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The people of Tigrai have said NO to ethnic hatred and retribution others should follow suit.

The people of Tigrai have said NO to ethnic hatred and retribution others should follow suit.


Haile Tessema, July 01, 2018


When Ethiopians of Tigraian background were subjected to ethnic based attack in the Amhara Region in the past and recent past, the reasoning (now crystal clear to be just sheer pretext) given by perpetrators, their appeasers and some naïve souls was that the attack was in retaliation to the T.P.L.F. dominated government’s misdeeds. To that end, a typical allegation was made that those being targeted worked for the govt. as security agents and spies.


Yet, after the resignation and removal of top T.P.L.F. leaders from federal power apparently aimed to end “የትግራይ የበላይነት/ Tigraian dominance, the senseless attack against Tegaru civilians have continued unabated. Not just in Gondar, the genesis of rampant ethnic attack against Tegaru, but currently in a comparatively peaceable Wollo as well.


Now – while the masterminds and their foot soldiers knew all along that the targeting was entirely based on ethnic hatred – neither deliberately misleading nor innocently appeasing souls can blame political power struggle as a culprit anymore. Fact is, for reasons only they can explain, hatemongers have declared an all-out war on innocent Tegaru civilians.


Yet, what has Tegaru’s response to this unprovoked attack on their innocent brothers and sisters been?  Before answering that, let’s first clear a possible myth around this: While a large number of Tegaru live in other Ethiopian regions and cities in pursuit of business and employment opportunities, the domestic movement is not one-way or southbound only.


Indeed, anyone who lives or visits some of the cities in Tigrai – Mekelle, Adigrat, Aksum, Shire, Humera, etc. – can find Amharic-speaking Ethiopians who have made Tigrai their temporary or permanent home. There are big and small business owners as well as professionals, skilled and unskilled workers who exercise their constitutional right to live in their northern neighboring region.


Due to stigma attached to service / waiting staff jobs at bars, it’s common for young women from many parts of the country to opt working outside their hometown. So has been the case for some girls and women from the Amhara Region who choose Tigrai for making ends meet. Go to bars and clubs in Mekelle, such as Awash (#1 & 2), Samples, Space, Stockholm, Viva, Classy, Door 1, Olympia, Tango, The Real Club etc., there’s a good chance that the person waiting your table would be more of Amharic than Tigrigna speaking.


I was caught by surprise to see Amharic-speaking brokers (ደላሎች) engaged in job placement for waiters and housemaids in Mekelle. When I asked how – considering the language barrier – that would work, I found out that it’s because the brokers recruit job-seekers from Gondar and Wollo whom they match with business and household employers in Mekelle.

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Don’t know how many students attending Mekelle University are from the Amhara Region. But I often see groups of Amharic-speaking students freely enjoying their coffee, beer as well as aperitif at indoors and outdoors of Kebele 16, and talking freely in Amharic as they rightfully should.


The fact that this becomes news or gets shared as some kind of unique experience is really unfortunate and a bad sign of the changing times we live in. After all, never mind in one’s own country, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians are spread all over Europe and North America wherein their right to live, study and work is protected in the respective countries they call home.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Tegaru currently living in the Amahra Region. This whole saga started when those living in Gondar became victims of false accusations, harassment, political lynching, mob attack as well as their properties being looted and destroyed in broad daylight and often in the presence of law enforcement officers passively watching or actively participating. Then a similar madness was repeated in Baher Dar.


Sadly, beyond paying lip service, the Amahra Regional Govt. didn’t do anything to protect the lives and properties of Tegaru victims. The Federal Govt. looked the other way when identity-based violence was systematically carried out. Worried more about its political power than the safety of its people, the Regional Govt. of Tigrai, on its part, found comfort in denial. Thus, chose the easy way out by shooting messengers and dismissing concerned voices as “narrow-minded, anti-unity, against the federal system” etc. In doing so, the federal and regional governments allowed an open season against Tegaru that’s replicated elsewhere, and still ongoing.


Nonetheless, while primarily responsible, governments are not solely to blame for what is currently going on in the Amhara Region. Fact is, by their action or inaction, citizens, community and religious leaders have neglected their duty to protect minorities, hence have become silent partners in crime.


During the height of violence against Tegaru in Gondar, I was having coffee outdoors in Mekelle when a young man sitting not far from me shouted at a passerby young woman, “ንዒ አቲ ኣምሓረይቲ!” (Come over here you Amhara [girl]). No sooner than he uttered the words did just about everyone shouted at him to stop. The young man tried to reason out that what he said was nothing compared to what’s happening to Tegaru in the Amhara Region. But a couple of people explained to him that she’s not responsible for what other people from her ethnic group did or failed to do.  


This goes to show  – if calling someone by her ethnic identity came across as something that needed to be immediately stopped and corrected – how the people of Tigrai would respond if – God forbid – violence against an ethnic other were to emerge in the region. It’d be fair to foretell that elders would unequivocally condemn the violence; community leaders would stand up to put an immediate end to it; Orthodox Church leaders would likely take the ታቦት (model ark of the covenant) out to plead for non-violence, and Muslim leaders would speak out for peace from their mosques loud and clear. 


When a young Adigrat University student was killed in a sad, isolated incident following a fight between students in campus that went out of hand, many Tegaru took it hard on themselves. In addition to the collective feeling of sadness resulting from a senseless loss of a young man’s life, it was widely condemned as against the people’s value and one that gave a negative image of the region. And a violent act of that nature wasn’t repeated since, and hopefully never will.


So, in a time when leaders at all levels of govt., opposition parties and political elites have chosen to deliberately ignore the persecution of Tegaru or, worse, are doing their utmost to exacerbate the situation, it’s imperative upon ordinary citizens, elders, community and religious leaders in the Amhara Region to intervene.


Indeed, it’s high time to stop merchants of hate before they take full control. After all, it’s politically naïve to assume that the hatred would be limited to, and come to an end with the persecution of Tegaru. Truth is, “Once allowed to grow, hate doesn't pick and choose. It spreads like wildfire”, and has the potential to completely destroy the country.

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