Ethiopia's Forgotten War
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed orchestrated a military campaign on November 4, 2020, mobilizing the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), and the Amhara Special Forces to wage war against the population of Tigray, a region in the northernmost part of Ethiopia. This conflict has resulted in an unprecedented number of atrocities, making it the deadliest war in the world. It has caused immense destruction in Tigray, destabilizing Ethiopia and jeopardizing peace and security in the Horn of Africa. Numerous credible reports confirm the occurrence of widespread civilian massacres, extrajudicial killings, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), deliberate famine, looting, destruction of healthcare facilities, and the forced displacement of millions of Tigrayans.
The death toll in Tigray surpassed 500,000 civilians, with an additional 70,000 forced to seek refuge in Sudan and a staggering 2.2 million individuals internally displaced. According to humanitarian health workers, an estimated 80-90% of health facilities in Tigray have been intentionally demolished by the allied Eritrean army and local militia. These figures represent more than just statistics; they symbolize real people. They represent my own family. On March 31, 2022, I took the lead in conducting a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol, where I introduced a resolution urging unrestricted access to humanitarian aid for the people of Tigray.
During that time, the impact of the resolution appeared limited as it was only at the state level and not at the federal level. However, I would see the impact of my speech a year later. In November 2022, there was a signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between representatives of the Tigrayan and Ethiopian governments. However, the situation on the ground in Tigray has not witnessed significant improvement. While there has been a cessation of active fighting in various areas since the CoHA was signed, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray has sadly worsened in the months that followed.
In April 2023, my family received the distressing news that my grandmother had fallen ill. I could sense the anguish my father felt, knowing that he might not see his mother after losing his father in the war. Despite the ongoing risks, I encouraged my father to take an emergency trip to Tigray to visit her, and we did just that. We arrived in Tigray during a period when flights had only recently resumed, merely a week before our visit. As we stepped off the plane, two of my uncles were there to pick us up, and the sight of them instantly triggered tears. It felt like a surreal moment, as we were uncertain if we would ever have the opportunity to see them again. I could not help but fixate on their appearance.
The signs of their suffering were evident. It was apparent that they had endured malnutrition and their physical appearance had drastically changed since the last time I laid eyes on them. We made our way to the house, where we were finally reunited with my grandmother and the rest of our family. The moment we saw them, our emotions overflowed with love, tears, and immense joy. For a month, my father and I stayed in Tigray, dedicating our time to reconnecting with loved ones and honoring the memory of those who had passed. The devastation in the city was evident, and while many individuals shared their war experiences, I refrained from delving too deeply, understanding the pain reflected in their eyes. I ventured into the war-torn zones, witnessing the aftermath of drone attacks and fierce battles. Schools, houses, and hospitals lay in ruins, a stark reminder of the destruction inflicted upon them. The most significant lesson I learned from this journey is the importance of pursuing even the smallest actions.
Despite my initial belief that the speech I delivered in Georgia would have little impact on the people of Tigray, it turned out to reach them profoundly. During my visits to numerous homes in Tigray, individuals shared with me how my words provided them with "Tesfa," meaning hope in the Tigrinya language. They expressed how seeing me speak made them feel acknowledged and understood. They had previously felt abandoned by the world, but my words gave them the strength to persevere. The enduring consequences of war leave a lasting impact that reverberates through time. I end with this quote.
"The war will end. The leaders will shake hands. The old woman will keep waiting for her martyred son. That girl will wait for her beloved husband. And those children will wait for their hero father. I don’t know who sold our homeland, but I saw who paid the price." - Mahmoud Darwish