidar Tsion means the biggest day of the year for Aksum. The city had been on a laborious preparation to celebrate the holiday colorfully as always. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what took place. November 30 is now a black and bloody day in the history of Hidar Zion and Aksum.
Starting December 1st, the Eritrean troops began looting electronic shops, boutiques, jewelry shops, bars and stores found on the main street for consecutive three days. While they were robbing the electronic shops and boutiques in front of the hotel I was staying at, I heard them once saying to each other “this one to you and that one also to you”. It was possible to hear and see through the windows as the moon was shining brightly. As luck would have it, the only building in our area that wasn’t searched and robbed was the hotel I stayed at.
The Eritrean soldiers brought trucks with them and took everything they looted to Eritrea through the Adwa – Rama and Wukro – Chilla route. Once they finished looting Aksum, they moved to the rural areas to do the same. I would say the looting and massacres that happened in the villages were even worse. They searched for militias in each house, and killed whoever they suspected was one, burned their homestead and the crops, and killed all the livestock. In some of the houses they locked the women and the kids in a room for days without food and drink and kept the key with themselves. They slaughtered the cattles, sheep and goats and ate them.
The Ethiopian troops that entered the city earlier were not seen again; maybe they were killed in one of the battles? New Ethiopian troops came and camped at Ezana park, the commercial bank area, at Ethio Telecom, and at Atranos Hotel. Later we learned that most of them came from southern Ethiopia and they had no idea about what happened in Aksum the previous days and also had no idea what was happening following their coming. For about two months, it has been common to hear the sound of gun fires, tragic news of murder.