Despite its beauty, Ethiopian government allows genocide
Ethiopia is home to 80 ethnic groups, in which more than 88 languages are spoken. A beautiful and incredibly diverse country with valleys that spread across thousands of green acres to historic landmarks that include the Nile River, it is known for its rich culture with 1,000-year-old traditions.
It’s also home to tragic and mindless bloodshed of its own people, with countless incidents of ethnic cleansing.
Behind the image of peace, love and serenity are ethnic groups suffering from extreme prejudice and violence.
It’s been 15 years since the brutal massacre of the Anuak tribe in Ethiopia in December 2003. The Ethiopian National Defense Force, or ENDF, killed 424 indigenous Ethiopians simply forr oil, land and other natural resources. More than 400 Anuak houses burned to the ground, and many more civilians fled into the forest or took shelter in compounds belonging to two of the town’s largest churches.
Forty four years-ago under the Derg communist regime from 1974 to 1987, Ethiopia endured one of the worst genocidal man-made famines of the 20th century. Tens of thousands of Amhara, Tigray and Oromo highlanders were resettled into Anuak traditional territory during this period and stayed, even after the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991.
This led to the first occupation of Anuak land, forcefully driving off natives through intimidation, murder and rape, which growing worse when oil was discovered under by the Gambela Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Pinewood Resources, Ltd. of Canada.
A small, peaceful tribe that survived off of fishing and farming, the Anuaks lived in tight-knit communities and didn’t have much communication with the outside world. The Anuaks were also opposed to military service because it was against their moral code to fight people they didn’t know or hadn’t personally wronged them.
When the Derg started kidnapping Anuak men in March 1983 for forced recruitment, many young Anuaks fled to Sudan or into the forests to escape, leaving their villages and women vulnerable to rape and torture. Years later, the start of a coordinated military operation to systematically eliminate Anuaks began again on December 13, 2003 as an estimated 30,000 and 80,000 Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, troops were deployed on Anuak land, carrying out mass terrorist attacks to wipe out the Anuak people and their history.
At least 1,500 and perhaps as many as 2,500 Anuak civilians died in the fighting, most of them intellectuals, public figures, leaders and other educated people. They were targeted. Hundreds more are declared missing but were probably murdered as well. More than 50,000 Anuaks have fled the terrorism of their native land and bloodshed of their family and friends. Numerous rural villages where Anuaks and other ethnic minorities resided had been similarly attacked, looted and torched. Thousands of Anuak homes were burned to the ground.
An early warning of Ethiopia’s genocidal plans: the mass raping of Anuak women, a terrible and tragic weapon of war. Anuak women and girls were routinely raped, gang-raped and kept as sexual slaves by EPRDF forces in the absence of the men of their village. Some of the rapists reportedly declared, “Now you won’t have an Anuak child.”
Before the 2003 massacre, there were some tensions and minor quarrels regarding land and territory between the Anuaks and other minority groups. Seeing the opportunity to use this against them, the Ethiopian government claimed the killings were a result of tribal warfare — a clear attempt to manipulate the public.
However, several investigations and the severity of attacks showed that the Ethiopian government had not only authorized the attacks but was involved with them as well.
Sources from inside the military government’s police and intelligence network say the code name of the military operation was “OPERATION SUNNY MOUNTAIN.”
Because public mourning is not allowed, those who want to remember family members and friends who died must quietly grieve their losses in the privacy of their homes and with heavy hearts. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front and EPRDF regime wants to erase it from the memory of the Anuaks, but we cannot let this happen.
Today, the government is forcing the indigenous people of southwest Ethiopia off their ancestral land and selling it to foreign companies. Bulldozers are destroying their forests, crops and birthrights that have been a part of their history and a means of their survival. Meanwhile, thousands of indigenous people are being forced into government-sponsored villages which soon turned into refugee camps, stripping away the Anuak people’s identity, culture and livelihood.
The Ethiopian government’s decision to wipe out citizens based on their racial or ethnic identities needs to be brought to light and addressed in manners that will invoke change. Because Ethiopia’s government robs, kills and oppresses its own people, it’s up to us to bring these issues to light and remember what they have tried to make us forget.
We can no longer dismiss these atrocities done to our own people for the sake of maintaining international relations and keeping up a fake public image of tranquility.
Whether we like it or not, ethnicism is still prominent in Ethiopian culture. We exude an image of unity and pride, but the division that plagues our people back home is still as persistent as it was years ago.
If we continue to ignore the massacre of our own people, our history will be tainted with bloodshed and will become the ruins of what was once a beautiful country.
Assistant opinion editor Bethel Biru is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected].