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Hidden horrors in the Tigray War: The allies` ethos of cruelty

By Berhane Gebremeskel
Tigrai Online June 18, 2021

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Since the war begun on November 4, 2020 in Tigray region, the allied forces (Ethiopia soldiers, Amhara Militia and Eritrean soldiers) murdered thousands of civilians, violently raped women and girls aging from 4 to 70s, and destructed all infrastructures of the region. Why?

In November, 2020, religious festival in Mariam Dengelat was turned into a massacre by Eritrean soldiers. The soldiers murdered the priests, old men and women, entire families and a group of more than 20 Sunday school children, some as young as 14 in the church.  Similarly, Eritrean soldiers massacred hundreds of civilians in the city of Axum on 28-29 November 2020, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids.

Ethiopian soldiers killed dozens of youths in Mahbere Dego (near Axum). The corpses were thrown to the hill. Videos of the massacres are not time stamped but the massacres are believed to have started on 15 January 2021 and continued for several days. The massacres occurred in a similar way as so many massacres in Tigray. Most massacres in Tigray are not yet reported because of the communication blockage. But to mention few: The massacres of Bora, in southern Tigray, The massacres of Waldba and Maikadra in western Tigray, the massacres in Erop, and Mariam church around Zalambesa, Multiple massacres in central Tigray and many others ….

Wherever the allied soldiers were deployed, they perpetrated barbaric crimes against humanity. Villages of Tigray have been burning for more than half a year, innocent civilians have been burnt/wounded by artilleries and white phosphorus bombs. Civilians have been murdered in every village and town indiscriminately. Besides, the soldiers impeded the distribution of humanitarian aid access to the people who are in need of food assistance.  

Such grim statistics beg questions: Why were the allied forces especially Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militia so deliberately brutal towards the people of Tigray? What were the causes of such behavior? Can we ever understand why they committed crimes that go so far beyond generally accepted military conduct? Let’s see them one by one:

Eritrea’s barbarism had its roots in the nation’s dictatorship history. Since 1991, a hereditary military dictatorship known as Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) has been ruling Eritrea, isolating it from the rest of the world. For more than three decades, the dictatorship Isaias Afeworki has trained, and brainwashed massive military forces whose code demanded rigid loyalty to their liege lord and suicidal bravery when ever ordered, demanding and receiving their subjects’ unquestioning obedience.

There is a way that Farmers in a village train dogs to be tough. At early age of the puppy, they put it in a dark room. They isolate it from contacts even with the family members. They beat it and make it angered. They even cut its ears and tail. A dog trained and treated in such way become the most cruel/tough. In a similar way, Isaias Afework has been training his soldiers in an endless military service in SAWA. The brainwashed soldiers have no mercy for all humans including their comrades if ordered. They only know how to kill people but nothing else.

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After the independence of Eritrea, Eritreans had hope and ambition that their country would be one of the democratic and developed countries in Africa. Eritrea has ample natural resource specially the sea and ports it has are the potentials for its development. But unfortunately, the government has no clear development strategy. Leaving all domestic potentials behind, the government has been engaged in exploiting resource from neighbour countries. The government invaded Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. It also engaged in multiple conflicts with Sudan.

In 1998, Eritrean government invaded Ethiopia that resulted in a brutal defeat for itself. The war ended in 2000. Since then, Isaias Afework has been blaming the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) for all problems in Eritrea. The only agenda allowed to raise in Eritrea was about how to retaliate TPLF. Asking about economic development or democracy was banned. Because of this blind strategy, most Eritrean youths became desperate and fled to Ethiopia, Europe, middle east and to other countries. But like a lion hiding to hunt a deer, Isaias Afework has been waiting to take retaliation against TPLF.

On the other hand, the current top leaders of the government of Ethiopia including PM Abiy Ahmed have extreme enmity against TPLF that emanates from inferiority complex. Most of the generals including General Birhanu Jula who were soldiers of the Derg regime have also the same problem. Those generals were surrendered by TPLF in war fronts and gave a chance to join Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) a coalition party that includes TPLF and fought the Derg regime. They were trained and grown up under the TPLF generals. As the civilian officials, those generals also have inferiority complex. All were preparing to retaliate TPLF once they get chance.

When Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018 following the political unrest mainly orchestrated by members of the party EPRDF who had been working clandestinely with the Government of Eritrea and other governments who wanted to overthrow EPRDF, he planned to consolidate the power and form Unitary government. As soon as he seized the power, he sacked TPLF leaders from the Federal level Institutions, removed many of the regional leaders and replaced them by his pupates illegally. He forcefully removed the Somali regional government. But it was not easy to remove the Tigray regional government that has strong support by Tigrayans. He was preparing for more than two years.

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Advisors of the PM and some Amhara politicians who are instrumental in hatching the war in Tigray, termed their blind obedience insisting, “It is necessary to have political, economical, cultural, national defense, and everything else all focused on in one being, the united Ethiopia.” Abiy, for his part, believed it to rule the country in one command. He published a book called MEDEMER as a road map. The medias that are propaganda machines of the government reinforced the concepts of MEDEMER. These ideas found especially willing disciples in the Amhara political elites. Amhara Elites are the sole enemy of TPLF and Tigray people. They believed that the project of Unitary Ethiopia which had been bult by mainly Amhara political elites was collapsed and changed to Federal system of governance by TPLF. The new federal system gives the right to self- administration, equality to all Ethiopian cultures, languages and religions. Amhara political elites don`t accept such administration. Due to this, they have been working day and night for the last 27 years to dismantle the federal system and to take revenge against TPLF.  

The governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Amhara regional government allied mainly to target their common Enemy-TPLF. Some innocent Ethiopians and other countries may believe that Abiy Ahmed brought peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the potential war between the countries was closed. But in reality, there is nothing done but Isaias, Abiy Ahmed and Amhara region agreed clandestinely to wage war on the regional government of Tigray to over throw TPLF and subdue the people of Tigray.

Led by Abiy Ahmed, the unitary system of governance sought to return Ethiopia to a prosperous country in which the Prosperity party would rule unchallenged and the PM would wield absolute power. The main objective of Abiy Ahmed is consolidating power that helps him to be the king of Ethiopia. He planned to crush all opponents that he believes to be obstacles for his destine. He was sure that TPLF would be the main obstacle and strategized to produce documentaries to label as socially outcast. The state medias produced fabricated documentaries and televised repeatedly.  

Amhara region and Isaias Afework have similar objectives: retake land that they claim and retaliate against their common enemy TPLF. Both have done the same strategy as Abiy Ahmed has done.

From day 1 of basic training, Eritrean military officers taught that the Tigrayans are blood enemies and an inferior race, and that Eritrea would one day retake the land under Tigray. Instructors molded recruits into obedient tools of the officer corps through brutal training regimens that punished even the slightest transgressions with physical violence. Recruits were taught that their officers were infallible and that any order issued by a superior must be treated as an order given by himself.

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It was those at the core of Eritrea’s military power, the generals who decided to brutalize civilians, and who made conditions so despicable in the region. Junior officers and soldiers go along with these crimes because they too believe the orders infallible, and that Isaias wishes them to commit such outrages. The generals know that the culturally ingrained respect for authority, coupled with the fear of exclusion and loss of face, meant scant resistance when they ordered Eritrean troops to carry out morally repugnant orders.

As Tigrayans had dominated Ethiopian top military and political positions before 2018, it was they, according to the political elites of Amhara thinking, who had tried to subordinate Amharas and who had degraded the unity of Ethiopia. Amhara political elites blame TPLF for all problems of Amhara where they live. Those political elites preach hatred and enmity among Amhara and Tigrayans endlessly. As Isaias Afework has been doing, they trained special forces, Militias and group of youth called FANO to retaliate against TPLF and Tigrayans. The widespread barbarity and cruelty practiced by Amhara forces were clearly indicative of that hatred and loathing, and perhaps a deep-seated inferiority complex—many Amhara`s soldiers harbored toward their Tigrayan foes.

After well prepared, the allied forces encircled Tigray. Eritrean soldiers crossed boarder towards Tigray. The Northern command post of Ethiopia based in Tigray was clandestinely instructed and was waiting final instruction. Cognizant of the preparations, the Tigray Regional government was also preparing to defend the aggression. Meanwhile,  government of Tigray had conducted discussions with commanders of the Northern command and agreed with majority of the commanders to cooperate with TPLF. When the imminent danger became closer to happen, Tigray Defence Force overhauled the enemies and controlled the Northern command in hours. Few soldiers escaped to Eritrea. The rest were kept in the camps while some of them taken to other safe areas.

When Abiy Ahmed heard this, he ordered his soldiers and the allied forces encircled Tigray started the war in all fronts. The partners in crime waged war on the people and government of Tigray officially on November 4, 2020. Abiy Ahmed immediately cut all communications, power and Transport in Tigray. He called retired generals who have enmity with TPLF. Abiy Ahmed ordered his soldiers to brutally retaliate against TPLF by provoking as such the northern command soldiers were murdered brutally. He said, our soldiers are betrayed. They were murdered while sleeping. They are not yet buried. They are being eaten by hyena. Female soldiers were hut their breast and so on…. While the reality is, all soldiers at the hand of TPLF were safe. The former generals called by Abiy Ahmed joined the operation and continue motivating the soldiers by fabricated propagandas to indiscriminately punish civilians.

The angered soldiers massacred civilians, raped girls as aged as 4 years and women aged 70s, looted private and government properties and destroyed the rest, destructed all infrastructure of the region. The allied forces impeded humanitarian access in order to starve the people. They make fun by killing youth and throwing their corpses in to hills.

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The allied forces burn villages and massacre civilians specially when their comrades are killed in the war by Tigray defence Forces (TDF). They take revenge on civilians. They slaughter their cattle, burn their cereals and burn their houses as retaliation. They are as cruel as wild animal. During the massacres of Mahbere dego, as one soldier who witnessed a comrade’s execution of the youths: he says, shoot him, may I come to kill him? It was good if we were Indians to burn their corpses. A senior corporal laugh. Their cruelty is to this extent.

The culture of cruelty of Eritrean soldiers has been nurtured for decades while the cruelty of Amhara forces is inherited from their forefathers. They are doing what their forefathers had done before on the people of Tigray. But the cruelty of the Ethiopian soldiers is unusual. It is because, Abiy and his generals ordered the soldiers not only to kill TPLF leaders but also to humiliate the people.

Though African soldiers are not blameless when it came to the mistreatment and, yes, occasional murder of captured enemy combatants and civilians, such infrequent events pale in comparison to the sheer magnitude and intentional brutality of the allied forces` crimes against humanity. Since the outset of the war, estimates of the number of civilians killed by the allied forces (Eritrean soldiers, Ethiopian soldiers and Amhara) range as high as 50,000 thousand. But the inevitable defeat of the allies will allow Tigrayans to bring many, though by no means all, of the perpetrators of war crimes to justice.

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