800 believed killed in Ethiopia's November massacre

The region had been cut off from outsiders and Ethiopia's PM had shut down the internet and mobile networks.

Credit : Sky News

Almost 800 civilians are believed to have been killed while defending the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ from looters amidst the Ethiopian massacre last year. The violent clash took place in November 2020 at the Church of St Mary of Zion in Axum – the holiest city of Ethiopia in the Tigray region. Since the region had been cut off from outsiders and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had shut down the internet and mobile networks, the news has only now emerged to the rest of the world.

Fearing that their most sacred treasure was going to be taken away, the worshippers of the church panicked and raced into harm’s way to defend it. Recounting the violent clash, Getu Mak, 32, a university lecturer, told The Times, “When people heard the shooting, they ran to the church to give support to the priests and others who were there protecting the ark. Certainly, some of them were killed for doing that.” Getu stated that news of troops destroying and stealing artifacts since the conflicts began had prompted fears that the Ark could be taken to another city or that it would disappear forever.

According to The Times, a deacon from Axum had helped in gathering the bodies and collecting the ID cards, while assisting with mass burials. He believes that the pro-government forces were responsible for the attack on these 800 people, who were killed in and around the church as their bodies were left on the city’s streets for days. “They killed people and took everything they could — from the electronics shop, the bars. There were many corpses,” the deacon said.

The Axum church had become a place of refuge for the Ethiopians in the Tigray region who had fled the country’s civil war. However, it came under siege last year in November following clashes between government forces and rebel militia. The conflict began on November 4th, 2020, when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized control of federal military bases in Tigray. Almost three weeks later, on November 28th, 2020, the Ethiopian government forces, led by PM Ahmed, captured the regional capital Merkelle and ousted the TPLF, which has held power for 30 years until April 2018. However, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichae has vowed to continue fighting the government forces. 

This conflict of power has led to a humanitarian crisis as 4.5 million people face mass starvation and require urgent humanitarian aid. While the world struggles to access the Tigray region to investigate the alleged atrocities and deliver aid to millions of people, the Prime Minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea, has rejected any outside interference.