The Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Tigray – A Sheep Between the Hyenas

Church in Debre Damo monastery in Tigray Region, Ethiopia. Pic- Wiki

Church in Debre Damo Monastery in Tigray Region, Ethiopia. Pic- Wiki

Menetasnot Desta (Delegate of the Horn of Africa and Head of Ethiopian Affairs) -OCP News Service – 17/01/21

Addis Ababa-Ethiopia: The “great reformation” in the former ruling party Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), resulted in confrontations between the Tigray’s People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and others three ethnic-based member parties of the EPRDF (that collectively forms the ruling Prosperity party). The differences and confrontations between them expanded to an extreme point and finally, resulted in a war between the federal government (lead by the Prosperity Party), and Tigray regional government ruled by TPLF in the Tigray region since November 4, 2020.

While the Prosperity party considers the war as the “rule of law operation”, the TPLF considers it an “invasion”. Lack of internet, electricity and other basic infrastructures especially during the first 8 weeks made it difficult in acquiring information about the actual situation in the region except for contradicting information from both parts and their supporters. Hence, gathering information about the situation of Orthodox Christians remains a challenging task. However, the below information has been collected from various sources regarding the violations committed against the Church by the warring parties.

Tigray held elections against the federal government. Those parties who participated in this election used the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) as a propaganda instrument by depicting the church as “a church of Amhara”, “a Church of Nefetegn (gunners or troops). Such propaganda was supported by a few church servants and authorities who seek the establishment of “Tigray’s clergy”.

On the 9th of November 2020, a press release of the Co-Patriarch Abune Matthias (which was posted on social media page like EOTC broadcasting service agency and on the page of the office of the public relation, West Arsi diocese) on the conflict (5 days after the first day of the war) was suspended for unknown reasons. According to some sources, the press release was banned by the higher-level federal bodies (the notice was deleted on the same day from those pages).

Memiher Zemedekun (currently, youtube blocked his channel) and other servants who considered themselves as Orthodox activist has expressed their explicit support to the “operation” on behalf of the federal government and dubbed it as a sensible decision by employing terms that insult TPLF and Tigray people.

Sources from Addis Ababa indicate that an unknown number of EOTC servants were “detained as TPLF supporters” by the federal police. Disrespecting servants based on their political affiliation was clearly visible from the incident.

On November 17, 2020, according to the public-relations department of the EOTC, the Church initiated a program titled “I stand with defense force” which remains a nationwide movement. Several bishops and Church servants participated in the movement. The private and government media reported the event by pitching photos of the Co-Patriarch Abune Matthias and Abune Esayas, Archbishop of Mekele. According to observers, two aspects were felt odd (1) EOTC remain the sole religious institution that initiated such a program and the media used the photos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Prelates who belong to the “Tigray” ethnic group. (2) The federal government utilized the event to send a clear and aggressive message to the TPLF and to the Tigray residents that Orthodox Christians are the majority in numbers (around 80%) in the Tigray region.

On November 19, 2020, General Birhanu Jula Gelalcha, the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian defense force offended TPLF troops by citing the violation of international war law by them as they have consumed churches and mosques as a means of cover and have converted them to war-time logistic centers. On contrary, the TPLF troop complained about the federal government for their attack on churches and monasteries in the region.

After the attack on Al Nejashi, a historical Islamic holy site, Fana Tv, federal government media also released details on the attack of Mo’abo Emmanuel Monastery in Wiqero, which is near to Al Nejashi.

Currently, a number of videos and reports have surfaced on social media that depict attacks on various Churches in the Tigray region, including Axum Tsion and Debre Damo (historically significant holy places) and these videos and reports also claim that a number of Christians are either injured and killed.

The most surprising fact is the silence of those groups (including Petrosawiyan Union of Servants and Faithful, Clergy Union in Northern America) who were active in reporting attacks on Christians in other parts of Ethiopia. Many are equally silent on the fact that many of the Eritrean Orthodox Church servants make use of their church as an instrument for criticizing their opposition.

In general, these remain heartbreaking events for global Orthodox Christians. It is sad to witness that Orthodox servants and faithful confronted each other which stand against the sense of brotherhood and against the destiny of those churches in the remote and un networked regions. It is, in addition, a torpedo agaist the unity of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

References:
Dahir, A. and Marks, S., 2021. As War Goes On In Ethiopia, Ethnic Harassment Is On The Rise. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/12/world/africa/Ethiopia-Tigray-ethnic.html>.

Facebook.com. 2020. በአማን ነጸረ. [online] Available at: <https://www.facebook.com/firdna.kunene>.
Facebook. 2020. Department Of Public Relation, EOTC. [online] Available at: <https://www.facebook.com/%E1%8B%A8%E1%8A%A2%E1%8A%A6%E1%89%B0%E1%89%A4-%E1%88%95%E1%8B%9D%E1%89%A5-%E1%8C%8D%E1%8A%95%E1%8A%99%E1%8A%90%E1%89%B5-%E1%88%98%E1%88%9D%E1%88%AA%E1%8B%ABDepartment-of-Public-RelationEOTC-100362731837015/>.

https://www.youtube.com/. 2021. የህወሓት ቡድን በአል ነጃሺ መስጊድ ላይ ያደረሰው ጉዳት በሃይማኖት አባቶች አንደበት. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlE1UB5jeOw>.

Source:
Menetasnot Desta – OCP News Service