The destruction of Tigray’s world important cultural heritage

This is a chapter from the report: Tigray War and Regional Implications, which you can The Tigray War and Regional Implications – Volume 1.


The destruction of Tigray’s world important cultural heritage

By Anthony Shaw

In the last six months, Ethiopian government troops and the Eritrean forces in Tigray have repeatedly shelled churches and mosques as well as towns and villages. The shelling has been carried out with total disregard for the buildings or their importance. Many are not simply of local or national importance, but are cultural treasures of global significance. The attacks have been usually accompanied by the killings of dozens of local people as well as priests and deacons and by extensive looting. So deliberate has this been, that it must be considered to be a conscious decision by both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, part of a determination to try to destroy the cultural heritage and the social fabric of society. In Tigray, the vast majority of the population is Christian, and so churches have suffered most, but Islam has also been targeted. And this has been done on a scale which suggests this is part of a policy designed to destroy the organisational fabric of civil society, with both priests and imams, as well as other religious devotees, subject to abuse and killing.

In any unregulated conflict situation, which in this case amounts to a civil war coupled with the added involvement of an outside enemy power, it is hardly a surprise that collateral damage occurs, and mistakes happen. Given the quite clearly random nature of some of the artillery bombardments that have been taking place since early November, some of the damage and casualties may be the result of unintended damage. But the sheer number of churches and mosques that have been damaged, manuscripts looted and the deliberate shelling of famous sites as well as the extensive massacres of people and religious personnel indicates something more.

 

It is, in fact, clear that the Federal troops, and the Eritrean forces which now make up most of the troops fighting in Tigray, have been specifically instructed to ignore any considerations of civilized behaviour. The numerous, detailed, eye-witness accounts of the killings and destruction that have been carried out, and the obstinate and determined refusal to open any dialogue or discussions, or to try to bring an end to the abuses clearly being perpetrated across the Tigray region, suggest the aim is the destruction of a people rather than any simple attempt to carry out a ‘law enforcement’ operation to arrest the few leaders of a political organisation. Certainly, activities since November have been grossly in excess of what would be required for any rational ‘law enforcement’. And while the Federal government has claimed that Tigrayan fighters have been hiding in or using religious sites, and this is why they have been attacked, it has produced no evidence in support of its claims.

 

In any deeply religious society such as rural Tigray, whether among Christian or Muslim believers, the general feelings of insecurity and trauma induced by ongoing conflict will be massively increased by attacks on the examples of stability and continuity to be seen in religion, and in the churches and mosques to be found across the region. Attacking these massively underlines the scale and intent of the intended destruction.  Indeed, as the conflict has continued and the reports and evidence of devastation, looting and killing have multiplied, with the Eritrean forces, in particular, behaving like an occupying army bent on annihilating its enemy, it seems that the aims appear to include obliteration of the Tigray region, of its people, its resources and its cultural heritage. The region’s religious traditions, religious buildings, manuscripts and monuments, have been a major subject of attack, and in some cases of wanton destruction and/or extensive plundering and looting.

 

And there is much to loot and destroy. The Tigray region was the centre of a Pre-Aksumite civilisation, which dates to more than 3000 years ago. This area, together with part of neighbouring Eritrea, was the centre of the Aksumite empire between the 1st and 7th centuries CE, one of the great empires of Late Antiquity in the Middle East, along with the Byzantine and Sassanid empires. The Aksumite King Ezana converted to Christianity in the 4th century CE and Tigray is home to the earliest Christian churches in Ethiopia, with buildings certainly dating back to the 6th-7th centuries and probably earlier. Ethiopia was one of the earliest countries to adopt Christianity. Indeed, the region is home to the world’s greatest collection of rock churches, around 125 of the 200 or so known in Ethiopia are to be found in Tigray. But Tigray religious connections are not confined to Christianity. Islam is the second largest religion in Ethiopia. The remains of one of the earliest Muslim settlements in Africa including a mosque is found in the modern town of Negash in Tigray, dating to the 7th century CE. Traditional history recounts that some early followers of the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca, including a daughter and son-in-law, faced persecution and were forced to flee. They were granted refuge by a Christian Aksumite King who protected them from those in pursuit, as explained below. Aksum also has extensive links with the third of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, through the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant, believed by many to rest in Aksum today. Pre-Aksumite remains, at Yeha and at nearby remains at Beta Samati, take Tigray, and Ethiopia’s political history, back for at least another millennium.

 

Home to hundreds of religious and historic sites and thousands of cultural objects, significant to Tigrayans, the Tigray region is indeed steeped in history, but it is, of course, the history of Ethiopia as well as of Tigray, and of Africa. Tigray has some of the earliest standing monuments in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as artefacts and sites that provide material evidence for the history of Christianity and Islam and Judaism in Africa. Copies of Jewish and Christian biblical texts, some richly illustrated, and others found nowhere else, as well as some of the earliest of Christian buildings, shed light on the religious practices and Christianisation of northeast Africa and on cultural exchanges with the Mediterranean world over many centuries. The empire of Aksum provided the link between the Roman world and the eastern civilizations of India and China. Medieval wall paintings, rock-hewn churches and other material objects show the way Christian Ethiopians expressed their identity and beliefs over many centuries while also being prepared to accept ideas from Islamic and other communities. Paintings and manuscripts, many of which still remain unexamined by the outside world, provide evidence of the spiritual devotion, theological erudition and the elegance of generations of holiness.

 

The city of Aksum was recognised in 1980 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site[1] due to its cultural importance as the centre of the Aksumite empire, one of the four great powers of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world of the 3-7th centuries along with the Roman and Byzantine empires and the Sassanid empire in Iran. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) claims the Ark of the Covenant which contains the Tablets on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed is housed in a small chapel next to the 17th century Cathedral of St Mary of Zion and the new Cathedral completed in the early 1960s under Emperor Haile Selassie. Ethiopian tradition identifies Aksum as the city from which the Queen of Sheba journeyed to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. Aksum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important site of pilgrimage. “If you attack Aksum, you attack first of all the identity of Orthodox Tigrayans but also of all Ethiopian Orthodox Christians,” (Dr. Wolbert Smidt).[2] Predominate among the archaeological remains are the giant carved stelae which now include the 24-metre-high Obelisk of Aksum, taken to Rome in 1937 and finally returned and reinstalled in 2008, King Ezana’s stelae, and the collapsed and broken 33m Giant Stelae. Three others measure over 15m in height. Other attractions in Aksum include the Ezana stone, an account of his victories written in Sabean, Ge-ez and Greek, the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (a reservoir), the remains of the 4th century CE Ta’akha Maryam and 6th century CE Dungur palaces and various other remains scattered throughout the town as well as its archaeological and ethnographic museums.

 

Destruction of cultural sites and remains carried out in the name of extremism has been a characteristic of many of the recent conflicts across the Middle East. Some has also appeared to be casually destructive. In Tigray, churches have been shelled on days when large crowds could be expected at religious festivals; on other occasions, churches have been damaged as part of apparently random bombardment of towns and villages, designed to cause fear in general or encourage alarm or flight to allow for pillaging. Bombing attacks must have been more deliberate. Destruction and damage has not been limited to churches. Mosques have also been targeted, including the al-Nejashi mosque.[3] Looting has been reported in many places. There are museums at Aksum, Wukro, Adigrat and Yeha in Tigray, and all four places have been the scene of fighting and of damage.  The Society for the Promotion of Museums in Ethiopia has reported that at least one of these has been partly damaged and plundered. The full extent of damage to the heritage of Tigray, and thus of Ethiopia and indeed of Africa, remains uncertain because of the continued fighting and the Ethiopian government’s refusal to allow full access for journalists and others even into areas which they claim are under government control. What is, however, clear is that the damage is extensive and the threat to the heritage of Ethiopia, and to the ‘cultural property’ of Ethiopia, and of Eritrea and especially of the Tigray region, is enough to alarm researchers and scholars across the world.

 

Protection of these assets has long been the responsibility of local communities, but sites are administrated by the Tigray Bureau of Culture and Tourism, who are now overwhelmed with cases of heritage destruction. Under current circumstances when state security institutions are deeply involved in conflict, and an outside military force is also participating, their ability to preserve these treasures becomes limited. The safety of a major part of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage is now in danger of destruction or removal. Given the disregard by Eritrea’s government for all diplomatic and intellectual norms, the current evidence of widespread looting by its troops, and the apparent determination of its President to destroy the region, the possibility that much of the cultural heritage of Tigray, and therefore of Ethiopia, is in the process of being stolen or destroyed appears high. Much of it may well end up falling into the hands of international criminals and being sold abroad.

 

While Eritrea appears to be the more active participant in the looting of manuscripts as well as of Tigray more generally, these activities are, ironically, also destroying much of Eritrea’s own heritage with damage to the historic remains of Aksumite civilisation and pre-Aksumite remains, as well as early Christian and Muslim religious sites. The early history of Tigray, of Aksum, and of all Ethiopian history prior to the 1880s is also part of the pre-colonial history of Eritrea. The central areas of what is now Eritrea were consistently part of the different polities that held power in northern Ethiopia from the 1st millennium BCE. Half the population of Eritrea today are, of course, Tigrinya speakers. The destruction of the cultural heritage of Tigray of course destroys a past in which many Eritreans are directly involved.

 

10.1 Attacks on Churches and Mosques

 

As Ethiopian and Eritrean troops advanced towards Mekelle in the second half of

November, they shelled most of the towns along the main roads, irrespective of whether they faced any resistance from Tigrayan forces. There was fighting in some places but many towns were abandoned by Tigrayan forces before their arrival. At Negash, the al-Nejashi mosque was badly damaged with both the main building and minaret were directly hit by artillery fire. These are some of the most important parts of the mosque, whose foundations are old, even though parts have been rebuilt repeatedly. Government media later claimed Tigrayan fighters had dug trenches near the mosque in order to resist their advance, implying that this would make the mosque a legitimate target. Apart from the fact that this does not provide any excuse for shelling such a building, locals are insistent that by the time Eritrean and Ethiopian troops approached the town, Tigrayan fighters had long gone. Certainly, there was no attempt to defend either the town nor any response to the preliminary shelling. The compound of the mosque was subsequently looted extensively by Eritrean troops. [4] A church in the area, St. Amanuel, was also hit by seventeen shells from tanks and badly damaged. [5]

Al-Nejashi is one of the major heritage sites of Tigray and holds an important place

in Islamic history. Located near the town of Wukro, it was the first mosque to be built in Africa and the second in the world. It was founded in 612 CE by some of the earliest followers of the Prophet who fled from persecution by the ruling Quraysh tribe in Mecca and found safe haven in Aksum. The group included the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayuya and her husband Uthman, and the mosque was established with the consent of the then Negus of Aksum, Armah (Ashama ibn Abjar). Some of the group remained in Ethiopia and the mosque contains the tombs of 15 of the companions of the prophet. Restoration of the mosque by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency TIKA was only completed three years ago.

 

Middle East Eye (MEE) investigated the reports of the damage and the casualties. [6] It reported that artefacts, including religious manuscripts, books and letters dating as far back as the seventh century, were looted, and a shrine holding the remains of followers of the Prophet Muhammad in the Mosque was also damaged. A representative of the regional International Association of Muslims in Tigray, Ahmed Siraj, said Eritrean soldiers killed civilians trying to prevent pillaging; some reports have put the number at over 80. The Association has also reported attacks on another historic mosque near the town of Nebelet: “Eritrean soldiers entered the mosque, shot dead two brothers who were guardians of the mosque, then looted it of its valuables before hitting it with heavy weapons and significantly damaging it.” A mosque in Adigrat was also damaged. The damage to these mosques underlined that the attacks have not been confined to Christian churches but have been aimed more widely at religious sites.

 

Another city which suffered random shelling and extensive killing was Aksum, the centre of the first Ethiopian state, with its 16th century CE Cathedral of St. Mary, the place of coronation of Ethiopian emperors, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the home of the Ark of the Covenant. Exactly what happened in Aksum between 19-29 November is still a matter of uncertainty, but it does seem clear that dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians were deliberately killed on 28-29 November by Eritrean troops, possibly in supposed retaliation for some earlier resistance to their presence. In their reports on what happened, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International blamed Eritrean troops and said mass killing left hundreds dead, mostly civilians. [7] Amnesty said: “Over an approximately 24-hour period on 28-29 November, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extra-judicially executing men and boys”. Both suggested the number of dead ran into several hundred. On 10 May, a report from the Federal Attorney-general said the Eritrean forces had killed 93 people but this had occurred during “heavy fighting” against forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). [8]

 

One eye witness claimed that the first attack on Aksum came on 19 November with heavy and random shelling by Ethiopian and Eritrean artillery, followed by the arrival of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops after a two-day battle at Selekleka. There were no Tigrayan forces in the city. When the Ethiopian troops left after a week, some Eritrean troops remained and set up a base on the edge of the city on 27 November. They started patrolling the city and the surrounding area. Some fighting broke out the next day when some local militia and youths from the city attacked the Eritrean force. Later in the day, large numbers of Eritrean reinforcements arrived, some in Ethiopian army uniforms. They began shooting at any civilians around on the streets.

 

The witness said: “It is hard to estimate the exact number of people shot dead by the time the one-day battle was over, except that the number of corpses buried at the church of St. Marry of Zion was claimed to be around 720.” The next day killing continued and was accompanied by extensive looting of houses with truckloads of goods being taken away. The looting went on for three days. [9] How much damage was caused to the stelae, obelisks, monuments and other historic remains scattered around the city is still unknown. Another concern is the state of the Aksum Museum, its exhibits and storerooms in which are housed archaeological materials excavated since the early 1990s when large scale archaeological projects resumed in the Aksum area. It is not clear what has happened to these treasures.  Much of the killing is said to have taken place in the compound of the Cathedral, where people had gathered to prevent any attempt to remove the Ark which is kept in a chapel in the Cathedral compound. There were rumours that Eritrean troops planned to take it to Eritrea or that it was going to be taken to the Amhara region, for ‘safety’.

 

According to eye witnesses Debre Damo, one of the oldest and best-known monasteries in Ethiopia with a church certainly dating back to the 6th century CE was the target of shelling by Eritrean troops on 11 January. The accounts of the shelling suggest the bombardment was not aimed at any specific target in the monastery. It came from three different places and according to witnesses while “the upper part of the monastery was hit by more than 18 shells, and a total 28 shells landed in the monastery, another 100 shells fell around the base of the sheer-sided amba, [mountain], on which the monastery stands, without causing casualties.” The shelling is said to have lasted nine hours in all. One monk was killed and 26 monastic cells/houses destroyed. Eritrean troops subsequently searched the monastery on two occasions, on January 12 and 14, taking significant quantity of materials away. [10] Debre Damo hosts a significant collection of manuscripts and cultural objects. The soldiers have been quoted as telling the monks the shelling had taken place because they had been told TPLF leaders had taken refuge there.

 

Debre Damo is close to the border with Eritrea and a number of other churches in the border areas have been damaged, some severely. The newly constructed Aba Zewengel Church of Maebino Holy Cross monastery was reported demolished; and Cherkos church in Zalambessa suffered at least one direct hit from artillery fire.

 

The interruptions in communications and the continued difficulties of access to large areas of Tigray has meant it remains difficult to confirm the reports of destruction and death. Details of the numbers killed, of the damage caused to churches and mosques or of the looting that has taken place, often remain uncertain even if in the last few months more and more evidence has accumulated of the destruction of heritage assets. The damage to buildings and the numbers and identification of those killed are steadily being revealed and documented.

 

10.2 Other massacres/damage to churches and religious sites

 

Damage to churches and associated killings has clearly been quite deliberate on occasions, and it appears that on some occasions Ethiopian and Eritrean troops chose dates on which such activity would have the maximum impact in terms of causing casualties. The annual feast day of the church at the Medhane Alem church of Gu’itelo (Eastern Tigray) was 5 January. On that day, after shelling the church, Eritrean troops arrived, forced the members of the congregation still present to line up and then shot them. Four of the priests were shot and killed at the residence of the church teacher. In addition to the damage at the church, the troops killed a total of 30 civilians as well as another 16 people in the adjacent villages of Firedashum and Ara’iro, including 6 priests and 3 deacons. [11]

Dengelat is close to the town of Edga Hamus, on the road between Adigrat and Wukro. Its rock church of Maryam Dengelat in the cliffs above the village was reopened with the help of Italian mountaineers and re-consecrated by the Bishop of Adigrat only two years ago. The route to the church had been closed by a rock fall in the 17th century when the path was swept away. A new church was built near the village. Eritrean troops arrived there during the feast of Tsion Mariam and opened fire while hundreds were celebrating mass. Many were killed in the church compound; others tried to escape up the cliffs; the troops followed spraying the mountainside with bullets. [12] At least a hundred people died then and more over the next three days before the soldiers left. Many of those killed included people who had fled a few days earlier from fighting near Adigrat

 

The church of Medhanie Alem Gu’etelo in Gulomekeda (Eastern Tigray) was shelled by Eritrean artillery on the occasion of the annual Feast of Jesus on 5 January. During a four-hour bombardment, at least thirteen shells hit the church and its compound, seriously damaging the church, shattering its windows and roof, and killing many of the congregation.  When the Eritrean troops reached the church, they lined up the remaining congregants and shot them. They also killed four of the priests, altogether a total of 28 people, including nine women. [13]

 

Another massacre occurred on 5-6 January near the monastery of Debre Abay. The nearby small town of Mai Hrmaz was shelled before Ethiopian and Eritrean troops went on a killing spree, reportedly leaving more than a hundred dead. [14] Whether any of those killed included people from the monastery, or whether the monastery itself suffered attack is unclear. Debre Abay is a famous monastery, founded in the 14th century CE with a notable reputation for learning, and supporting over a hundred monks and scholars. The building was bombed by the Italians in 1935 but rebuilt in the 1950s.

 

The Freedom of Religion or Belief blog for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in February called for swift international action to save the region of Tigray. It spoke of confirmed massacres of Tigrayans and the deaths of ‘significant numbers’ of clergy and worshippers. It said it had reports of 154 deaths, including the murders of around 48 Orthodox priests in a church in Adi Fetaw, close to the Eritrean border, and of 24 priests in Edaga Arbi. It believed the attacks on churches appear to be timed to coincide with annual religious festivals, possibly to inflict maximum casualties.  It quoted a Tigrayan official: “They kill whomever they find in whichever village they get in. In the village I was in yesterday – it’s a small village – they killed 21 people, out of which seven of them were priests.” [15] CSW’s Head of Advocacy said: “The extensive destruction and looting, including of sites of historical religious importance that generate income from tourism, point to a deliberate effort to deprive the region of every means of survival and recovery.”

A letter obtained by the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper in May, apparently from EOTC members in Tigray and addressed to the Holy Synod in Addis Ababa, claimed that at least 78 “priests, deacons, choristers, and monks” had been massacred in one zone of Tigray alone in the last five months.[16] The newspaper’s report quoted other priests who thought the numbers could be much higher.  It mentioned the churches of Gergera Maryam, Adi’Zeban Karagiorgis, Kidanemihret Bosa, Taksa and the monastery of Da Abune Ayzgi as some of the churches where clergy had been killed. Witnesses have claimed Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers specifically target the churches on saint’s days in order to find larger numbers to kill. On 9 January, at a celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary at Adi’Zeban Karagiorgis, eight Ethiopian soldiers arrived, took out 12 deacons between the ages of 15 and 20 and shot them.; at Gergera Maryam, a dozen Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers entered the church where six priests were praying. All six were shot, one survived.[17]

 

A partial list of major sacred sites that had been attacked, drawn up in February, listed four churches (Cherkos in Zalembesa, burnt down by Eritrean troops; Inda Mariam and Inda Abune Aregawi, at Adi Dairo, both shelled; and Medhanie Alem Gu’etelo; three monasteries (Yeha, looted by Eritrean troops; Debra Damo, shelled and looted by Eritrean troops; and Qheretsa Mariam); Samre, bombed by the Ethiopian air force; and the Al-Nejashi mosque, Wukro, shelled and looted by Eritrean forces. [18] All were significant historic and religious centres.

 

These attacks emphasize that any right of sanctuary, a long-held custom in Ethiopia, is no longer acceptable to the armed forces of either Ethiopia or of Eritrea. At one level, much of the shelling of towns and villages appears to be arbitrary, as in the urban areas of Shire, Humera or Mekelle which Human Rights Watch, in a report in February this year, described as ‘indiscriminate’, though it emphasized that this was also a clear violation of the laws of war. [19] At the same time, the repeated coincidence of the shelling of churches and other religious sites, including mosques, on holy days when large crowds might be expected, underlines deliberation and intent.

 

10.3 Attacks on the ‘Sacred Landscapes’ and ‘Cultural Heritage’ of Tigray’

 

There is no doubt that the conflict, and the way President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy have conducted it, has damaged or threatened to damage churches and mosques, as well as archaeological remains, buildings, inscriptions, manuscripts and documents. The reported behaviour of both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops suggest that President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy have, quite deliberately, decided to destroy some of the earliest records of both Christianity and Islam in Africa. Indeed, it appears that the President of Eritrea, in his petulant determination to take revenge for military defeat in a war he himself instigated twenty years ago, and a Prime Minister of Ethiopia, aiming to ensure the removal of any critics of his policies of centralisation, acting together in an almost unparalleled demonstration of barbarism and stupidity, have decided to orchestrate the destruction of much of the major leading elements of the cultural heritage of Tigray, ignoring their value to Ethiopia, to Eritrea or to the world. Their targets have included: the al-Najashi mosque, Aksum, Debra Damo, the 7th century BCE temple at Yeha, the oldest free-standing stone structure in sub-Saharan Africa; the greatest collection of rock churches in the world, over 120 ranging from the 4th to the 15th centuries CE; and some of the earliest Christian and Muslim manuscripts. Aksum is already a UNESCO World Heritage site, but Yeha and three groups of the rock churches, those in the Gheralta, Tembien and Atsbi, are all under consideration as World Heritage sites.

 

The cultural heritage, now being destroyed in Tigray, is irreplaceable. Churches, monasteries and mosques have been damaged by the shelling or bombing of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Historical manuscripts have been looted by Eritrean troops. One early list of damaged religious sites and of the numbers of killed priests and monks included 14 churches and four monasteries damaged by bombing and artillery fire, as well as looting by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops since the start of the war. The number continues to rise.

 

The churches of Tigray have attracted pilgrims and worshippers for centuries. With their “stunning murals with depictions of Ethiopian history”, they have in recent years become a major international tourist attraction. They range from monolithic to rock-hewn and built structures, and the earliest date back to the 5th century CE or even earlier. Tigray is home to the largest collection of medieval and early medieval rock churches in the world and there has been repeated military activity near or around many of the most famous churches. The town of Hawzien, for example, has been a major centre for tourism in the Gheralta mountains where the some of the most spectacular rock churches lie, and it has been attacked or occupied on several occasions by Eritrean or Ethiopian forces.

 

In February 2018, the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ethiopia submitted its nominations for the ‘Sacred Landscapes of Tigray’ to the tentative list of World Heritage Sites in the cultural category. [20] In its application, the Ministry said: “Tigray is home to 121 rock-hewn churches, believed to represent the single largest group of rock-hewn architecture in the world. Eighty of these churches, dating from the 5th to 14th centuries AD, as well as a small number of masonry-and-timber built churches, which include some of the oldest timber structures surviving worldwide (6th – 10th centuries AD), are located in the Sacred Landscapes of Tigray.” It added that a significant number of churches had wall-paintings and many retained treasures in the form of manuscripts, portable paintings and liturgical objects, including examples which had survived from the Middle Ages.

 

The Ministry’s nomination covered three separate areas in eastern Tigray: ‘The Sacred Landscape of Gheralta’; ‘The Sacred Landscape of Tembien’; and ‘The Sacred Landscape of Atsbi’.[21]

 

Gheralta includes twenty-eight rock-hewn monuments carved into the sandstone were excavated at different dates from the 5th – 14th centuries CE. They are located in a “spectacular landscape of great scenic beauty, access to many of them is extremely challenging and, in some cases, involves climbing vertical surfaces … or walking along a narrow ledge with a vertical drop below.” Wall-paintings date from the 13th –19th centuries CE. All remain in use and many hold paintings, crosses, crowns, sistra, drums and other religious artefacts. Tembien has twenty-eight rock-hewn churches dating largely to the second half of the Middle Ages and are a coherent group in terms of age and function. Many are associated with living monasteries. Many possess important ecclesiastical treasures, especially manuscripts and crosses.

 

Atsbi to the east is at the eastern edge of the highland plateau and includes twenty-four rock-hewn churches, as well as three very early timber-and-masonry built churches. Among the rock-hewn churches is Mikael Amba, 8th – 10th centuries CE which incorporates important early woodwork; others are Mikael Barka, Mikael Mitsua and Abuna Aregawi Afa’anti. Debra Selam Mikael is a cave church of timber-and-masonry construction with the upper parts and the rear wall carved out of the solid rock, and together with Tcherqos Agabo and Zarema Giyorgis, are amongst the oldest churches in Ethiopia and the oldest timber structures in the world, dating between the 6th and 10th centuries CE. Debra Selam Mikael also has an outstanding and extensive series of wall-paintings, dating to the 11th/12th century.

 

The Ministry’s justification of outstanding universal value for these Sacred Landscapes notes that they incorporate “the largest group of rock-hewn architectural ensembles in the world.” The spiritual practices associated with them preserve “in an Ethiopian context a living survival of the oldest forms of Christian monasticism”. They exist in a landscape whose integrity has been maintained by the continuation of traditional farming practices, and which have survived without threat from development. The rock-hewn churches retain their original form, design and materials, in their original setting, with few subsequent alterations. They also illustrate successive influences on Ethiopian culture from 4th century Egypt to the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century CE, and provide a testimony to the civilization of medieval Ethiopia.

 

The area around Hawzien town and the Gheralta mountains appears to have been the scene of considerable fighting for several months. [22] One eyewitness account of the activities of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops noted military operations at Hawzien and along the road running past the Gheralta mountains in November 2020.[23]  There were reports in January of “extensive looting” in the Gheralta area, and that Hawzien had been seriously damaged by shell fire. Additional Eritrean troops were said to have appeared in late January, and there was further fighting and indiscriminate bombing of Hawzien in mid-February and early March. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops shelled Hawzien in April with 30 deaths reported. The most recent report was in May when there was “active and random shelling in Hawzien and its vicinity”, and of fighting at the village of Abune Y’ma’eta Guh, closest to one of the best-known of the rock churches, on May 7 between Ethiopian troops and Tigrayan forces. Villagers said after the fighting Eritrean troops arrived the next day and shot 21 of the villagers. 19 died, including 7 children under 10, one a month-old baby. Nine belonged to one family. Four-and-a-half-year-old Samrawit, shot twice in the leg and also attacked with a machete, survived and her father managed to get her to hospital in Mekelle after a two-day journey. [24]

 

Fighting in and around Hawzien poses a direct threat to many nearby churches in the Gheralta area, among the best-known of which are: Abraha wa Atsbha,  Debre Tsion (Abune Abraham), Selassie Dugum, Debre Maryam Korkor, Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yemata Guh. Some of these churches are, of course, exceptionally difficult to reach. In the past, their isolation has protected them, but tourism has put them firmly ‘on the map’. They have become a major tourist destination in the last decade or so with the town of Hawzien developing as a tourist centre with hotels and lodges being built in and around the town and along the road, including the highly recommended Gheralta Lodge and Korkor Lodge. The former has reportedly been destroyed. Now the churches are no longer hidden, and fighting in this area puts all of them seriously at risk, particularly with Eritrean and Ethiopian troops under orders to loot and destroy.

 

A number of archaeological sites have also been affected by the conflict – Mai Adrasha, a pre-Aksumite site at Shire which has been the scene of some heavy fighting. A total of 14 or so archaeological excavations were taking place in Tigray and at least half a dozen, including Beta Samati, Mifsas Bahri, Adi Ketema (Adi Gorazu), Gulo Makeda, Wukro Gaewa, and Yeha, have seen fighting or suffered from looting. Eritrean troops looted Yeha and surrounding villages as well as taking church materials form the nearby Abune Mezraete monastery. There were also reports that the archaeological site had been looted. [25] Yeha and the nearby site of Beta Samati are both of major archaeological importance.

 

Only nine months before the outbreak of war in Tigray, the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism submitted an application for ‘The Cultural Heritage of Yeha’ to be declared a World Heritage Site to UNESCO, in March 2020. The site includes two monumental buildings, the Grat Be’al Geubri Palace and the Great Temple of Yeha and two cemetery areas, the rock cut shaft tombs of Da’ero Mikael and the tombs of Abiy Addi dating to the early and middle of the first millennium BC. [26]

The Great Temple of Yeha, whose walls are well preserved up to 14 metres, which dates to about the 7th century BC and was dedicated to the god Almaqah.[27] It was converted to a monastery in the 6th century CE, the Monastery of Abune Aftsie, one of the Nine Saints who came to the area at the end of the 5th century CE from Syria. The monastery was moved to its nearby present location in the early 20th century. The Palace of Be’al Geubri dating to the 8th century BC, lies close to the north east of the Temple.  It measured at least 27 meters high, a multi-storey palace, constructed in wood-stone architecture and is the largest known timber-framed building in East Africa and South Arabia and the oldest example south of the Sahara. It marks the beginning of a long tradition of wood-framed constructions in the region. The Da’ero Mikael rock tombs, seventeen rock-cut graves dating to the first millennium BCE, are believed to have belonged to the rulers who lived at the palace. The other group of nine tombs at Abiy Addi have collective burials and also date to the first millennium BCE.

 

The Ministry’s application points out that Yeha offers early evidence for the emergence of a complex culture in the Northern Horn or in the sub-Saharan Africa in general. It was a “political, religious and cultural Centre of highly centralised complex societies in the early first Millennium BC, the first capital city of the Ethiopia state before its transfer to Aksum.” It notes the buildings are of high quality and the Great Temple, one of the best preserved architectural remains in Africa, is the earliest surviving structure in sub-Saharan Africa. It provides unique evidence of the cultural exchanges between Africa and Saudi Arabia, as well as archaeological evidence for metal working and for the introduction of the working of metals, the first evidence for the formation of a centralized state in Ethiopia.

 

Yeha is at the centre of an area of major tourist and archaeological interest.  Only a few miles away is Beta Samati where recent archaeological excavations have produced major discoveries in the last few years. It seems to have been an administrative centre occupied from 8th cent BCE to the 7th cent CE, and excavations have found the complete layout of an ancient basilica, with characteristic Aksumite architectural walls and a Ge’ez inscription probably reading ‘for this entrance, Christ be favourable to us’. The site also shows evidence of food preparation, (with the bones of cattle, sheep, goats, dik-dik, donkeys, camels and chickens along with wild birds, as well as t’ef, wheat and barley), metal and glass production, as well as commercial activities and long distant trade, including pottery from the Byzantine empire. [28] Beta Samati provides important new evidence of Aksumite and pre-Aksumite societies and the continuity between them. It offers the chance to increase knowledge of Aksum’s international trade, the conversion to Christianity and of the end of the Aksumite empire.

 

There are also other sites beyond Yeha, including Meqaber Ga’ewa, some 90 km to the south east, dating to the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, where there is also a temple, some of whose details are similar to those of Yeha. It again shows links with South Arabian cultures and the remains, including votive offerings, demonstrate “the convergence of local and South Arabian cultural traditions of the first millennium BC.”

 

10.4 The concern of international scholars

 

Scholars around the world have been horrified by the increasing cultural and religious losses in Tigray. It has been called ‘cultural cleansing’, an attempt to literally erase Tigrayan culture. But it is also far more. It is a deliberate effort to destroy the central elements of the cultural heritage not just of Tigray but of Ethiopia, and of the other peoples of Ethiopia, including the Amhara and the Oromo, and of Eritrea. The destruction of the one involves the destruction of the other. Indeed, it also involves the destruction of a substantial element of the world’s cultural heritage. Among the treasures at risk are some of the oldest Christian manuscripts, religious relics, and historic Islamic sites in the world.

 

The levels of destruction and the seizures of property of all kinds in the towns as Ethiopian and Eritrean troops advanced towards Mekelle, as well as the obvious intent to loot, has raised international alarm over the fate of church treasures. It seems clear that in some cases at least, the pillaging of towns and churches, have been intended to profit those involved. Almost as soon as Eritrean troops were seen in Tigray, there were reports of looted goods turning up on the streets and markets of Asmara. As might be expected, these did not include church treasures nor manuscripts. Valuables seized from religious sites are unlikely to end up on the streets of Asmara; they will go to those more able to benefit from their greater value when sold overseas.

 

The treatment of churches and other religious sites, however, and the killing of priests has reinforced worries about the possible fate of what amounts, in total, to one of the great treasures of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in Tigray and in Ethiopia, and indeed of Christianity: the collections of Geez manuscripts, found in the churches of Tigray. They have been described as “indispensable sources for scholars of early Christianity, late antique Ethiopia and even early Islam…not only among the earliest complete texts of the Christian scripture, but also [providing] us with a rare glimpse into the language, religion and history of ancient Ethiopia.” One Canadian scholar, Professor Gervers, professor of history at the University of Toronto, stresses they are of the highest importance for Christian culture and the cultural heritage of Judeo-Christianity, and “their loss or displacement would be disastrous”.[29]

 

Concern has been growing as more and more reports have detailed the destruction being carried out by Ethiopian and more often by Eritrean troops during the fighting in November and subsequently. An article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph in January said: Churches and mosques in Ethiopia are being attacked and their sacred treasures looted, with international experts warning of historical vandalism and cultural cleansing”.[30] The report said there were reports of Christian manuscripts being stolen from churches and monasteries, and burned, some manuscripts as old as the 13th century, and of historic Muslim sites being damaged and looted. Professor Gervers described this as “cultural cleansing;” it appeared “The government and the Eritreans want to wipe out the Tigrayan culture… The looting is about destroying and removing the cultural presence of Tigray… They’re emptying the physical evidence of culture from the province.” He said there had been reports that around 800 Ge’ez manuscripts had been looted from the Shire region. German academic, Dr. Wolbert Smidt, said the “attacks and battles around, at and nearby such sites, show a very great danger for them”. Breaking “the traditional rule of sacred places being absolute sanctuaries”, he said, was a tragedy, both for an “already deeply-shocked local population” and the world’s heritage. The Telegraph report said it was also believed that artefacts had been stolen from the Al-Nejashi Mosque, including religious manuscripts, books and letters, dating back to the seventh century. [31]

 

The humanitarian crisis rightly takes precedence over everything else, but the sacred sites and treasures of Ethiopia that are now at risk are of incalculable value to the history of Christianity and its development and to the people of Ethiopia and their history and culture. Professor Alison Phipps, Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Glasgow University, has underlined that: “Attacks on cultural heritage are devastating in the context of war as they speak of the destruction of the soul of a people, of things which have endured through the ancestors.”

 

Professor Catherine D’Andrea, director of the Eastern Tigray archaeological project at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, said the region was “truly blessed with numerous and varied forms of tangible and intangible cultural patrimony”.[32] They include monumental architecture such as the UNESCO world heritage site of Aksum, rock-hewn churches and remains of one of the earliest mosques in Africa. “In addition, there are less visible cultural treasures, including manuscripts, paintings, oral traditions and artefacts held by churches and monasteries scattered throughout rural areas of Tigray. These tend to be not fully documented, so we can’t even begin to calculate the potential losses if destroyed or pillaged.” Overall, there are believed to be some 4,000 churches and monasteries in Tigray.

 

The specific threat to cultural and religious buildings was underlined in report in January, written by Alula Tesfay Asfha a lecturer at Mekelle university who specialises in heritage conservation in Tigray.[33] He notes the early invasions under which Tigray suffered conflict, destruction and pillage: Yehudit Gudit, an Agaw queen in the 10th century CE, Ahmed ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, Emir of Adal in the 16th century, CE, and the Italian invasions of 1894-96 and 1935-41. And goes on: “With this historical reality in mind and in light of what we know of the current conflict in Tigray, it is not difficult to determine that the War on Tigray poses a great risk to cultural and religious heritage be it from intentional destruction, as collateral damage, or organised looting. There have been reports and photographic evidence of intentional attacks against buildings (mosques and churches included) and monuments recognized as both local and international historical heritage sites.” [34]

 

The prestigious Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies issued an appeal In January for ‘the salvation of the cultural heritage of Tigray’. It was signed by 23 scholars and endorsed by another seventy from around the world. It emphasized the concern of the scholastic and academic community for the “highly endangered and directly affected” cultural property of Tigray. It noted Tigray hosted an “extraordinarily rich cultural heritage that had contributed to the development of the region and the entire country and has increased the visibility of Ethiopia as one of the most vibrant tourist destinations in Africa.” It pointed out there had been extensive progress in recent years in studying and preserving “newly recorded historical artefacts and manuscripts, archaeological sites, new museums, restored historical buildings, paintings and manuscripts, and collections of research data”. It expressed concern over the reports that hostilities had been taking place close to renowned cultural sites and that some might have been plundered and looted, mentioning ‘sites of symbolic importance for all of Ethiopia’ including Yeha, al-Najashi Mosque, the church of Maryam Dengelat, the monastery of Dabra Abbay [35],  the monastery of Dabra Dammo, and Aksum city, already on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

The Centre noted reports that manuscripts were being looted from churches and monasteries and the danger that they might now be taken out of Ethiopia to be sold abroad. It appealed for state institutions to do everything possible to protect ‘the cultural property of Tigray’ from further destruction, to investigate reported cases of loss and looting and do everything possible to protect research materials from misappropriation and dispersion. The scholars also called on all parties to refrain from attacking this heritage and to respect the places where it had been preserved   The Centre said it was “increasingly concerned by the effect of the conflict on the cultural heritage of Tigray.” It appealed to all parties “to abstain from attacking the cultural heritage and to respect the integrity of the places, both religious and secular, where this heritage is preserved”. [36]

 

One of the recent projects of the British Library’s Endangered Archives Program (EAP) was Identifying endangered monastic collections in the Säharti and Enderta regions of Tigray (Ethiopia) (EAP357)’.[37] It aimed to make a survey of the monastic libraries in the Säharti and Enderta regions, travelling to thirty or so selected churches or monastic sites and documenting the content of each library holding to identify rare books and collections. The team visited and surveyed 32 sites, finding the majority of the collections were of hymns, liturgical manuscripts, homilies, Psalters, and scriptures (particularly of the Gospels). Three of the libraries consulted had a wide range of theological, philosophical and exegetical works, including rare manuscripts both in Geez and Amharic, but held in poor storage.

 

Others in the region have become concerned. Five exiled opposition Eritrean organisations at the end of December 2020 called for an end to killings and looting in Tigray by Eritrean Forces.[38] They said the killings had been accompanied by widespread looting, including centuries-old religious artefacts, by organised groups coordinated from Eritrea. It referred to reports of lorries being sent to accompany Eritrean units whose specific mission was to remove anything of value that they could lay their hands on. This loot was being taken to Eritrea, where most of it was being stockpiled though some was appearing in local markets. The statement said: “These crimes go against Eritrean core values of decency, respect for fellow human beings, honesty and integrity. Theft and looting are frowned upon and thieves treated as ‘outcasts’ in our society. These values are ingrained in Eritrean society and make us who we are. The abuses, looting and killings that are now being perpetrated in Tigray are a clear manifestation of the atrocities our people endured in the hands of President Isaias over the last three decades. They are cowardly, disgusting, abhorrent and shameful acts.” The call was signed by Eritrea Focus; Global Initiative to Empower Eritrean Grassroots Movement; Human Rights Concern Eritrea; Release Eritrea; and Yiakl (Bayto)-UK.[39]

 

At the end of January, the Global Society of Tigray Scholars addressed a letter to Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, drawing attention to “issues that squarely fall under your good office’s purview and express our deepest concern about the unprecedented damages that are being purposefully and systematically perpetrated on heritage sites across Tigray. We note that what is going on in Tigray is pertinent to many articles featured in the “1972 World Heritage Convention” as well as the “Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention 1954”.[40] The letter notes the “exquisitely carved 1,700 years old monolithic tomb marker obelisks” which risk crumbling if explosions occur nearby. It speaks of the “credible reports of widespread state-sponsored looting and destruction occurring in many locations within the Aksum World Heritage site. It stresses many monuments, archaeological sites, artefacts and ancient manuscripts are focus of looting despite resistance of local people and the clergy, adding that “with Eritrean forces and their Ethiopian enablers apparently determined to ransack Tigray of its precious heritage, almost all sites and antiquities of Tigray face imminent danger and pillage.” They are clearly at risk.

In January, Tigrayan scholars were sure that the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean army and Amhara regional forces were openly engaged in heritage destruction and looting. The situation has only deteriorated further.

 

Ethiopian Christian manuscripts written in Ge’ez, contain precious and vital information on the history, culture and traditions of Ethiopia. There remain, according to some estimates, over 350,000 Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in Ethiopia, a major proportion of them to be found in Tigray. There has previously been some concern over their state as Ethiopia has no national preservation program to identify, document and assemble valuable monastic collections. Even before the opportunities now offered by civil war and military looting, manuscripts have been disappearing. The Tigray Bureau of Culture and Tourism had been working to compile a list of manuscripts found in some churches and monasteries. But this is neither complete nor exhaustive.

 

One major item of concern has been the Garima Gospels, an illuminated gospel book in two volumes, kept in the Abba Garima monastery, to the east of Adua in the Mehakelegnaw zone of Tigray. They are of incalculable importance as radio-carbon dating suggests the possibility they might even have actually been written by Abba Garima himself, one of the nine Syrian saints believed to have arrived in Ethiopia around 480 CE. One volume is now dated to between 390-570 CE; and the other to between 530-660 CE. [41] They are therefore likely to be the world’s earliest surviving illuminated Christian manuscripts. Michelle Brown, a former British Library curator, described the Garima Gospels as casting “vital light upon early Christian illuminated manuscript production and the role of sub-Saharan Africa”. They offer an example of the lost late antique art of Ethiopia, as well as the Christian East. They are closely related to Syriac, Armenian, Greek, and Georgian gospel books and to the art of late antique (“Coptic”) Egypt, Nubia, and Himyar (Yemen), demonstrating how the distinctive Christian culture developed in Aksum, and its links to the late antique Mediterranean world.

 

The survival of the Garima Gospels has been almost miraculous, not least because the monastery has been in the frontline before. Even if it survived the fall of Aksum unscathed in the 8th century CE, it was probably overrun and looted in the 16th century by Ahmed Gran; in the 1890s the area was subject to Italian invasion; and the main church of the monastery was destroyed by fire in the 1930s. Despite their long history, the manuscript’s illuminations remain bright, vibrant and colourful. It suggests they were hidden away in the dark, and only rediscovered fairly recently. Today, they are facing new dangers.

 

In mid-February, employees of the Mekelle Diocese which includes a total of 45 monasteries, issued a statement which noted that “most of the tangible and intangible heritages registered with UNESCO” were held by the Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church and were at “risk of being looted and destroyed”. The statement said almost all monasteries and religious schools in Tigray had been bombed or shelled. It claimed: “Historic and religious books and archives that belong to different monasteries and churches which are symbols of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and sources of tourism have been looted and destroyed.” This was still continuing. They called upon the Eritrean and Amhara region invaders to stop all atrocities, the looting of public property, artefacts, and treasures, and to leave Tigray immediately. Noting Tigray was the cradle of ancient civilization and religion and was known for being the home of the Ark of the Covenant, they stressed most of the tangible and intangible heritage for Ethiopia registered with UNESCO were from the Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church. They called for “the immediate return of artefacts, treasures, and properties looted by the invading Eritrean army and the Amhara forces” and for the “protection of our heritage”, as well as for the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to the priests, deacons, and monks in the monasteries and churches who had been deprived of food and water due to the war. [42]

 

Some responses have been surprisingly muted. Despite the human rights’ abuses committed in Tigray and the destruction of churches, neither the Patriachate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) in Addis Ababa, nor the other churches in Ethiopia, have had much to say about events in Tigray. The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ethiopia, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, did send as delegation to investigate the damage to Catholic church facilities in Adigrat in January. The delegation reported that that priests and nuns in a church compound were forced to witness heavy fighting after a church compound had been taken over and used as a military command centre, that the Adigrat seminary building and water tanker were damaged by shelling, a chapel at the cemetery was damaged, and windows of the church school were damaged and broken. It noted that an Orthodox church, a mosque and other church buildings near the Catholic church were damaged. The delegation also reported that offices and classrooms at the Wukro St. Mary’s Catholic College were broken and looted, with laptops and computers stolen, and the solar panel for power taken.

 

The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Abune Mathias, has also spoken of the threat to the heritage of Tigray, of the destruction of churches and the killing of priests. His message was recorded on the IPhone of a visitor in April and smuggled out of Addis Ababa. So it was only on 7 May, that in his first public message since the start of the war, he was able to speak of barbaric deeds being committed in Ethiopia and especially in Tigray: “What is happening in Tigray is of the highest brutality and cruelty… Genocide is being committed now, especially [targeting] our civilian brethren.” He spoke of the killing of innocent citizens in cities, villages, homes, the raping of women, the complete looting of Tigrayan property, “aiming at wiping out the people of Tigray”, and of massacres, forced starvation, and of the destruction of churches and looting. “They shoot at churches; they shoot at monasteries, at Aksum, at Debre Damo. The cannon bombardment at Debre Damo is very shocking…. The monks of Waldibba have been driven out of their home where they had lived their entire lives and have been dispersed…. It’s not just Aksum and Debre Damo; the new church in Asimba, Bahitawi Zewengel, has been hit. In Mariam Denegleat, people who had been praying had been made to fall like leaves outside the church.” The Patriarch asks God to strengthen the people of Tigray – “All shall pass, so this too may pass…May God take away all this and bring us an era of peace”, before concluding “What has the people of Tigray done, what is its crime, so much so that they strive to wipe it off the face of the earth? Genocide is being committed. The world ought to know.” [43]

 

The conflict has caused divisions within the church and the statement by the Patriarch has underlined the divide. Back in mid-November, the Synod of the EOTC publicly announced its support for the ‘I stand with the Ethiopian Army campaign” in Tigray launched by the Prime Minister. Since then, the Synod has made no criticism of the destruction of churches, the killing of priests, and religious figures or the impact of the war. Following the statement by the Patriarch, the Holy Synod did hold an emergency meeting but only to distance itself from the Patriarch. The Secretary-General of the Synod, Abune Yosef, gave a press conference to stress that the message of the Patriarch regarding the situation in Tigray did not represent the Holy Synod and to insist that any official Church announcement had to be approved by the general assembly of the Holy Synod. The Patriarch, who is himself from Tigray, did not in fact mention the Synod or the Church.

 

The failure of the Synod to condemn what has been happening in Tigray, its apparent support for the government’s policies in Tigray, and the virtual house arrest of the Patriarch, has led to calls to establish a separate Tigray Orthodox Church. A Global Orthodox Tewahdo Association of Tigrayan Clergies was set up on 21 November, “to enable our [Tigrayan] people to retain their Orthodox Tewahedo religion, [Tigrayan] culture, and history and instil these Tigrayan values into their children, …. and make every necessary preparation for the establishment of a Church Council of the Tigray Orthodox Tewahido Church of the future state of Tigray.”[44]

 

[1] https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/

[2] Associated Press, 18 February 2021

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/ethiopia-axum-massacre-church-mary-zion-ark-covenant-tigray.html

[3] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/ethiopia-tigray-nejashi-mosque-conflict-damage

[4] ‘No more sacred places’: Heritage sites under siege in Tigray conflict 30.4.2021)

[5] https://www.eepa.be/ Situation Report EEPA Horn No. 81 10.2.2021

[6] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/ethiopia-tigray-nejashi-mosque-conflict-damage

[7] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/ethiopia-eritrean-troops-massacre-of-hundreds-of-Aksum-civilians-may-amount-to-crime-against-humanity/; https://eritreahub.org/human-rights-watch-the-full-report-on-the-Aksum-massacre

[8] https://waltainfo.com/attorney-general-discloses-report-regarding-criminal-investigation-on-crimes-acted-in-Aksum/

[9] https://www.ethiopia-insight.com/2021/03/26/unholy-deeds-in-tigrays-holy-city/

[10] https://www.eepa.be/Situation-Report-EEPA-Horn-No.-85-16-February-2021.pdf

[11] https://wiki2.org/en/Medhane-Alem_church_massacre_in_Gu%27itelo

[12] https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/26/africa/ethiopia-tigray-dengelat-massacre-intl/index.html

[13] https://addisabram.wordpress.com/2021/05/05/tigraygenocide-massacre-in-the-church-of-medhanie-alem-guetelo-on-the-parishs-most-important-day-of-the-year-the-festival-of-jesus-the-savior-of-guetolo/

[14] https://tghat.com/2021/02/08/a-graphic-footage-of-the-debre-abay-massacre-what-do-we-know-about-it/

[15] https://forbinfull.org/2021/02/04/the-intl-community-must-act-swiftly-to-save-tigray-region/ 4.2.2021

[16] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/terror-and-security/least-78-priests-massacred-one-zone-tigray-leaked-letter-claims/

[17] https://www.eepa.be/  Situation Report EEPA Horn No.145. 11.5.2021

[18] https://meketetigray.uk/2021/02/22/list-of-facilities-industries-buildings-cultural-heritages-and-infrastructures-destroyed-looted-burned-or-damaged-by-ethiopian-army-eritrean-troops-and-amhara-forces-in-the-war-on-tigray/

[19] https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/11/ethiopia-unlawful-shelling-tigray-urban-areas

[20]  https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6301/

[21] https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6301/

[22] https://www.eepa.be/ Notice of fighting in or around Hawzien/Hawzen can be found in Situation Reports Nos:148 (18.5.2021), 123 (9.4.2021), 119 (5.4.2021), 96 (3.3.2021), 85 (16.2.2021), 72 (31.1.2021) and 50 (9.1.2021)

[23] https://tghat.com/2021/05/01/what-i-witnessed-about-the-war-in-gulle-kilte-awlaelo-tigray/

[24] https://www.tghat.com/2021/05/24/a-massacre-in-abuna-yemata-guh-at-the-foot-of-the-famous-rock-hewn-church/. See also: https://www.eepa.be/. Situation report No. 148 (18.5.2021)

[25] https://www.eepa.be  Situation Report EEPA Horn No.42, 31.12.20; Situation Report EEPA Horn No. 66, 25.21.

[26] https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6477/

[27] https://www.culthernews.de/the-great-temple-of-yeha-ethiopia/

[28] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/beta-samati-discovery-and-excavation-of-an-aksumite-town/643FA872A5B2F9B5E0E765D850C4A526

 

[29] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-where-are-the-garima-gospels-in-ethiopia-scholars-fear-the-worst-for/

[30] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/01/17/churches-mosques-tigray-vandalised-looted-ethiopian-purge/

[31] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/ethiopia-tigray-nejashi-mosque-conflict-damage

[32] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/24/fabled-ark-could-be-among-ancient-treasures-in-danger-in-ethiopias-deadly-war

[33] https://www.tghat.com/2021/01/26/tigray-heritage-at-risk-due-to-the-ar-on-tigray/

[34] https://tghat.com/2021/01/26/tigray-heritage-at-risk-due-to-the-ar-on-tigray/

[35] https://www.apollo-magazine.com/ethiopian-manuscripts-virgin-mary/

[36] https://www.aai.uni-hamburg.de/en/ethiostudies/news/appeal2021.html

[37] https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP357 – Identifying endangered monastic collections in the Säharti and Enderta regions of Tigray (Ethiopia).

[38] A call to stop the killings and looting in Tigray by Eritrean Forces – Eritrea Hub

[39] https://hrc-eritrea.org/a-call-to-stop-the-killings-and-looting-in-tigray-by-eritrean-forces/. www.eritrea-focus.org; www.change.org/p/global-initiative-to-empower-eritrean-grassroots-movement-gieegm-an-urgent-call-to-all-eritreans-worldwide; www.hrc-eritrea.org; www.release-eritrea.org; www.yiakl.uk.

[40] https://meketetigray.uk/2021/02/08/situation-report-eepa-horn-no-79-08-february-2021/

[41] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garima_Gospels

[42] https://meketetigray.uk/2021/03/21/statement-of-the-employees-of-mekelle-diocese-and-of-the-administrators-of-45-monasteries-and-churches/

[43] https://eritreahub.org/abune-mathias-accuses-ethiopian-government-of-genocide-in-tigray-the-taboo-of-taboos-the-despicable-of-despicables-is-being-committed. See also:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSkc-XSlwy0&t=712s (Amharic)

 

[44] https://tghat.com/2021/04/17/ethiopian-orthodox-churchs-betrayal-and-the-rebirth-of-the-tigray-orthodox-church/; see also https://meketetigray.uk/2021/03/08/the-war-on-tigray-heightens-schism-in-the-ethiopian-orthodox-church/

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