Exactly 41 years ago, my father and 30 other relatives and friends were snatched from their home in the Northwestern part of Ethiopia called Wolkaite. All of them were peaceful peasant farmers and were never involved in any conflict. Yet they were never to be seen again.
They were taken by a group called the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was involved in a violent campaign to take control of Ethiopia. – a campaign which was ultimately successful.
Our town Wolkaite, is adjacent to the Tigray region in the northwest of the country, and the TPLF were trying to annex it to Tigray. I remember the day the TPLF assembled the inhabitants of the area, including my father, and told them to accept the Wolkite area as part of Tigray. But the people there don’t identify as Tigrayan, we are ethnically Amharra and we were not willing to give up that identity. My father and the others expressed their objection, and the TPLF stole them away from us for it.
What followed was years and decades of terror, violence, kidnappings, killings and atrocities. Everyone was a target of the TPLF – the elderly, women, men, children. Many in Wolkaite had their property, cattle and belongings confiscated for no reason. It was a systematic effort to erase the history, culture and language of the people of Wolkaite. All of us suffered.
Prior to the control of the area by the TPLF, the Tigray people and the neighboring Wolkite lived in peace. As the area is rich in farmland, during harvesting season, the Tigrayan people from the neighboring region used to cross the river to work in the fields and earn money after which they went back to their homes in Tigray. The large farm areas were open to Tigrayans, Eritreans and others. But TPLF wanted to have it all.
After winning its violent campaign to take control of Ethiopia’s government, the TPLF started to settle people from Tigray in massive numbers in Wolkaite. They were so invested in trying to erase the Amharic language and culture from the area that they officially prohibited the people from speaking Amharic.
One priest I knew named Gebre Egziabher was ordered to preach in Tigrigna instead of Amharic during church services. The priest, however, declined to do so. When he declined, TPLF fighters ambushed and beat him badly as he walked to church the following night. They cut his tongue out and left him on the spot. The priest died later of the injuries.
In other instances, TPLF fighters were taking widows and forcefully marrying them. The plan was to have them give birth to their children with the intention of increasing the number of Tigrayan descendants. Without limiting themselves to one woman, the TPLF fighters were forcing several other Wolkite women to have babies. If a woman refused a TPLF man, she would be raped, and at times in public or in front of family members.
Four years ago, when the TPLF was ousted from power, it retreated to the Tigray region. Two years ago, they attacked the national defense force which had its base in Tigray for years. The Federal government of Ethiopia launched an attack in response and the TPLF had to leave the Wolkite area it has occupied for decades.
But as usual, a TPLF youth vigilante group called Samre, rounded up non-Tigryans, mostly Amharas and committed mass murder in a place called Mai Kadra. This incident has been well documented and is released to the public. The number of people who were murdered at this place has reached 1200 and counting. Unfortunately, once again, members of my family were killed.
The reality is that there will be no justice adequate to address the TPLF’s atrocities. But in no way do I seek vengeance or further violence. For the people of Wolkite, justice would be to allow those who were displaced back to their land and homes so that they can live in peace and raise and educate their children. The TPLF has managed to hire expensive lobbyists and uses allies and sympathizers to change the narrative.
But for those of us who have suffered through TPLF atrocities and live with the mental anguish of decades of trauma, I can only trust in God that He will bring justice.
Almaz Endeshaw is now a resident of Columbus, Ohio.