Dear Ethiopian Propagandists
A Heartfelt Letter from a Tigrayan-Irob Woman
“There are too many idiots in this world. And having said it, I have the burden of proving it.”
― Frantz Fanon
Dear Ethiopian Propagandists,
My name is Weyni. I was born in Tigray, Ethiopia and I am part of a small ethnic minority called Irob (ኢሮብ). When other Ethiopians think of Tigray, the majority only know of Tigrigna speakers, who in their mind happen to be from Axum, Adwa, or Mekelle. This continued ignorance has always tried my patience.
Tigray is home to the Irobs, Kunamas and Tigrigna speaking people. Unfortunately, not many Ethiopians, let alone outsiders, know about these different ethnic groups in Tigray. They are all unique culturally, geopolitically, and socio-economically.
If you have never heard of Irob, here are some facts for you.
- The Irob people have become a bilingual community with Saho and Tigrigna being spoken by most. The Irobs engage in agriculture and cattle breeding. Their language, Saho, is cushitic, as is the case with Somali, Oromifa, Afar and other languages spoken in the Horn of Africa. Indeed, their language is very close to Afar. However, while Afar follows the Latin script, Saho follows the Ge’ez script. Almost all Irobs feel a special sense of community with Tigrayans.
- The Irob people inhabit remote border towns and villages in the Eastern Zone of Tigray. Their land is presently known as Irob woreda which has the city of Adigrat as its capital. Irob people are one of the two indigenous ethnic minorities that inhabit Tigray with a population of only around 41,000, which is less than 1 percent of Tigray’s population.
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – Now that you know some facts about Irob, we can move on to where my anger and frustration comes from.
Reflecting on my childhood is something I have been doing too often lately. The current genocidal war in Tigray has brought up too many familiar past experiences that I had long managed to store in the furthest parts of my brain. Stored memories I have worked to forget in hopes of better days for the people of Irob and for Ethiopians as a whole. We will go ahead and call those stored memories of my past what they are–childhood trauma.
The Irob people border Eritrea. As a result, Irob people in Tigray were ravaged and traumatized by the 1998 to 2000 Ethio-Eritrean border war. For two decades, Irob was a military camp and the people have never recovered from the traumas and war crimes they lived through during that time.
I get panic attacks when I reflect on the Ethio-Eritrean war. I must have been only 8 or 9 years old when I saw my first dead body and countless wounded people. The Eritrean army (Shabia) was going from house to house, raping women, abducting our families, taking our stocks (cows, goats) and anything and everything we had.
The day that changed me the most was the day the Eritrean army came to our home. My mother was a young woman. My grandmother pulled her to a dark corner of our house and told her to quickly put on her old raggedy dress. She then quickly took me and my young brother to hide under a bed and told us not to make a sound. I was so terrified because I thought they were going to do the unthinkable to my mother.
Not so long after that, my younger brother and I left our home for Uganda as refugees and that was the end of our childhood and innocence. Everything in life became about survival – a very typical story of the Irob youth.
Even after the Ethio-Eritrean border war that ended in the early 2000s, Irob land remained a “no-peace no-war zone.” As a result, the socio-economic conditions drastically stagnated, forcing Irob youth like myself to seek opportunities elsewhere. Many of my childhood friends and families embarked on extremely dangerous journeys to reach Europe via the mediterranean sea, Egypt, and Israel, only to end up being the victims of human traffickers in the Sinai desert, where they were tortured, abused and held for ransom. Many Irob diaspora have paid ransoms of up to $60,000 dollars for the safe return of family members trafficked in Sinai to no avail. Their family members ended up horrendously killed and their organs removed to be sold for $20,000 dollars or more on the black market.
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – Somehow, during the current genocidal war on Tigray, you have failed to realize Tigrayans were not immune to the suffering caused by the ramifications of the last decades’ wars and poverty.
I recently saw a tweet from an Amhara nationalist that read, “Where were the Tigrayans when Ethiopia was suffering?” My simple and only response was: “We were also suffering with you, you idiot!”
What I would have never in my worst nightmares thought was that Eritrean forces would return 20 years later, to fully occupy Irob land and commit the same atrocities they committed during the Ethio-Eritrea border war. Tigrayans and the people of Irob hadn’t healed from that war before this one started.
Recently, I was scrolling through social media and saw a list of Irob civilian youth massacred by Eritrean forces during mass killings from late December 2020 to early January 2021, a list gathered and posted by the Irob Advocacy Association (IAA). The first ten were immediate family members. I couldn’t look any further at the list. Seeing their names, I ended up throwing up a couple of times and crying myself to sleep.
Currently, Irob land is not only under full Eritrean occupation, it’s also completely closed off – no access to phone service, humanitarian assistance or the ability to move freely or safely. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t try reaching family members in Irob land, only to have zero luck. If we are lucky once in a while someone will escape to Adigrat to bring news of our families, but the news is never good.
Recently, my aunt made it to Adigrat after walking for days on foot. Her husband was killed in a battle during the Ethio-Eritrean war in early 2000s and now the Eritrean forces came back looking for his family. They only found his son and they killed him in front of my aunt (his mother) on December 21, 2020. My aunt was convinced that the Eritreans came back to get their revenge and finish off what they started during the borderwar.
“I must be cursed,” she said while sobbing breathlessly. “Why didn’t they take my life either with my husband or my son? I am already dead inside. No life left in me. Why couldn’t they just take me with my son?”
We both cried on the phone. I promised to call back before she returns to Irob.
“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
― Frantz Fanon
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – You have chosen to betray your mission for “a united” nation as you continue to support the genocide in Tigray. There cannot be “unity” with idiocity, genocide, forced integration, and destruction.
I sincerely had internalized the belief that my generation of Ethiopians would carry on a better legacy. I thought we would learn from the mistakes of the past and collectively build our future. I was wrong. Also naive. I discovered that we are the generation that was unable to free itself from emotions of the past, mostly passed on to us from the generation before us. For we chose not to grow in the light, we must therefore suffer in the darkness.
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – You have chosen to confront other Ethiopians in the battlefield. And for those of us that are not fighting on the ground, you have decided to attack us in the digital world. The online bullets are real. The hate speech, the denial, insensitivity, and ignorance.
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – Most of you have chosen to live in the past. Your repeated statements of: “Your people did this to my people many years ago…” have fueled the division. You romanticize revenge. You romanticize war. You romanticize central powers who wage wars on their own people for the sake of hegemonic authority.
Dear Ethoipian propagandists – The damage is real. Our emotions are raw. You have pushed us further away. You have voiced your support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, one who invited a foreign force to invade our land, massacre our people, and steal our wealth. You have voiced your support for dictator Isaias as he invaded our lands, massacred our people, and stole our wealth. And we must find ways to heal from this. This will take years, maybe decades. Your fake patriotism has bred more idiocy. You have shown no sympathy for Tigrayan lives, our culture, and our identity.
Dear Ethiopian propogandists – I have met many idiots, but none like the idiots who deny the ongoing genocide in Tigray. The evidence is there. Our suffering is real. Yet, you have chosen to look away.
Dear Ethiopian propagandists – If I sound like an angry Tigrayan-Irob woman, it’s because you have given me every reason to be so.
A Justifiably Angry Tigrayan-Irob Woman