On Sunday June 4, 2023, the people of Wekait, Tegede and Humera held a large demonstration in defense of their right to identify as Amhara. Demonstrations were held peacefully in Seti-Humera, Dansha, and Remet towns.
Demonstrators rejected wrongful claims and misrepresentations recently echoed by The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an armed insurgency responsible for countless atrocities and crimes across Ethiopia. Marchers held signs denying the so-called “Western Tigray”, a designation that never existed before TPLF came to power 1991. They were joined by remaining survivors of TPLF’s thirty year long ethnic cleansing of Amhara from the region.
Local authorities reiterated what they called “their redline”, that their rightful homeland remain free from reoccupation attempts by TPLF. They asked Ethiopia’s federal government and the international community to recognize their decades long plight and sacrifice made to regain their Amhara Identity. Moreover, They urged the world to recognize and unequivocally condemn the vicious slaughter of more than 1500 Amhara civilians at the hands of a TPLF paramilitary knowns as Samri in November, 2020. These atrocities were committed at the outbreak of war, following surprise attacks on Ethiopia’s northern command.
Regional authorities say there is no deliberate systematic displacement or uprooting of Tigrayans. They do however acknowledge many had left the region at the start of conflict in November, 2020. Only a small number of those who left have returned so far, with many still remaining east of the Tekeze river as well as in neighboring Sudan.
Protestors condemned a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as unfounded, with the aim of perpetuating the continued vilification of the Amhara people. They complained HRW deliberately ignored atrocities inflicted on the Amhara population by TPLF during its rule over the region from 1991 to 2018. In April, 2022, researchers at Gonder University uncovered mass graves dispersed throughout Welkait, burial grounds for thousands of Amhara civilians killed over that period of time. A report by American photo journalist Jemal Countess recounted the horrors of Welkait.
HRW said, “the three security officials were implicated in abuses, continue to be involved in arbitrary detention, torture, and forced deportations”. In response, Amhara regional media criticized HRW, stating “accusations made against regional chief of security, Colonel Demeke Zewdu, Commanders Dejene Maru and Belay Ayalew were baseless”. Banners and signs held by demonstrators largely portrayed HRW as politicized interference by a foreign civic organization. In their view HRW deliberately sought to depict the Amhara as aggressors, while denying their suffering. The federal government of Ethiopia later said in a statement, HRW’s unsubstantiated claims sought to instigate another round of conflict among Ethiopians.
The Struggles and aspirations of the people of Welkait and Setit-Humera to identify as Amhara has been decades in the making. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had, at one time, acknowledged and confirmed that Welkait, Tegede, Telemt “had never been part of Tigray, and that the issue was equally one of the indigenous people’s rights to preserve their identity.”
Organizers of the march contended, Ethiopia’s constitution, supposedly guarantees “nations and nationalities” the right to self determination, and to choose their identity freely, but this right was selectively and systematically denied to the people of Welkait, Tegede and Telemt. Prior to 1991 the region been a part of North Gonder zone of Ethiopia, locally known as Bege Mider.
Changes brought about by the outbreak of war in northern Ethiopia have given the people de-facto rule over their territory. Locals here appreciate autonomy from Tigray. However, this status has yet to be legally recognized by Ethiopia’s federation council, which makes the region ineligible for federal funding.This is cause for frustration and at times anger. A constitutional or other such legally binding mechanism, and potentially a referendum is needed to guarantee ultimate self-rule for the Amhara in Welkait.
However, Ethiopia’s evermore tense and hyper identity politics, as well as recent instability has played a role in delaying a legal path forward. The federation council, inline with the boundaries commission, maintains a lawful and binding procedural process under the umbrella of National Dialogue as a lasting path to a peaceful resolution of all territorial challenges in Ethiopia.