78 priests massacred by troops headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate
It has been reported that at least 78 clergymen, priests and monks have been murdered in Ethiopia's Tigray region over the past five months. The extrajudicial killings have allegedly been perpetrated by Ethiopian government troops allied with police and paramilitary units loyal to the government in Addis Ababa.
Witnesses have also reported Eritrean troops joining in what the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Mathia had called a “genocide”. The atrocities targeting members of the ancient Orthodox Church have been ongoing since 2019, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself a Pentecostal Christian, announced a drive to unite and homogenize the country under one central rule. In 2020, citing the pandemic, Ahmed had cancelled the national elections, yet they went ahead in the Tigray region regardless.
The Tigrayans, an ethnic group with a distinct identity and traditions, have resisted the pressure to give up their cultural autonomy and self-governance. Their resistance has been met with a brutal offensive by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), targeting Orthodox churches, clergy, farmers, and civilians. They are also accused of systematic looting and destruction of cultural monuments in order to eradicate traces of the Tigrayan culture.
Orthodox churches in Gergera Maryam, Adi’Zeban Karagiorgis, Taksa and the 6th century monastery of Da Abune Ayzgi, have all been targeted by government gunmen, mostly during religious festivals. One of the worst massacres took place between November and December 2020 at the holy city of Axum, when ENDF soldiers reinforced by Eritrean troops have clashed with members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
After taking control of the city, Eritrean troops have started looting churches and hospitals and killing civilians indiscriminately. According to some estimates, over 800 civilians have been executed, many of them in or around the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. Eritrean soldiers, who were allegedly ordered to kill any Tigrayan males over the age of four, randomly shot people on the street and in their homes while Ethiopian government forces stood by without interfering.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church that dates back to the 4th century AD are also guardians to a number of priceless artifacts and manuscripts. Many of these have been looted and burned during the attack on Axum and other settlements in a targeted drive to erase traces of this ancient culture and ethnic group. Government soldiers were seen carrying manuscripts dating back to the 13th century on trucks and destroying them. Even Africa’s oldest mosque, the Al-Nejashi, was not spared of looting and bomb damage.
The man ultimately responsible for sending government troops into Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has received the award in 2019 on account of his part in peace negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He was hailed by Western media and politicians as a hero for allegedly ending ethnic conflict simmering in the region. Among other dignitaries, he has also met with US oligarch George Soros, founder of Open Society Funds, to discuss “electoral integrity, challenges of democratization, access to justice, and economic inclusion…”