By Betty and Negede Tigray
The current Tigray genocide has forced most of us to reflect on the world and the narratives set by historians, politicians, media and now social media. Over 12,000 battles have been fought in the recorded history of the world. It is a peculiar, unbelievably barbaric, and disheartening thing to think of what humans face on a daily basis. Self-inflicted harm on one another, and yet naturally, sides must be taken, so always one against the other. Humans have for millennia chosen to organise themselves and fight against what they considered evil, to fight for freedom. Yet, humans have also fought for power and resources, in contrast to all that is good and moral. Others, as has been the grim case of our global space, fought for absolute power and expansion, stretching out to colonise and protect their empires. Some have fought to advance their religion and others to defend and protect theirs. The hypocrisy is that many also fought in the name of democracy, human rights and freedom only to become oppressors themselves. All were decisions, either to defend or to invade, and always conflated with survival, security and power.
Tigray is the bearer of one of the world’s greatest and oldest civilizations known to man: The Axumite civilization, not to mention the pre-Axumite civilisations. And perhaps because of it, Tigray has had to fight for survival for millennia. Tigray as a civilization has been run by monarchy for more than two millennia and after the formation/expansion of the Ethiopian empire, Tigray has adopted aristocracy, socialism, dictatorship and mixed economy at different times. Critical to its success in preserving its culture and values are its people, indigenous to Tigray. The Tigrayan people have progressed with the world while holding on to their core values of self-governance and autonomy. They have always determined their own fate and resisted oppression in one way or another. The Tigrayan identity is deeply rooted in the values of the Tigrayan being, the pinnacle of which is the autonomy of Tigray. Thus, in the current context, Ethiopia can only exist inside of Tigray if Ethiopia respects and serves the interests of the people of Tigray.
The people of Tigray have clarity on what they want and the need for a democratic and peaceful coexistence with others. The people’s determination to build democracy and rule of law can be seen by the number of people who voted in the controversial Tigray Election of 2020. The last stand of the people of Tigray, that 2.8 million Tigrayans stood in line to elect their leaders regardless of Abiy Ahmed’s threats of retaliation. They laughed in the face of his threats not because they are immortal or exceptional, but because for them there is nothing worse than oppression and going backwards.
Viktor E.Frankl said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.
The people of Tigray chose their own way. Their last stand,they asserted the legitimacy of their government. Tigray with its limited resources managed to conduct its election amid the threats, budget cuts and blockade of the roads by the leaders of Amhara, a neighbouring region that links Tigray to the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. The people were called rebellious for conducting an election, it is irrational and mind numbing.
Following this “disobedience,” Abiy invaded Tigray with the help of Eritrea, Somalia, UAE and other indirect partners in crime. Let’s destroy Tigrayans for 100 years, they said. The world moved on after lip service as if Tigryans existed in a bubble unseen and unheard. Women and children were raped by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, children orphaned, ancient churches and mosques ransacked, Tigrayans were burned alive: the stories are so harrowing that they almost sound like a terrifying story from the ancient times. The entire state apparatus was mobilised to destroy Tigray and the people’s pursuit of a free world, the pursuit of democracy and justice. Naturally that gave birth to the Tigrayan Defense Forces which is the people’s resistance against subjugation in defence of their rights to exist and rule of law .
Tigray fought with a just cause; to protect its freedom for self-administration and self-governance and its cities from invaders. It initially lost its capital but then rose like the phoenix and reclaimed most of its occupied and invaded lands, as it has done throughout history.The leaders who could have chosen comfort and assimilation chose to retreat to the mountain and resist. Young men like Hailay Gebremeskel then heard the calls from the mountains, felt the rage of their ancestors and sacrificed their lives in order to protect their home. These warriors stood tall on the mountains of Tigray guarding their nation.
The Tigrayan civilians are still suffering through horrors of biblical proportions each day and are fighting for their survival. yet they are portrayed as rebels or warlords. While the west glorifies the Spartans, the Greeks, the Romans, and in current history, the Ukrainians, who are fighting for the same cause as Tigrayans, the Tigrayans are written off as rebels. Let’s be clear here: seven million Tigrayans fought to secure their right to exist. The Tigrayan men and women are heroes to those whose childhood was stolen or massacred by the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. To those who resist against tyranny.
Tigray is a reminder of the past and a footprint for the future.
Tigray can also be seen through the tales of the Lion of the desert, Omar al-Mukhtar, a teacher of the Qur’an turned warrior. He stood and resisted against the Italian invasion of modern day Libya. A desire to be free of any and every type of oppression and colonialism. Tigray now fights against forces funded by Turkey, Saudi and world bank, forces that burned its churches and mosques and sexually enslaved women.
Throughout history we have seen that; Thermopylae paved the way to the triumph of the western civilization, as in the battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) between the Persians and the Greeks, where an army of conscripts from all colonies of Persia fought a small force of free men from Sparta. Even though they were outnumbered, the Spartans fought to their death. The Ethiopian army conscripted not only Ethiopians but also Eritrean and Somali to attack and invade Tigray. Tigray resisted these forces of darkness. Like Xerxes demanded submission, obedience, and the surrender of Greeks weapons, Ethiopians, Eritreans and others demanded the same of Tigrayans. The response was as clear as it was thousands of years ago. No.
Masada gave confidence to the world proving that no one can submit and annihilate any race. In the most relatable way there is, the Masada (73/74 AD), a small group of 960 Jewish rebels, fought to the death with the Romans. A small number of Tigrayan special forces fought to death against the axis of evil and paid the ultimate price for freedom and democracy time and time again. Tigray is under siege, although there has a partial lifting now, following the so-called peace deal, but with the mountains of Tigray as a shield, it resisted against forces triple its size.
The Tigray election, The Tigrayan forces and the resistance itself is equally impactful. The reason why Tigryans were targeted and the reason why Tigrayans continue to prevail against all odds. The people of tigray do not flow with the waves, they are the anchors. The Tigrigna saying “ሰብ ናቱ ኣይትኽልኣዮ፤ ዘኢናቱ ኣይትሃቦ”, roughly meaning don’t deny people what is theirs, and don’t given them what they haven’t earned, is a good example that shows how the sense of justice and fairness is ingrained in the Tigrayan psyche. All Tigrayan aspirations emanate from that sense of being fair and just. Tigray will continue to be the beacon of hope to those who have a yearning for freedom, democracy and peace.
The bravery, integrity and God-fearing culture of the Tigrayans is seen by how they fed, protected and even released thousands of prisoners of war who surrendered in the battles. However, the Ethiopian government has condemned Tigrayans for their resistance and put them under a brutal siege encircled by Ethiopia and Eritrea with absolutely nothing passing in except a few trucks of food aid every now and then.
The war on tigray continues passively and the people are trapped in a cycle of continuous displacement, after drones and jets bombed their homes and are still dying of the starvation and shortage of medicine. Their loved ones and families are locked in concentration camps across the country. Eritrean forces still occupy different parts of Tigray, while invading forces from Amhara have already made their beds in the lands they annexed fromTigray (with the help of the Eritrean youth who are forcefully conscripted). The audible silence of the international community has enabled both the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes, led by the Prosperity Party and The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice respectively, to use their respective state apparatus to continue terrorising the people of Tigray. The irony of having justice and democracy in your name and never having one election ever. The irony of the Prosperity Party leaving Ethiopia bankrupt for its misadventures in Tigray. The irony of the World Food Program watching as many perish due to government-sponsored blocking of aid. The irony of being called a terrorist because you aspire to be a democratic nation.
The TPLF has relearned the lesson they seem to have forgotten, that the world will allow a genocide and tolerate threats of complete extermination if you are a black African and among the poorest nations. The people of Tigray are still thankful for the little aid that is trickling into Tigray. The new definition of peace is a round table discussion with those who have committed genomic and those who fought against it and “cut a deal”; Justice is nowhere to be found. After two long years of state-sponsored, systematic siege on Tigray, the TPLF was forced to sign a cessation of hostilities agreement. Unlike the state propaganda and many who were deceived by it, the cessation of hostilities once again confirms the aspiration of Tigrayans and need for peace and protection to the people of Tigray.
The controversial cessation of hostilities is a signature and print that will be left for historians to judge and schools to discuss. For the Tigryans stuck between a rock and a hard place this agreement aims to pressure the rogue group in the Ethiopian government to rescind its invitation to the Eritrean forces and respect the constitution of the country. All decisions made in the hope, although unlikely, that the rule of law will prevail. Details and implementation of the agreement remain to be seen, but one thing remains the same: The Tigrayan dream for a free, democratic, and self-sufficient Tigray lives on.
By Betty and Negede Tigray
Editor’s note: Both authors have written this piece under pen names. The authors are known to the editor.