Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Pleads for Help in Tigray Region of Ethiopia
News from the war-torn Tigray region of Ethiopia is hard to come by. Abune Mathias, an ethnic Tigrayan who leads 36 million Orthodox Christian believers said that he tried to get word out last month about the atrocities being committed by Eritrean forces and Amhara militia men who are fighting alongside Ethiopian soldiers in Tigray. “They want to destroy the people of Tigray. I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” Patriarch Mathias said. In November 2020, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum which reputedly houses the Ark of the Covenant was the scene of a horrendous massacre – 750 people were killed. Since the conflict began six months ago, there is growing evidence of ethnic cleansing, gang rapes, extrajudicial killings, and other atrocities, all committed by soldiers and militia men loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and particularly by Eritrean forces he has invited into his country to attack Tigray. Patriarch Mathias’ pleas for international intervention came in a video statement which had to be smuggled out of the country by a friend, as his earlier efforts to speak out were censored. In an echo of events in Eritrea, where Orthodox Patriarch Antonios was illegally removed from office by the government-controlled Synod and has been under stringent house arrest since 2007, Patriarch Mathias is now under house arrest and the Synod has spoken against him.
It is believed that at least 50,000 people have died in Tigray since the fighting began, and over 63,000 people have fled the country. The UN International Rescue Committee (IRC) says, “Rape is being used as a weapon of war across the conflict. Multiple displaced people have given eyewitness accounts of mass rape.” Hunger is also being weaponized. More than four million people need food assistance, yet Eritrean troops are reported to be deliberately blocking efforts to distribute humanitarian aid. Hundreds of thousands are internally displaced., with around 5,000 children separated from their parents. Innocent people are coming under attack by explosive weapons, rockets, missiles and heavy artillery. Ethnic Tigrayans are being profiled, removed from their jobs and even imprisoned elsewhere in Ethiopia, with reports of over 1,000 people held in at least nine locations, including military bases and an agricultural college. Cultural cleansing also appears to be underway, with reports of ancient religious sites being targeted for looting, the murders of at least 78 Orthodox priests in one zone, and in one instance, the rape of nuns by Eritrean soldiers. Additionally, at least 14 churches and four monasteries are reported to have sustained damage.
The people of Tigray are desperate for international intervention to bring their plight to an end.
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