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Debunking the Myth of an ‘Attack on the North Command’ as a Factor that Led to the Ongoing Genocidal War on Tigray

Now it is clear that this whole thing about the attack on the Northern command is justan Anti-Tigray alliance,which was in the making for the last three decades and strategically organized in the last three years. This was realized by the pseudo ‘peace pact’ with Eritrea, which only wanted to sandwich Tigray between two mortal enemies (Eritrea and Amhara) and then finish it off.



Nearly four months after the Ethiopian federal army, along with Eritrean military and Amhara Special Forces and Fano Militias took over the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia in a premeditated and rapid offensive against Tigray, the world seems to be taken by surprise about the speed and barbaric nature of the attack.

Abiy Ahmed executed TPLF veterans, Seyum Mesfin, Abay Tsehaye, Asmelash WeldeSellassie, who laid the foundation of everything that Abiy and his Amhara allies are now using to attack the people of Tigray. They had fought for the equality of Nations, Nationalities and peoples in the country, gave its strong diplomatic positions and a double-digit GDP growth.

The international community, especially the United States, has a duty to protect the people of Tigray. The TPLF leaders accepted the political reform propositions (by local and international community), left their federal positions without any hesitation, trusting that the international community will live up to its promises of supporting the reform process. However, all the alarm bells that were against TPLF in the wake of Oromo protest are now silent in the face of a blatant genocidal war on the people of Tigray. What lesson would this leave for the current Oromo leaders who are now entrenching their power? Are they going to leave power, only to let their people be butchered and maimed in total communications blackout?

The attack on federal army bases by TPLF forces on November 4, 2020 has been the number one, if not the only, reason given by Abiy Ahmed for his order to scorch Tigray out of existence. His supporters and enablers have refused to see any other empirical reality and have continued their misinformation and disinformation campaign. These forces, however, could not hide their disproportional and vengeful acts and mounting criminal conducts. 

What happened on November 4 was simple and plain to understand for those who want to see.

Tigray was closely following the political developments over the last three years of Abiy’s reign, the mobilizations in Amhara region and especially the political alliances in the last one year. In the end of October 2020, Abiy Ahmed visited Sawa, Eritrea’s military training camp, and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, visited the Bishoftu and Debrziet military installations, including Ethiopia’s air force base. There were also reports of movement of military hardware towards the Tigray region from other parts of Ethiopia during and after Isaias’s visit.

Against this backdrop, Tigray leaders had managed to convince the majority of Northern Command members not to attack the people in the event of conflict. The remaining few, mainly Ethnic Amharas, were halfhearted and secretly asked TPLF forces to launch a ‘pseudo attack’ so that they and their families would not be subjected to attacks by Abiy and his supporters. However, some still fought back and very few of them (50-100) were forced to flee to Eritrea. Therefore, it is very hard to call the Nov. 4 military action as ‘an attack’ than a war preventive measure by Tigray. The causalities are also only a handful; many were captured and released to join the ENDF.

Nevertheless, the Amhara Special Forces who had already stationed in the border between Amhara and southern Tigray region took the opportunity to intervene in the fire exchange without being initiated by the ENDF northern command. The Amhara Special Forces leaders then phoned Abiy from Bahirdar for the ‘go ahead with the plan’ response—they did get it immediately. Then further reinforcements that arrived from both Eritrea and the Ethiopian side started the full-blown genocidal war we see today.

What was the intension of the Tigray leaders after controlling the Northern Command and its military installations? The leaders never wanted to get back to Arat killio, or any Federal political position for that matter, but to defend themselves and the people from the imminent attack from Isaias and Abiy who were full of grudges for Tigrayans. I bet if they wanted to topple Abiy or get back to power, they would have acted differently, or they would simply agree to Abiy’s kleptocratic demands, including merging their party with the Prosperity Party-PP. Tigrayans might not have thought that Abiy would go this far. Abiy was a member of the military, served as a radio operator in the Tigray region during the Ethio-Eritrean war, lived in the region with his wife, now the first lady, and knows the people’s language. All this only made him to overestimate Tigray’s power and over prepare himself with earth scorching fire, and for Tigray’s leaders, whose members’ hands fed Abiy Ahmed, this has never occurred to them.

Abiy launched a cold war on Tigray immediately after securing power.

Pre-war developments

On April 2, 2018, executive committee members of the EPRDF from Tigray, Amhara, Oromo and Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples regions voted for Abiy Ahmed, in a closed-door election, to chair the EPRDF. The once powerful TPLF accepted the reform agenda and left its political positions at the federal level. However, Abiy Ahmed resorted to unprovoked intimidation and attack on Tigrayans, especially after winning the Nobel peace prize in 2019 for executing the EPRDF’s peace initiative with Eritrea. Tigrayan officials who lost/left their federal positions moved to their home region, Tigray, and continued administering the region. As the distance between Abiy’s government and the Tigray leaders grew and the disagreements became conspicuous, Abiy went on to imprison several former high ranking officials from Tigray, including General Kinfe Dagnew, Colonel Binam Tewolde (Abiy’s former friend and colleague in INSA.) Even worse, General Seare Mekonen, the chief of staff of the Ethiopian military, was assassinated along with his compatriot Gezaie. Where possible, the regional administration of Tigray is reported to have refused to allow the arrest of officials such as Getachew Assefa, the former chief of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of Ethiopia and executive member of TPLF. Abiy’s measures were clearly populist agendas of the Amhara nationalists, who just wanted to get rid of TPLF’s legacy. 

On 1 December 2019, Abiy Ahmed merged the ethnic and region-based parties of the EPRDF into the new Prosperity Party. The TPLF, a politically powerful entity that had dominated Ethiopian politics for 27 years, refused to join the new party. For the TPLF, Abiy Ahmed became an illegitimate ruler when he rescheduled the general elections set for 29 August 2020 (which Abiy had already postponed twice before from the regular May 2020 election date, before COVID-19) to an indeterminate date in 2021 due to COVID-19.

In 2020, tensions between the government and the Tigray escalated in the months before the November war on Tigray. Abiy Ahmed accused the Tigray leaders in the Tigray Regional Government of undermining his authority. Tigray held its own election in September 2020 for the Tigray parliament. This made Abiy furious amid calls for military action against Tigray. The pressure for war came largely from the Amhara Nationalists, both in Ethiopia and in the diaspora, through their powerful grip of Medias. Meanwhile, Abiy increased his unholy tie with Isaias Afwerki, who holds a deep-seated hate against TPLF and Tigray people. In late October, the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission stated that it was trying to mediate between the federal and Tigrayan governments, but that pre-conditions set by both sides were blocking progress.

As tension continued to grow, a Commander General appointed by Abiy Ahmed (whose constitutionally granted term in office expired on October 5, 2020) was prevented by the Tigrayan government from taking on his post.

In late September 2020, Tigray rightly stated that the constitutional term limit of the HoF, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR), the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers was on 5 October 2020, and that for this reason, it would consider “the incumbent” constitutionally illegitimate after 5 October. The TPLF along with major opposition political leaders such as Jawar Mohamed and Lidetu Ayalew proposed replacing the government by a technocratic caretaker government. Abiy imprisoned them. Abiy plotted an assassination of famous Oromo singer, Hachalu Hundesa, and implicated Jawar Mohamed, Bekelle Gerba et al.  While the Oromo and Tigray leaders seem to have been taken by surprise of his ‘deceitful humility’, Abiy knew everything he did, from the killings in Amhara region to the GERD Engineer Semegnew Bekelle, to Oromo and Tigray leaders’ spree of killing and imprisonment, and he effectively exterminated any challenge to his power.

Perhaps behind all this is a haunting constitutional disagreement. The 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia states in Article 39.1, “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.” Abiy Ahmed and his supporters want to remove this constitutional right and the TPLF, an ardent proponent and vanguard of self-determination rights.

Just two days before the war on Tigray, scores of people, allegedly Amhara ethnic members, were slaughtered in mass in Wollagaa in Oromia, which put the prime minister under increasing pressure from HPR members. For the last three years of Abiy’s reign, the TPLF and Tigrayans were always scapegoated for every conflict and bad news happening in the country and thus, Abiy used the attack on Northern command as an excuse to launch unprecedented[1] offensive.

As the war drags on

The Amhara elites, as Abere Adamu confessed, started the war. Abere said, ‘when one of the northern command positions near Dansha was attacked, it is our duty to respond.’ Therefore, the Amhara region governments Special Forces invited themselves into what they see the right moment to vengefully get back at Tigray. They immediately pushed Abiy Ahmed to take on a disproportionate measure, declaring a full-blown war.

The offensive in to Tigray was disproportionate against Tigray. The Ethiopian offensives were accompanied by drone airstrikes and several towns and cities were scorched out of existence. The Amhara forces remained in the south and south west Tigray to do their wanton killings and massacre.  Machete and knives welding Fano militias and police loyal to the Amhara prosperity party killed Tigryans in a bid to ethnically cleanse the Southern and Western part of Tigray.

The offensives were also facilitated by the intervention of “Pterosaurs” drones, launched by the United Arab Emirates from its base in Assab (Eritrea). The Eritrean forces have been conducting incalculable and immeasurable distraction, looting and mayhem along their path. They justify their action based on their vengeance or a payback for what they say Tigrayans did to them. On top of all this campaign of massacre, the communication blackout have prevented the full report of the genocidal war. Survivors’ testimony from Sudan was the only sources of information along with satellite imagery.

The rampant destruction of Tigray’s small industrial base is also, but one face of the genocidal mission. The alienation of EFFORT and the destruction of the industrial base, a Tigrayan regional pride and source for many employments, will further estrange Tigray’s urban youth from Abiy’s political zeal.

It is now clear that the UNSC is moving towards taking sizable action to stop the war on Tigray, and State secretary Antony Blinken took bold step to call for the cessation of hostility and an immediate humanitarian access into the region.

Now it is clear that this whole thing about the attack on the Northern command is just an Anti-Tigray alliance, which was in the making for the last three decades and strategically organized in the last three years.  This was realized by the pseudo ‘peace pact’ with Eritrea, which only wanted to sandwich Tigray between two mortal enemies (Eritrea and Amhara) and then finish it off, with total war in their minds to:

  • wipe out the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its army;
  • destroy Tigray’s developmental structure;
  • obliterate much of its cultural heritage;
  • dismember its domain.

In this war, Isaias showed the world his perennial quest to remain the most relevant player in the region. Eritrea has neither resource nor soft power by which it could stay relevant in the region. It is a tiny, impoverished nation, known for its brutal administration, with which no nation wants to be associated.

Isaias is the main architect of this war as is Abiy Ahmed, but the war will only be over if and only when Isaias says it is over.  The tentacles of this alliance go even further, in that the proxy beneficiaries are made to pass through Asmara in order to strengthen that indispensability phenomenon. The UAE drones have been so effective in determining the course of the war and in terrorizing the people of Tigray.

The door to peaceful resolution is not still closed. At the moment, the Eritrean president does not need peace. Therefore, the solution is to make Isaias want the peace, through coercion or persuasion, and only the USA, which has huge sway on Eritrea’s supporters in the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, can do this. If the US wants to stop the genocide, it can, but will it? Only history and time will tell.

[1] This the first time in Ethiopian history, a government used and allied with neighboring and longtime enemy leadership in Eritrea to attack its own people.

Abraham Abraham A. Belay worked as Graduate Assistant at Mekelle University. Currently, he studying international relations at the university of Groningen, the Netherlands.

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  1. Liya

    September 1, 2022 at 11:55 pm

    This is a very important article. The absence of sources undermines its efforts to clarify the Northern Command story as less informed readers may want to explore contributing sources on their own.

    • Liya

      September 2, 2022 at 12:02 am

      Would the author & Tghat consider republishing this article with citations? There is a severe lack of long-form coverage on this topic. It is that important.

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