Adi Dairo: One of the Many Hellholes of Tigray
Two men help a hapless woman to some unknown destination. A disoriented child, blood on his forehead, is carried by a man running through a throng of young people, also busy aiding other victims. Another kid- perhaps 3 years old- lying on what appears to be a rotten hospital bed is seen coughing profusely. Several young men are trying to pull survivors from the base of a standing wall of what once must have been a modest residence. Tons of debris in sight. Two young patients are sharing an emergency bed in an unidentified clinic. One of them has blood dripping down her face. From her blank expression, it looks like she is trying to establish what exactly happened. One can’t tell what the other is suffering from. Nurses are holding an IV fluid tube. Another young boy is walking a younger girl who is crying wildly. She probably has no idea where her beloved ones have disappeared. Contrary to what the other scenes suggest, in the background is a row of some houses that have remained intact, yet empty. A corpse wrapped in a white cloth, as it should, is laid on a makeshift stretcher. Another body– one can’t tell whether dead or alive— is being attended by a crowd. Several other bodies are laid on a floor in an empty room that looks like an office with only 3 basic chairs in view. A cane, possibly abandoned by its owner lost in the rush, is in reclining mode by the wall. The few people inside are agitated, helpless. A nurse helping a woman whose sobbing infant that she seems to be nursing is suffering from some indistinguishable head injury. Another body with an IV fluid tube attached to, is— and we can only guess— carried somewhere by a group of youngsters through the front-door corridor. A toddler is crying hysterically as the nurse bandages his injured head. An older, stoically composed woman with a wound on her left hand rather visible- and one of her legs bandaged, apparently heavily bruised- is seen laid on the clinic bed. Two other women are attending to her issues. She is as quiet as the ungodly hour of night. An old man is seen so tightly close to a kid who looks like a grandchild. A lady with her two legs unusually stretched is awfully mum. A mother and (possibly) her teenage daughter are holding on to each other in the environs of a messy neighborhood. Ruins of a row of destroyed houses; of sections of houses and an only metal door frame left standing. In the foreground is a pile of rocks, mutilated wood; you name it. It is humanity in utter desperation. A mother and a confused kid injured somewhere in her body, mothers and kids crying, a bunch of young people working the dirt mound of what once were houses to recover victims buried underneath; and so on. It is hazy; it’s fresh. A line of abandoned rooms (perhaps of a school) with their roofs shattered, corrugated iron sheets hanging loose. A naked kid on the hospital bed with an adult standing by. Several injured- young and old- hunkering down at a hospital until help comes in. People working through the rubble, pulling rocks, and slabs to see if there are folks left buried. Some are holding their heads in utter despair. Others wailing, devastated. Kids on a stretcher, a girl crying in despair. A freshly unearthed young man put in what looks like a plastic washbasin to be carried to a hospital- several comforting him; beseeching him to stay awake until he gets help. More humans- and their home tools- being recovered from the wreckage. Stuff spread in absolute disregard all over a dusty but what must have been once a busy, part-asphalted street.
Helped by others around, a young man is desperately trying to pull a woman out of the debris that reminds (us) of snippets from a Syrian village visited by constant shelling; of a neighborhood brought down to just heaps of rocks, dry cement and steel. She keeps on collapsing. The effort is repeated over and over again. The man, we however learned later, was actually dealing with a lifeless body of a braided woman; initially stuck in the rubble, head down. She probably has children. And with the current fertility rate of 4.3%, a good guess would put her family size at 3 or 4 kids.
In another sequence, a woman being escorted by others from her partly destroyed home is clearly shattered. She is heard crying at the top of her lung, ጓለይ አምጽኡለይ!! Bring (back) my girl!!! We don’t see mother and child reuniting.
There are no emergency personnel. No sniffer dogs. With the tools they have that are limited to the primordial- axes and shovels- we can see the haste to recover the bodies before decomposing in that unusually extended rainy season. Obviously, it is overwhelming, daunting, frustrating.
These are samples from a video of an aftermath of the Tuesday, September 27 carpet bombing of Adi Dairo, a dusty town in the northwestern flank of the Tigray region where the war has been raging with utmost ferocity for over two months now. The visuals are much less graphic than the ones that surfaced and went viral on various social media platforms that week. The first stream of drone and airstrikes claimed the lives of 65 souls— of children, the elderly, lactating mothers, and so on. In a tweet, the World Health Organization’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, appended the tragic images and called for an end to the war and drone strikes so that access could be guaranteed for the provision of humanitarian & health aid. That tweet is one of his several before and since Adi Dairo.
Going even further in their coverage, the second round of vicious airstrikes hit the same town on October 4. This time around, a school-turned-IDP-center becomes the target. In the weeks past, the residents of this shelter were displaced from several towns and villages north of Adi Dairo that were subjected to constant and indiscriminate Ethiopian and Eritrean airstrikes that also included drone assaults. In January, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was duly informed of the existence of this IDP site by the Office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ethiopia. Following the airstrikes, the displaced again had to move further south. A series of air raids followed, on a regular basis, in Shire-EndaSelassie where they also relocated to. Many of the displaced again started hitting the road east, in the direction of Aksum, the site of a mass murder two years ago this month. And, on Monday, October 17, as they have done with the previous towns that they administered following those strikes, the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) withdrew again. And the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies descended into the town Shire-EndaSelassie, south of Adi Dairo, which pretty much looked deserted. Several UN and international agencies had closed their offices or transferred most of their staff to other towns. And countless images like that woman from Adi Dairo; stuck in the rubble, head down, nameless and a mere statistic to the rest of us, began to emerge.
The same day, with Picasso’s seminal Guernica tapestry in background at his New York headquarters, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, once again fumbled. It was one of his very many press appearances since the Tigray War started two years ago. As was also reported by before, he was often misinformed or lied to, or he perhaps decided to look the other side. All said, his statements, initially, resembled Ethiopian government talking points. Later, he evolved into the usually handy pretext of false parity.
The first airstrike on Adi Dairo happened on Meskel Day. Marking the founding of the True Cross, Meskel is at the very heart of Orthodox Christianity across the country. And with over 95% of the population believed to be Orthodox Christians, it is even more so in the Tigray region. As a testament to that, two recently constructed, monumental steel crosses overlook the capital Mekelle and Adigrat which now is one of the towns that have become the destination for Eritrean artillery fire from across the border. Reminded by the airstrikes that have been razing the region for months on end, the Tigrayan Orthodox bishop had a day earlier advised against any Meskel celebration in the open by lighting the bonfire. It was as if he had a sneak preview of the war book of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who subscribes to the Prosperity evangelical strand after which he named his new party. Coming to the helm in a murky transition four years back, Abiy had reasserted his power in a soiled election a little over a year ago. As suspected, Adi Dairo was the target of repeated airstrikes that day. Elsewhere in the region, the celebrations- that should have happened early that morning- were held in the dark. Bending tradition, that is hard to die, just a bit. That never happened before; except in Prosperity Party’s Ethiopia.
These airstrikes didn’t begin with Adi Dairo; nor did they end with it. In fact, with the world largely ignoring them, the carpet bombings have continued unabated, and on a large scale, making life and living in towns and villages across Tigray a lot more hellish. You have Zana and Dengolat; Mekelle and Abiy Adi, Shire-EndaSelassie and Rama, Adigrat and Wukro, Selekhlekha and Alamata, Adwa and Zalambessa, Rama and Adi Hageray, Sheraro and Korem, Aksum and Wukro, Wukro Maray and plenty of villages in between. The list is too long. Will the world continue to be just concerned? In fact, that sense of concern seems to have faded into the thin air as, in just under 24 hours after the signing of the CoH Agreement in Pretoria, South Africa last week, three Tigrayan town were bombed.
In that mid-October engagement with the press from just across from the Security Council Hall, the UN Chief emphasized that the Ethiopian social fabric was heavily compromised and called on the international community to act; and now. In some way, the community in question indeed has in another war, at the very heart of Europe where the Russians kept on pounding Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv. Not in Tigray, though; at least until this drive to get to the Pretoria agreement last week— which leaves so many questions unanswered— and the subsequent meetings that are now ongoing in Nairobi, Kenya. Early on, the WHO chief had wondered (aloud) that the total inaction in Tigray may probably have been due to the color of skin of Tigrayans. Some said hell no! Others demurred. The total inaction has continued. Eritrea is still a major actor and architect in this carnage in Tigray. In the last few days, its army waged a ferocious battle to control Adigrat but failed miserably. Reports reaching this writer indicate that both its army and the Ethiopian Defense Forces are looting and killing civilians in the towns of Shire, Aksum and Adwa. And some 800 thousand Tigrayans have reportedly perished in Tigray in the last two years alone.
But, despite the two UN figures making their case from two different directions— one so direct, the other tangential— why is it such a snag to get Eritrea out of the equation NOW? And will the EDF and the Ethiopian army, those who gave specific instructions for the aerial assaults, ever be held accountable for their acts in Adi Dairo and elsewhere in Tigray— at IDP centers, market places, kindergartens, schools, universities, residences, places of worship, hospitals, gas stations, apartment buildings, hotels, and so on— in a campaign they undertook with such a flawless synergy?
Jihon (pen name) is an experienced Ethiopian journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org