Tigrayan New Yorkers continue to raise awareness about the silent genocide in Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost state that has been at war with the federal government of Ethiopia and the neighboring state of Eritrea, since Nov. 4, 2020.
On Jan. 4, 2021, concerned New Yorkers, led by members of the Tigray Community of New York, came together to protest against the ongoing war in Tigray. The protest was held in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan between the hours of 9 a.m. and .
“The protest is all about creating awareness and shedding light on the genocide happening in Tigray,” said Niat, a protest attendee.
“We are screaming to the world to help us stop this madness, help us push for a ceasefire and help us help our families, innocent civilians that are being punished—not just by weapons, but also by man-made starvation. We want to stress the urgency of the situation in Tigray and plea to the international community to help us push for the Ethiopian government to open a humanitarian corridor without any obstacles. We want New Yorkers to stand by us in our call to stop the war on Tigray.”
The war on Tigray is still raging—for almost three months now; and evidences of war crimes, committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, are emerging despite total communications blackout in the region.
Though the war started as a conflict between the federal government and the regional government of Tigray, it quickly expanded as an international war after the unelected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed invited Eritrea, United Arab Emirates and other forces to help him overthrow the regional government. Eritrea is currently occupying Tigrayan territories—stationing its soldiers in cities and towns such as Shire, Adigrat, Adwa—with the tacit approval of the Ethiopian government.
The Tigray war is more complicated due to ethnic Amhara militias who are fighting a retributive war against Tigray and are focused on annexing Tigrayan territories. The groups have now incorporated areas of Western Tigray as part of the Amhara Regional State. Tigray is a member state of Ethiopia’s federation and, as such the federal constitution grants it sovereign rights. Therefore the action taken by the Amhara forces is considered unconstitutional and has further destabilized the country into a civil war.
The war on Tigray has become another East African shame after the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
The New York Times reported on Dec. 28, 2020; “According to interviews with two dozen aid workers, refugees, U.N. officials and diplomats—including a senior American official—Eritrean soldiers are fighting in Tigray, in coordination with Mr. Abiy’s forces, and face credible accusations of atrocities against civilians.”
Despite the federal government’s assertion that the war is over, the war is unfortunately still ongoing and Tigrayan civilians are suffering from mass starvation, looting, bombing and shelling.
Drones and artilleries have been bombarding and destroying infrastructure and cultural heritage sites in cities, towns and villages across Tigray. Eritrea’s soldiers and Ethiopian forces are raping women and massacring civilians who are sheltering in churches and mosques. They are also looting hospitals, pharmacies, schools, universities, industrial manufacturing facilities and whatever they can dismantle and transfer to Eritrea and Amhara region. The looters are not even sparing doors, windows, kitchen wares and farm animals.
The U.N. has reported more than 60,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan in the last two months; and these refugees are mostly women and children. Over 1 million people are internally displaced and 2.5 million children have no access to humanitarian aid. Also 3 to 4 million people now need an urgent food aid.
The federal government has deliberately denied the people of Tigray access to food, water, electricity, banking, internet, telecommunications, and other essential services as a collective punishment for standing with their regional leaders.
“In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler was able to convince the Germans that ‘The Jews’ were the source of all their problems without any evidence,” said Fitsum, protest organizer and Tigray community member.
“What’s happening in Tigray today is just that, history is repeating itself. Ethiopian and Eritrean media accuse the Tigray people and the regional government of anything and everything under the sun without evidence. We are demanding that the U.N. must break its silence and take action to stop the war and urgently provide humanitarian aid to the people of Tigray.”
Tigray’s capital city, Mekelle, which the federal government now controls, is under curfew and heavy military presence. Residents of the city, more than half a million, are not free to conduct their daily activities. Most banks and essential services remain closed. Houses are searched without warrant and persons who are suspected of supporting or sympathizing with Tigray Defense Forces are arrested or killed.
Niat said, “I am truly heartbroken about all the devastating events unfolding in my home country, Ethiopia. We should all be against violence and destruction in any shape or form, including saying no to war. Tigray is my parent’s birth place, their hometown and part of my identity. I have families from both sides of my parents living in different parts of Tigray.”
“I recently have been able to get in touch with my cousins that reside in Mekelle. I still haven’t been able to reach an uncle and an aunt who reside in the outskirts of Mekelle, plus additional extended families that reside in different towns in Tigray. God only knows where they are or if they are alive.”
There are planned protests all over the world denouncing the war and the genocide in Tigray. Tigray community members in New York plan to organize more protests in the city as long as the war continues.
“It is very unfortunate that the unelected prime minister has deliberately cut off all communications so that he can control the media since the war started and is using a false narrative to justify the war and the killing of innocent people,” says Magie, another community member and protest attendee.
“I feel helpless every day knowing that there is nothing I can do, and it has been very difficult to focus at work and anything for that matter because of how emotionally traumatized I have been not knowing if my family is still alive and later learning that one of my younger brothers had to flee to a Sudan refugee camp to save his life. Also, as a pharmacist, it is very disheartening to hear that medicines have also been cut off. My youngest brother for an example cannot get his medication and has been suffering for many weeks.”
These were some of the demands the Tigrayan community leaders and members wanted the U.N. to address:
Demand for the unconditional cessation of hostilities and for the immediate withdrawal of the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies and the Amhara militia from Tigray.
Demand external forces such as the UAE to cease their involvement in the war and stop bombing civilians using drones to avoid mass killing of civilians and limit further conflagration of the conflict and its spread to a broader region.
Open humanitarian corridors, and under the leadership of the U.N, provide emergency aid workers unfettered access to the millions of Tigrayans in need of emergency assistance.
Restore all forms of communication in Tigray including the internet, phone lines, air and land transport; and
Demand for a United Nations Security Council resolution to establish a U.N.-mandated investigation into all atrocities and violations of international law, especially war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the people of Tigray.