A Tigrayan-Irob Mother’s Experience during the Genocidal War on Tigray
This is the story of my 62-year-old mother who recently made it to Canada after living through 7 months of the genocidal war on Tigray. My mother managed to escape the atrocities being committed by the invading Ethiopian, Eritrean, Amhara, and other foreign forces a few days before the Tigrayan Defense Force (TDF) took control of Tigray’s capital of Mekelle and other Tigrayan cities and towns. In hopes of shedding light on what Irob-Tigrayans, an ethnic minority living in the northeastern Tigray on the Eritrean border, have been going through, I decided to interview my mother and share her story with the world.
What was it like to be living through the genocidal war for the past 7 months?
Well, unfortunately, I have lived through three major political upheavals and wars. The most significant ones being that of the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean border war and now the current genocidal war, both of which were orchestrated by Eritrea’s dictator Isaias Afwerki to weaken and undermine the people of Tigray.
Tell me a little bit about the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war and how it impacted the people of Tigray and particularly, the Irob who are an ethnic minority?
The atrocities committed by the Eritrean army at that time are very similar to the current war tactics of the current genocidal war on Tigray. The Eritrean army used rape as a weapon of war, they looted our properties, they destroyed our infrastructures and massacared civilians. What is happening now, though, is on a much larger scale.
As we speak, Tigray’s infrastructure has been intentionally dismantled. The invading forces have completely destroyed clinics, hospitals, schools, water systems, electricity lines, telecom and all other infrastructure that had served the Tigrayan population. It’s all gone. It’s all in ruins. Eritrean and Ethiopian forces have intentionally burnt, destroyed and/or looted beyond use banks, hotels, manufacturing sites, restaurants, and markets.
This is a war against the people of Tigray. It is a war against our very existence. How can you exist without water? For days, we did not have water. Some people were contemplating whether or not they should drink their own pee.
In one Irob village called Gamada, Eritrean forces killed countless young students and threw their bodies in the river. They then told the parents of those killed not to remove the bodies from the river so that people couldn’t drink the water from the river. There are many stories of bodies being thrown into villages’ only water wells to make the water undrinkable. In cities, the Eritrean forces destroyed water pumps.
Do you see the cruelty? I was told the bodies stayed in the river and water wells for days. The parents were not allowed to bury their children. All of Tigray was mourning. We would hear cries coming from every household in our neighbourhood. The Eritrean army would mockingly say to the mourning parents, “Hey, we were ordered to kill any Tigrayan above the age of 7. You are lucky we left you with some kids.”
When family members, neighbours, and friends were killed were you able to mourn with others in the community?
Nobody was able to leave their homes. Everyone stayed home in fear with their doors locked. It was an eerie silence. The whole city was quiet, for weeks, it felt like ghosts had taken over the town. It was all traumatizing. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. We felt suffocated, prisoners in our own homes.
We prayed for someone to rescue us. We prayed. If we heard a vehicle drive by, we knew it was them. We would start shaking, unable to breath. If the Eritrean army were to come to your home, it’s either to kill, rape or loot every little household items you had. No questions were asked. They did whatever they wanted. We locked ourselves in the house for days, weeks, months and no one came to rescue us.
The bombing, the sound of bullets, airstrikes, it all started to become a normal part of our day. Nights always felt longer. Fear was looming everywhere. Our eyes were glued to the door. Expecting only the worst, always cautious, extremely alert. They could come to your house at any point.
The first day you arrived in Canada, when I asked you about the Eritrean forces, you couldn’t talk, you were shaking. Then you said, they are morally corrupt, spiritually deprived, soulless, hungry creatures. Has your description of them changed at all since then?
No! The only thing I would add is, when the Eritrean militias first arrived, they looked like a poisonous vegetable (ሃሚሊ). When you dare to look at them, they looked physically weak, starved, deprived and dangerous. I am not sure what dictator Isaias has done to them, but I think all the pain they have inflicted on us was inflicted upon them. They seem deprived and soulless. It’s almost like all humanity was extracted from them. Because of how weak they were, even I could have tripped a bunch of them at once, but they had guns and came in numbers. It was only after a few days of devouring stolen food from our towns and all over Tigray that the army started to regain their strength and human resemblance, while maintaining their monster behaviour. It’s the only thing they know how to be. Monsters. I only speak of the Eritrean Army because I was in the far North, so I did not experience the Ethiopian, Amhara or the Somali forces who were also destroying Tigray.
You have told me about your nightmares since you came back. Are those nightmares getting any better?
Well, my daughter, it is simple. The people of Tigray have been in collective trauma for the past 9 months and counting. The main goal of the invaders is to kill us or leave us with the most painful physiological scar. Nothing else can be said about that.
Weyni – Omna Tigray Contributor, August 2021