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Were 750 Christians Really Massacred? The Truth About Ethiopia’s Recent Crisis

(ANALYSIS) Over the last three months, I have been reading and listening to, with utter incredulity, numerous media reports on the conflict between the Ethiopian federal defense forces and forces loyal to the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). I am not an advocate for Abiy Ahmed’s government, but I care deeply about the truth, because I believe that truth is the foundation of families, nations and the world. In this article, I would like to attempt to communicate to my readers what I believe is the “truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth” about the recent crisis in northern Ethiopia. A few examples of assertions in recent media reports are in order.

Recent Media Reports

On Jan. 23, 2021, The Economist headlined its report ‘The Ethiopian government appears to be wielding hunger as a weapon.” Reuters reported about human rights abuses including rape. In The Week, Matthew Walther writes that on Nov. 4, 2020, when the war between TPLF forces and Ethiopian defense forces started, Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, “suspended power, internet, and phone service throughout the region.” Millions of people are displaced and starving. Foreign aid is effectively blocked.

Walther also reports that 750 Christians were massacred at the Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum (a UN World Heritage site) by forces that sought to capture the Ark, although he quickly admits that the report “remains unverified.” But his verdict is clear: the Ethiopian government is guilty and President Biden must consider a raft of measures including sanctions against Ethiopia. And most astonishingly, the Washington Post in its editorial on Jan. 27, 2021 also urged the European Union and the United States to withhold further aid until the Ethiopian government agrees to peace talks. According to the Washington Post, the military campaign launched in November 2020 was “against Tigray” and it has displaced 2 million of Tigray’s 6 million people, which was also reported by Reuters.

In the Guardian/Observer, Simon Tisdall wrote that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “should hand back his Nobel peace prize over his actions in the breakaway region that have raised the spectre of famine again.” Tisdall starts his report by paying tribute to the late Seyoum Mesfin, the former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia and one of the top leaders of TPLF, who was killed by the Ethiopian forces reportedly after his refusal to surrender. Tisdall eulogizes Seyoum as “one of the foremost African diplomats of his generation. He was gunned down … by the armed forces of a lesser man – Abiy Ahmed.” Tisdall also refers to “the massacre of 750 people” at the church in Axum.

The 750 Christians “massacred” story was first reported by EEPA, a Belgium-based NGO. But the prime source of the story was Martin Plaut, the former BBC World Service Africa editor and Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.  In the Church Times, Plaut says that the attack began after Ethiopian federal forces and the Amhara militia approached the Cathedral. In the Eritrean Hub, he speaks with certainty about the involvement of the Eritrean troops in the war, how these troops pose threat to “the original Ark of the Covenant,” which is housed at the Church of St. Mary of Zion, and the troops “looting everything they can get their hands on.”

I will come back to some of the key elements in these reports later, but first I would like to draw my readers’ attention to a number of observations. First, none of the reporters discusses any background to the events leading to the conflict between the Ethiopian federal army and forces loyal to the TPLF. Second, none of the reports explains who TPLF were, how they governed Ethiopia for 27 years, and what their intentions have been since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. Third, many of the reports seem to focus on Abiy Ahmed’s Nobel Peace Prize as something he does not deserve to keep. So, I would like to describe the history of the TPLF. I will then provide the context for the recent war. Finally, I will discuss some of the key elements in various reports in the Western media. Read more on the original site here.

 

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