War crimes and the destruction of Christian heritage in Ethiopia

A silent tragedy is unfolding in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, and it is high time we pay attention.

In November, rumours started to emerge of atrocities in Tigray after the Ethiopian army moved in to squash an opposition group. What made this extra concerning was that Eritrean soldiers seemed to have crossed the border and had joined in the war efforts. Eritrea had been in a war with Ethiopia for a long time, but the current Ethiopian prime minister had made peace with this neighbouring nation, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. It is deeply tragic that he has allowed his former enemies to wage war on his own people.

What may have begun as a war against rebel militias, developed into a full-scale attack on the population. Stories emerged of a massacre in Aksum, in the very church where according to Orthodox tradition the Ark of the Covenant is kept. But killing in the area seems to have been rampant. Corpses were left in the fields, with relatives not being permitted to bury them. And perhaps most disturbingly, there were many reports of the use of gang rape as a weapon of war, with severely injured women and girls seeking medical assistance, if it was available at all.

For months the area was kept shut, with the internet down and no journalists allowed in. It was very hard to confirm accounts of refugees and since everything was denied by the Ethiopian government, there was little interest from world leaders to intervene. But recently the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, who was placed under house arrest, was finally able to speak out on a video and he expressed his horror and condemnation about what was happening. He called on world leaders to take action.

Also, we are learning that there is severe famine among the population. A terrible locust plague had decimated crops just before the conflict started. Now Eritrean soldiers are blocking transports from the World Food Program and other aid organisations to large parts of Tigray. The people of Tigray are being murdered, raped and starved, for being Tigrayan. A third of the population has been displaced by the violence. What is taking place amounts to ethnic cleansing or even genocide.

Whenever such war crimes happen, it concerns all of us. Precious people created in God’s image are being murdered and violated and for those of us who believe in the worth of every human life, atrocities like this should never be ignored. It should also concern us because if the international community stays silent, it signals to other evil regimes that these atrocities are something you can get away with. This is a threat to people everywhere.

There is another reason for Christians to speak out. The people of Tigray are guardians of an important part of our common ancient Christian heritage. The area became a Christian kingdom in the 4th century, and even well before that, there were Christians in Ethiopia. Churches and monasteries in Tigray are guardians of many very ancient Scriptures, stories, artworks, traditions and other ancient treasures that are reminders of the work of God throughout many centuries of Church history.

It is reported that some of these sites and treasures have been destroyed already. This is not only an attack on the ethnic identity of Tigrayans, or on the Orthodox church of Ethiopia, but also a great loss to the Christian church as a whole. The destroyed buildings include this monastery, which Eugene Bach reported on during his visit to Ethiopia for the Chasing Revival series. Eritrean soldiers bombed it, and then attacked and looted this 6th century monument of devotion to God.

Please pray for the restoration of peace, and for the leaders of Ethiopia to allow aid to reach the starving population. Pray for world leaders to call Ethiopia and Eritrea to account. The prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed Ali is a Pentecostal Christian, active in his church and his wife is a gospel singer. He is now responsible for unspeakable war crimes. Pray that God will bring him to repentance, and for him to live up to both the faith he claims and the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted.



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