Even Clergymen were not Spared in the Chena Massacre by the TPLF

Ethiopia has been suffering greatly at the hands of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) since the rebellion of November 2020, which displaced more than one million people living in Ethiopia's Amhara and Afar regions alone and has caused severe damage to public properties, including hospitals, schools and churches.

As reported in Reuters, within two days, Sept. 1-2, 2021, TPLF forces massacred more than 120 residents of Chena, a village in the Amhara region, situated six miles from the town of Dabat. These massacres targeted not only women and elders but also children. Even the priests who served at the Teklehaimanot Church were brutally murdered. Now, survivors are bringing their stories to light.

In a press interview with Melake Amen Samuel Gebeyew, the director of operations at the Maicadra Teklehaimanot Church in Chena, he said, “The greatest hatred is first, to cleanse ethnic Amharas, and second, to destroy believers and the institution of Christian faith. And we have witnessed it.”

Melake perilously recounts the recent attack on the ancient, 400-year-old, Gondar Teklehaimanot Church where two clergymen, their wives, and children were brutally tortured and murdered by TPLF forces.

“The two clergymen were the epitome of this great church,” said Gebeyew. “On their way from Boza, the TPLF forces captured, tortured, and after a lot of suffering, killed them. Killing is one thing, but torturing them by hitting and stabbing them is another.

“Since that day, people have been very scared. Only a few numbers of people attended the service. We tried to drive around and pick people up so that we could gather and give strength by preaching,” he added.

“We manage 80 churches, and one of the oldest is this particular church. The key they stole was an ancient key, from the time of King Yeshaq, and it cannot be duplicated. They stole christening books, golden and silver crosses, and a golden thurible [a vessel used to burn aromatic incense]. That wasn’t it. They also broke into the storage house right behind this building and stole the church’s belongings,” Gebeyew added.

“This area has become a fort for TPLF fighters. If we look around, they have begun to use parts of the church as a restroom. It has become a filthy area. We came in yesterday and this morning to clean up and organize it so that it's ready to be used as a place of worship again. We have had some members return, but they are very frightened.”

“Wherever we go, we find TPLF fighters. It has been determined that there are still some remaining fighters hiding in the homes of the community members and that the community needs to be on alert,” he said,

He further stated that it’s highly likely that the other two clergymen are also dead; however, their whereabouts are yet to be found. TPLF’s horrific ethnic cleansing has instilled fear among the people to attend church services. For them to continue, churchgoers need protection and security from government authorities.

The recent history of Ethiopia is quite intricate, it requires a nuanced and historically grounded understanding. Throughout their three-decade domination, the TPLF led the government-promoted policy of divide and rule, instilled antipathy amongst different ethnic groups, and initiated strife between other religious groups. Moreover, the leaders of the TPLF group embezzled public funds, violated human rights, and jailed leaders of their opposition party, including journalists.

In 2018, during the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister, the power dynamics took a turn; the TPLF leaders resisted to work with the new government. As tensions escalated, they refused to partake in any peace treaty with the federal government.

Later, on Nov. 4, 2020, the TPLF retaliated by attacking Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces of the Northern Command, triggering the ongoing conflict. After losing against the Defense Forces of Ethiopia, the special forces of Tigrayans, known as Samri, committed genocide of thousands of ethnic Amhara in May-Cadera before fleeing to Sudan [Amnesty report].

Despite TPLF’s ongoing retaliation and refusal to take responsibility for their horrendous acts of ethnic cleansing, the Ethiopian government attempted to negotiate peace. The government announced a unilateral ceasefire so that civilians could get access to humanitarian aid. However, TPLF disapproved and labeled it as a “sick joke.”

While Ethiopian civilians - from mothers and children to priests - are seeking protection from TPLF aggression, pressure from US and Western nations is hindering an adequate response from the Ethiopian government.

Even though the United States is showing interest in Ethiopia’s prevailing situation, it’s feared that they don’t fully understand the adversity of the issues. That being said, the United States is exhibiting intense sympathy to the TPLF by not calling them out while being overly critical of the Ethiopian government. This response has empowered TPLF’s leadership.

As a result, the violence of Tigrayan fighters has spread to the neighboring provinces of Amhara and Afar, killing thousands of their civilians and destroying their homes. The TPLF forces have a history of killing people as an aftermath of losing battles.

Now, the civilians and state media reports have indicated that TPLF is losing battles in both the regions of Amhara and Afar. Afar is said to be totally free from Tigrayan forces in the recent weeks; however, major cities in Amhara are still infiltrated with TPLF fighters.

As their church leaders and government authorities mentioned, this may infer that more killing is about to happen or already has happened.

As the TPLF rebels continue inciting fear and violence in Ethiopia, US and Western nations fail to strongly condemn these horrific acts of war crimes. The efforts of TPLF have progressed in their spread across more areas, cultural sites like the UNESCO heritage Lalibela church have been targeted until recently by the TPLF in their pursuit for “cultural cleansing.”

While TPLF armies push South, more killings and atrocities will be discovered, and hundreds of thousands will be displaced. In the end, innocent Ethiopians will be the ones who pay the price until they’re offered their basic human rights to protection and resources.