Deacon Solomon Kibriye (Chief Editor – Ethiopian Affairs) – OCP News Service – 26/10/2019
Addis-Ababa- Ethiopia: Between Wednesday, October 23rd and Thursday, October 24th, protesters across Ethiopia’s Oromia Federal State launched violent attacks against non-Oromos residing in the state, killing at least 63 people, leaving around three hundred seriously wounded, and burned numerous homes and business ventures of non-Oromos.
Orthodox Churches and Orthodox believers were singled out (in many areas Orthodox Oromos were also targeted). In the towns of Dire Dawa, Adama (Nazret), Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), Arsi Negele, Shashemene, Ambo, Jimma, Bale Robé, the areas surrounding Harrar, and the outskirts of Addis Ababa, ethnic riots and the violent attacks took on an ugly religious aspect.
Riots and Violence
The ongoing riots and violent attacks across the southern regions of the country, with a conspicuous lack of response from police and security forces, Christians and other religious communities (of all ethnicities) rose up in reaction to defend their Churches and homes from being targeted. In particular, rioters were beaten back in Adana (Nazret) where they attempted to burn down the Cathedral of St. Mary, and also at the great pilgrimage site of the Monastery of the Archangel St. Gabriel at Kulibi near Harrar. In Bale-Robé, the faithful were able to save the Church of St. Gebre Christos, but the surrounding wall and homes of the clergy were destroyed. A father and son were brutally slaughtered in the vicinity of the Church and several others were killed in the town. In Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), anyone wearing a cross (including Oromos) were accosted regardless of ethnicity and were ordered to “go to their homeland”. Numerous Churches and homes were destroyed in these areas. Ethiopia teeters on the edge of widespread ethnic cleansing and religious war.
No Progress in Dialogue
The source of the conflict has been long-simmering. As previously covered on OCP Media Network, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has repeatedly complained of persecution, Church burnings, and attacks on the faithful, taking place with a conspicuous lack of concern or support of the federal government, and the apparent complicity of local authorities. This resulted in an emergency session of the Holy Synod in August 2019 and a call for a demonstration in Addis Ababa and across the country. The government and the committee organizing the Addis Ababa demonstration entered discussions, and the demonstration scheduled for September 15 was postponed for two months to allow the federal and state governments to address these concerns. Since then, the committee has reported progress in its discussions. However, most of the authorities pointed out that there was virtually no progress in discussions with the Oromia regional state.
Comments by Abiy Ahmed
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Prime Minister’s Questions session (on Tuesday, October 22nd) made a statement against “political activists who own private media organs and hold foreign passports” foment ethnic and religious strife for personal gains, but who have done nothing tangible for their people.
Jawar Mohammed – the Manipulator
This was taken as a not very veiled attack on Jawar Mohammed, the proprietor of the Oromo Media Network (OMN) and an Oromo nationalist political activist who was a key leader of the Oromo protest movement that undermined the domination of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. Jawar Mohammed has a long history of virulent attacks on Northern Ethiopian ethnicities (particularly Amharas) which he labeled as “settlers” in Oromia, as well as the Orthodox Church. He has also attacked Ethiopia’s former monarchs, particularly Emperor Menelik II and Emperor Haile Selassie, alleging the revisionist histories of terrible atrocities committed by them, but which are not historically corroborated. He has been a deeply controversial figure in recent political developments.
Jawar Mohammed Takes Advantage of the Situation
The Prime Minister departed the same evening for Sochi, Russia, to participate in the Russo-African Economic forum. Later that night Jawar Mohammed announced (via his Facebook page), that his government-provided security had been ordered to withdraw from his home in the middle of the night. He said he had called the responsible officer and he was informed that the withdrawal was upon their orders. He alleged that the government was deliberately trying to get him killed, or were about to launch an attack on him. He asked his followers to come to his aid. Within hours, riots broke across Oromia, against Amharas and Orthodox Christians, based solely on these allegations of Jawar Mohammed. Most roads in and out of Addis Ababa and other towns were blocked by barricades as looting, burning and killing raged.
Patriarch Abune Mathias – Be Prepared for ‘Martyrdom’
The Biannual Plenary Session of the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox had just begun with a sober speech of His Holiness Patriarch Abune Mathias I, urging his fellow bishops to prepare for martyrdom in these troubled days. However, as more and more reports of attacks poured in, the Prelates with deep emotion asked that the Synod meeting be cut short so that they shall be allowed to return to their respective dioceses to share the fate of their children. The Holy Synod was thus adjourned on its second day with a statement calling for peace and asking people of all ethnicities and religions to come together in peace, for political parties to pursue peaceful solutions, and the government to assure peace and security for the faithful and all citizens.
A committee of Bishops was appointed to prepare a final letter to be delivered to the federal authorities. However, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, Defense Minister Lemma Megerssa and Minister of Peace Mufuriat Kemal came to the Patriarchate (later on the day) and met with the church hierarchy and received a detailed report of the atrocities committed against the Church in the past days. The hierarchs stressed that the Church does not have security forces to protect herself and relied on prayer and the lawful civil authorities for protection. The Church demanded that the government enforce the rule of law and prevent renegades and ground-level government officers from committing further atrocities. The Deputy Prime Minister and two senior ministers promised that the government would not stand by and allow divisive forces to demolish the country, and that strong measures would be taken to enforce the law.
The silence of the Prime Minister
In the meantime Prime Minister Abiy has returned from Russia having secured a significant debt cancellation, a deal on the development of nuclear energy in Ethiopia, and a side meeting with President Al Sisi to reduce tensions over the building of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. He has remained completely silent on the latest developments and the significant domestic unrest of recent days.
Jawar Mohammed and the Schismatic Omoro Synod
Jawar Mohammed, on the other hand, addressed the large mob of vigilantes that remains outside his home thanking them for their protection and saying “we have shown them that they cannot break us”. He called on his supporters to reopen the roads, bury the dead and treat the wounded, in what many are regarding as a direct claim of responsibility for the events. He also gave a press conference (at the porch of his house) surrounded by several Oromo political figures, and conspicuous among them was the would-be schismatic priest Belay Mekonnen who has been campaigning to form a breakaway Oromo Orthodox hierarchy. He recently participated in the pagan Oromo Irreecha ceremonies dressed in his priestly robes. In a sympathetic coverage by the Al Jazeera network, Jawar Mohammed is said to be in the process of giving up his U.S. citizenship to run against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in upcoming elections.
While events have quieted on the last day, tensions remain very high and the faithful has vowed that they will fight back if attacked again.
The Holy Synod has instructed all faithful to fast for three days and all Churches to hold Mihila Prayers (Prayers for Divine Mercy) from Friday, October 25 through Sunday, October 27.
OCP News Service