It has been three months since a campaign to eradicate a whole ethnic group began. This is a region where my family comes from — Tigray. I wasn’t born, raised nor been a frequent visitor there. I have never stayed in that state for more than a month.
My attachment with this region and its people comes from the deep love I have for my father and mother. Both are strong willed, hardworking, laugher seeking, God fearing & family loving individuals. There is nothing that makes me happier than hearing Embilta — a sound my father loves to hear whenever it is aired in the state-owned TV station. It was mesmerizing watching my mother play the drum to Tigrigna beat during special celebrations.
But I was very much “Amhara”. Or as they call my kind these days, Amharanized. I grew up in Addis speaking Amharic. Never attempted or had the desire to learn any other ethnic languages. I made little to no effort to respond to my grandparents in their local dialect — Tigrigna. They made zillion times more effort to speak to me in Amharic. That was just the way it was. They tried. I didn’t.
I was never interested in politics. Ethiopia, as far as my mind could be bothered with the topic of politics, is one. All of us bonded with one language & custom — Amhara. Why question that? Speak Amharic in addition to whatever else you want to speak but make sure you speak it well. Amharic spoken with heavy or light Oromiffa, Tigrigna, Guragaa, Hadere, etc. accents was our frequent entertainment.
My friends were made up of all kind of ethnic backgrounds, Amhara, Tegaru, Oromo, Muslims, Christians. We rarely talked about our family’s origin. We just made that beautiful & harmonious Ethiopia — or so I thought. Until the night of November 4, 2020.
That night, Tigray went black & in the weeks that followed, my age long belief of what I believed to be Ethiopian turned upside down. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia announced what seemed to be, for any reasonable human being, a beginning of a deadly conflict with a Tigrean government. My dear family was in Tigray at the time of the announcement. I, along with other family members, tried day and night to reach them. Nothing. Days became nights & weeks became months. No phone. No email. No social media. No news. Total darkness.
I reached out to my Addis friends. Whom I was sure would share my outrage over the blackout that was imposed on an entire state. The responses I was getting was harder than a gut punch. One longtime friend said “This is terrible. I am so sorry. But why are they currently there? Are you sure they have nothing to do with Woyane?”. That literally had me turn into a pillar of salt.
Each night was a nightmare. I was no longer able to study or focus. I shared several petitions on social media to sign and “Say no to war” or to “reconnect Tigray”. Each time I did, I would get comments that I was a TPLF junta — A Woyane. At this point, I was neither a Tigraweyti nor an alien. I was just an individual whose family was feared to be in great danger. Surely, there is enough compassion in my Addis folks, isn’t there?
But no. No one signed. No one reached out. And no one related. What is worse, majority of them celebrated with fountain of drinks, sweets, and music when they received the news form the PM of the country that he had won the war — correction, the “Operation of war”. This celebration was happening while an entire state of 6 million was on a lockdown.
This was not the Ethiopia I loved. This was not the Ethiopia I thought I came from. These were not the friends whom I grew up with & who would stay up all night tweeting how “Black Lives Matter”-ed.
It seemed like I was just turning a new chapter into discovering Tigray. Her history. Her challenges. Each time I posted about reconnecting Tigray; I would get a response from an otherwise reasonable sounding person that I was a Woyane.
So, I did what anyone with a good WIFI would do — I googled the heck out of Woyane.
“Woyane rebellion was a rebellion in Tigray Province, Ethiopia against the government of Emperor Haile Selassie which took place in September–November 1943. The rebels were defeated with the support of aircraft from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.”
I researched more. In disbelief. Jah did what?! I have a t-shirt with his image on, for God’s sake. The emperor utilized a foreign power to subdue a local rebellion: A rebellion that refused to accept a new government arrangement set in place by the emperor. Essentially, the Haile Selassie government wanted to centralize its authority over other regions which, in turn, gave birth to Woyane uprising. Kedamawi Woyane did not succeed in its revolt and the fire it lit was to remain buried until 1975 when TPLF officially picked up that struggle for freedom.
10 years into TPLF’s struggle for free Tigray, The Derg regime out of desperation to kill this powerful movement, introduced a manmade famine that claimed millions of lives in Tigray in 1985. This famine left 1.2 Million people dead. 400,000 refugees left the country & 2.5 million people were displaced internally. More than half of this death could be attributed to human rights abuse.
This was a shocking revelation to me. As far as my younger days studies showed, Tigray famine was mostly caused due to a hopelessly infertile land & climatic phenomena. And yet, here in 2020, I came to find out that a siting government locked an entire state, as it is being done right now, as counter — insurgency strategy against TPLF.
As the days went by & horrific stories start coming from the region, we, Tegaru, tried to relay back what we were hearing from our families. The state is being attacked by a sworn enemy of Tigray, even Eritrea for that matter, Isayas Afewerki. This was beyond alarming. The world knows that this man has been doing nothing but preparing for a war for nearly 20 years. He invested anything and everything his country has, including human lives, on a war he will one day have with Tigray government. Again, we tagged, emailed & in boxed our Addis connections. The responses we were getting was silence at best and Woyane/TPLF label at worst.
I was taking offense to being labeled Woyane for the first couple of months. Until I did my research as mentioned above. But now I DO take offense but not for the reason the label assignees think.
No, I am not a Woyane. I am not brave enough, informed enough, persistent enough, principled enough, inquisitive enough, not ready to die for my people enough to be called a Woyane. I have done nothing worthy of that label. Me sitting in a coffee shop, looking at Facebook memes, arguing over issues that mostly affect western society do not qualify me for such honorarily title. If I was a true Woyane, I would leave my comfortable life and die with my people in the mountains of Tigray. If I was a Woyane, I would not hide behind a fake name, fake profile, and fake email to tell my family’s story. I am an Addis Ababian, just like majority of you, who look the other way when I see an injustice happening right on my smart phone screen — until it knocks on my very own door.