Between 2015 and 2018, Ethiopian people protested en masse against the TPLF-led government, which was experienced by many as oppressive, violent and self-serving. After the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the appointed successor Abiy Ahmed promised to reform the country’s authoritarian, centralised and hierarchical political system to base it on rule of law. As war consumes the northern regions, and these aspirations are put into question, civil rights activists in Welkait give hope to Ethiopian values of brotherhood, sisterhood and cooperation.
From 1974 to 1991 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), supported by Eritrean forces, Western governments and humanitarian organisations, fought the Ethiopian socialist government, the Derg. When the TPLF gained control over the country in 1991, overtly a civilian government was installed while covertly its military cadres stayed in control. Along with the introduction of ethnic federalism, regional borders were drawn to reflect language groups. For geopolitical purposes, however, the TPLF included indigenous, geographically and culturally Amhara and Afar territories in the Tigray region. Through the creation of the Western Tigray zone, the TPLF gained direct access to the Sudan border while separating the Amhara region from Eritrea.
One of the Amhara regions annexed and settled by the TPLF is Welkait. People who kept their Amhara identity were harassed, dispossessed, killed, arrested, kidnapped and deported. Amhara girls and women were reportedly abducted and raped by TPLF fighters and teachers. In schools and administrative offices, people were forced to speak Tigrinya only. Names of places, rivers, lakes, mountains, springs, cities and regions were changed from Amharic to Tigrinya names. Discriminatory practices included 95% of government jobs being given to Tigrayans who also received land from dispossessed and displaced Amhara farmers.
Indigenous Welkait Amhara ask for basic civil and democratic rights
Despite these violent experiences, affected people chose a peaceful response. In 2015, displaced people democratically formed the Welkait Amhara Identity Question Committee (የወልቃይት የአማራ ማንነት ጥያቄ ኮሚቴ) and collected approximately 25,000 signatures of Welkait people. They requested state institutions recognise their indigenous Amhara identity and end discrimination. They summarised their grievances, attached evidence and submitted the letter to the zonal, regional and federal offices on 17 December 2015.
Each office refused to hear the case. Some argued that it is a matter of identity, others that it pertains to borders. According to the constitution, the former should have been dealt with on the state or zonal level, the latter on the federal. In sum, the appointed Committee brought its issue forward in a peaceful and democratic way, based on legitimate claims and the laws of the country.
A government response of arbitrary arrests, torture and killings
Half a year later, the Tigray region still refused to deal with the question. In July 2016, most committee members were taken into custody in Gondar and transported straight to Addis Ababa’s infamous Maekelawi torture prison. Committee member Colonel Demeke Zewdu clashed with and resisted the soldiers who came at night to arrest him without a court order. These arbitrary arrests of Welkait Committee members triggered a chain of protests across the Amhara region. The Welkait question, combined with similar cases in Oromia and other regions, became a national question for democratisation and justice. Peaceful protesters expressed concerns regarding the unequal distribution of power and economic exploitation by those aligned to the TPLF government.
Abiy Ahmed and the Welkait question
The release of Colonel Demeke Zewdu was one of the last duties of Hailemariam Desalegn before his resignation in February 2018. Colonel Demeke Zewdu, credited for spurring democratisation in Ethiopia, insisted on peaceful and democratic processes following the rule of law, despite harassment and life threats. His insistence on lawful procedures was regarded as a starting point for political reform processes under Abiy Ahmed.
Shortly after Ahmed was appointed as Prime Minister in April 2018, he met with Welkait Committee members in Gondar. In the meeting, they agreed that the Tigray security forces must stop harassing and killing civilians. Ahmed promised that the Welkait Committee would be able to work in peace and that the Welkait question would be dealt with according to the constitution. In exchange, he demanded the Committee keep the people calm.
However, while the committee members in Gondar were free, the TPLF terror has gotten worse in the annexed areas. People expressing their Amhara identity (such as speaking the language or listening to Amharic songs) were beaten, incarcerated, shot or pushed over cliffs to their deaths. In 2019, the TPLF-funded informal youth group samri chased many Amhara from their indigenous area in May-Kadra, the town which in November 2020 became infamously known for a massacre.
Since 2018, TPLF refused to return state power but used its resources and networks to create instability in different parts of the country. The TPLF’s attack against the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in November 2020 united most Ethiopians against them. Despite its assurance to only target TPLF leaders with arrest warrants to their name, the government and ENDF were unable to convince the international community of their commitment and service to Tigrayan civilians. Amid accusations of human rights violations and provoking famine in the region, Ahmed’s government was unable to contain the conflict and has been accused by the TPLF and INGOs of prolonging the situation further.
After TPLF regained control over the Tigray Region and the ENDF retreated with a unilateral cease fire, the TPLF recruited able-bodied citizens and attacked neighbouring regions. In August 2021, TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda made abundantly clear the TPLF’s lack of interest in dialogue or peace but the intention to terrorise the country by raiding neighbouring regions and continued financing of militant ethnic entrepreneurs among Oromo and Qimant communities.
Hope for democracy
Despite the ongoing conflicts, Ethiopia held its most democratic elections in June 2021, in which the ruling Prosperity Party secured a majority. The people chose peace, democracy, development and unity. In three of the ten regions elections could not be held due to insecurity and remain scheduled for 6 September 2021. Yet, the situation has not improved and political opponents of the government remain incarcerated.
Meanwhile, the contested indigenous Amhara area in Western Tigray was transformed into the Welkait, Tegede, Setit and Humera special zone, and came under the control of Amhara Region Special Forces. Colonel Demeke Zewdu was appointed as Peace and Security Administrator. In May 2021, reconciliation talks were held between Amhara and Tigrayan community members. The Welkait Committee remains consistent in its claim for civil rights and justice for all, and likeminded civil rights groups continue to demand justice and democracy while refusing ethnic-based divisions. These groups give hope for lasting peace in Ethiopia.
Photo: Statsminister Erna Solberg og statsminister Abiy Ahmed møtte pressen. Credit: Eirin Larsen, SMK. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Good piece my former teacher Ms. Sonja! However, in addition to “government’s and ENDF’s weakness to convince the international community (IC)” the so called IC are not even willing to admit the cruelty of TPLF though they knew the realities on the ground.
This sounds to me like wishful thinking. There is an increase in hatred and distrust across the country, fuelled by ever grosser assaults on civilians more or less by all parties, and the determination of all parties to continue the war in a belief that they will prevail.
We have only seen a tenth of what has already happened, and what has already happened is only a tenth of what is still to come.
I blame the TPLF for starting the conflict, the Government for not managing Tigray better before it came to this, and for not accepting defeat when it became clear, the Eritreans for taking this opportunity to weaken or destroy Ethiopia.
God’s curses on ethno-nationalists and war-mongers everywhere.
God’s curses on ethno-nationalists and war-mongers everywhere and superpowers that emboldened TPLF.
Finally someone is talking about the largest covered up crime of the 1990’s!! Unfortunately in a blog and not by those so-called ”credible” news sources. The West and in particuar the United States of America and it’s CIA fronts(humanitarian organizations) should be sued by the long suffering Welkait Amhara people.
The West for 30 years sponsered the TPLF government which persecuted and killed 2.5 million Amharas between 1994 & 2007. None of the so-called ”human rights defending international news organizations” shed light on the mass displacements and killings Amharas suffered in Welkait & Raya.
America and it’s puppet allies will not be able to cover up the genocide of 2.5 million Amharas forever!! All of western backed TPLF’s crimes will be uncovered and the West and it’s media will be condomned globally!!
Shame!! Shame!! Shame on the diabolic USA and it’s proxy the TPLF!!!
This blog is reactionary, irredentist, and very historically revisionist made to fit the government propaganda. The question if is framed as power and governance then the constitution unless changed is the guiding principle but if the question is the right of indigenous people and democracy in a space where CNN forensic team is investigating and exposing torture a d ethnic cleansing with intentional demographic re-engineering then I find you argument very problematic and biased towards the view of your mentor and gov mouth piece Dr Dagnachew
I’m pretty sure the Professor didn’t write this blog. Unless I question her education credential. This blog is a full of lie.
1- There’s no called Amhara nor Afare region pre- 1992.
2- 1992 Ethiopia is a federation subdivided into ethno-linguistically based regional states (Oromo: singular: Naannoo; plural: Naannolee; Amharic: plural: ክልሎች kililoch; singular: ክልል kilil) and chartered cities (plural: astedader akababiwach; singular: astedader akabibi). This system of administrative regions replaced the provinces of Ethiopia in 1992 under the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and was formalised in 1995 when the current Constitution of Ethiopia came into force.
3- The statement of “ One of the Amhara regions annexed and settled by the TPLF is Welkait” on this blog is completely false.
Welkait is historically belongs to Tigray that been annexed in 1948 E.C. (1956 G.C.) during the Haile Selassie kingdom to then called “Beage -Medere” in “ቤጌ ምድር” to punish the Tigray people for Resisting kingdom. The people were Tegaru and after trying all kinds demography changes by the king as well as Derge.. they been found still speaking Tigregna in 1992. According the new rule then they went back to their original people. There is several documented senses as well that will show what language they speak on those area.
4- The Afare region was created in 1992 by taking the land from Eastern Tigray and NE Wollo. Not the other way.
In general I found it this blog is written by uneducated amateur person with a mission of spreading fake narrative for political purposes.
@Josi Jo, so you expect us to believe you and reject the professor? your claim of haile silassie annexed welkait to begi midir is bogus. we know that area never belonged to tigray, rather forcefully annexed into tigray after 1991. this is the truth. the atrocities commited in welkait since tplf set its foot in that area is immense. we will never ever allow that to happen again. it is not about owning or annexing an area into a certain region, the core issue is how demonic was what tplf did in welkait. otherwise the entire ethiopia belongs to every citizen, it is tplf itself that allocated lands to ethnicities instead of using it for administrative simplicity.
I am surprised that the London School of Economics allowed this extremely biased blog post to be published in its esteemed website and I hope LSE will give us the opportunity to publish a corrective piece to balance the misinformation, disinformation, and biases. Let me clear out some of the many factual errors ,if not deliberate misappropriations of facts, in this blog post.
1. In total, Tigray actually lost more land because of the new regional arrangement in 1995 constitution than what it gained. A simple look to the map shows that Tigray lost a huge chunk of its land in What was traditionally under Enderta province in Tigray and it NEVER added land from the previous Afar procince
2. When in comes to WelQait and Tsegede the census held by Dergue Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities in 1978GC easily shows that it predominantly populated by Tigrigna speakers. And another census in 1994GC shows that 86% in Kafata Humera, 89% in Tselemti, 96.5% in WelQait, and 76% in Tsegede speak Tigrigna and identified themselves as Tegaru (Source 1994 Housing and Population Census. Central Statistics Agency – CSA https://www.statsethiopia.gov.et/census-1994/) . Infact a simple look at the 1994 vs 2007 census shows that there is an influx of Amahric speaking people migrating and settling in WelQait after 1994 GC contrary to Sonja John
have you believe (comparison at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welkait )
3. Historically speaking the provinces in Ethiopia have changed over time and we can easily see that from pre 1935, 1942-1974 haileslassie, 1974-1991 Dergue, and After 1991 EPRDF, Tigray has the lowest landmass at this age! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provinces_of_Ethiopia … Sonja John
, please enlighten me, How is it possible that a TPLF dominated government made Tigray lesser in size for the benefit of Tigray Please? How does your logic hold water?
4. WelQait, Tsegede, Tselemti actually all the way to angereb belonged to Tigray and out of the indigenous village names of WelQait NONE are amharic.
5. More information here https://hornaffairs.com/2011/06/05/reality-check-tigray-annexed-amhara-lands/ ..and infact Demeke Zewdu himself has Tigrayan mother and father that speak Tigrigna and he himself was a TPLF fighter that defected because of differences with TPLF.
6. Mai Kadra Massacre is textbook example where the perpetuators of the atrocities blame the victims. Investigations show that Tigreans were the victims of the massacre https://www.tghat.com/2021/03/03/survivors-recount-the-mai-kadra-massacre/ even the Ethiopian government Human rights commission did admit that the victims were both Tigrayans and Amharas.
7. If anyone listens to Getachew Reda’s interview on BBC hard talk linked above in the article, it is easy to see that Sonja John deliberately misquoted him https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3ct1n1k? “intention to terrorise the country by raiding neighbouring regions and continued financing of militant ethnic entrepreneurs among Oromo and Qimant communities.” Getachew never said that! He actually explained that, this is not the purpose but rather the purpose is to end the suffering of the people of Tigray by trying to open a humanitarian corridor to the 5.2 in dire need of humanitarian aid and 900,000 in famine conditions to the astute Stephen Sackur known to challenge his guests
a tplfite coordinated lie to try to convince the world that tplf has all of a sudden turned a saint organization. killers.
Your article makes me to think at least there are still few people in the west ,with courage and not bought by lobbyists money . The crime committed by TPLF is despicable. The diabolical nature of this organisation is like that of the third reich .Thank you for being a voice
Thanks for bein a voice to the voiceless. The TPLF used the money that it laundered from Ethiopia to create a pseudo fact about territorial lines. An evidence based presentation of facts is crucial to counteract this sinister objective of the TPLF and you did that. RESPECT!
Truth within the people of Amhara will win soon belive it or not. We plan a lot …huts down for your work.