Lisanewerk Desta is not a man who is easily silenced.
A theologian who is the head of the library and museum department of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, he was at home last November when about a dozen police officers with machine guns barged into his home in Addis.
The men, who had no warrant, Lisanewerk said, poured groceries onto the floor, emptied his clothes drawers and even looked inside his clay coffee pot, seemingly searching for something to incriminate him.
They confiscated only one item, he said: his Ethiopian identification card, which shows that he is a Tigrayan.
“I’m a scholar of the church, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Lisanewerk told the New York Times.
“But now I am under suspicion.”
The Tigray war
Lisanewerk knows the suffering the Tigrayan people are enduring from personal experience.
Two of his uncles were killed near Mekelle and some of his friends, almost certainly by Eritrean forces, who now work as integrated units with the Ethiopian troops.
“More than four soldiers raped one of the women in my family in Degua Tenbien, Hagereselam, near Mekelle.”
As a historian and curator he is also deeply worried by the theft of manuscripts. He says he has heard of parchment scrolls being removed from sacred sites and taken to Eritrea.
The car belonging to the Diocese of Adigrat was looted and driven into Eritrea.
Yet the Orthodox Church remains unresponsive, says Lisanewerk. “I need the sound of the church,” he says, “but they are silent.
He believes the people long for guidance from the Patriarch. “People need to hear from Abuna Matthias.”
He has heard stories about the massacre in Aksum, but even here there have been no public statements. Lisanewerk compares this reaction with the response to other atrocities.
“A lot of Bishops support the government,” he says. “When there are deaths in Oromia and the Amhara region they speak up, but not when people die in Tigray.”