This is a brief compilation of Tigrai heritages looted and destroyed by Amhara, Eritrean and Ethiopian forces during the course of 8 month long invasion.
Note: Please note that this is not a complete report. Understanding to the full scale damage needs extensive ground work. In addition heritage siege, thousands of nuns, monks, priests, Christian and Muslim followers were also mercilessly murdered protecting for their respective churches, mosques and treasures. The aim of this article is to focus on the heritages.
“Tigrai is the birthplace of Ethiopia” Negadras Gebrehiwet Baykedagn
Tigrai gave birth to Ethiopia. It’s the birthplace and the backbone of the country. Civilization, history, religion and all valuable entities that have got to be named originated in Tigrai. Ethiopia has inherited more than 75% of Tigrai history.
The Axumite civilization gives a meaningful life to the present day Ethiopia. In its day, Axum was considered one of the four most powerful kingdoms on the globe, alongside Persia, China and Rome. It manufactured glass, minted coins, from its port at Adulis, exported myrrh, frankincense, gold dust, ivory and other valuable treasures as far as India.
Long time ago, Tigrian scholars at Axum invented Ge’ez, a dialectically rich and rhythmically convenient language with its own unique letters and numbers, precursor of the languages used today in the highlands of Eritrea, Tigrai and Ethiopia. The Axumites taught splendid architecture through their precise stone carving techniques, erected seemingly magical obelisks that still tower over the northern side of the town of Axum, in front of the church of Mary Zion, the final resting place of the ‘lost’ Ark of the Covenant. Axum was an official seat for hundreds of kings and the holy site of coronation for Axumite and Ethiopian rulers.
Since the rise of Da’amat and Axumite civilizations, Tigrians have erected one of the longest still standing structures on earth, cut solid rock-mountains and hewn the most inaccessible rock churches in the world, built the first built mosque in Africa and the second holiest in the world, where the first hijira was made to, woven raw cottons and fabricated their own costumes, practiced civilized ways of life, developed and manifested unique celebrations and carnivals, invented musical instruments, started monastic life in some of the remotest places, and have introduced many more cultural values. Many more assets were preserved and passed to generations of Tigrai today, through time as untouched as they were thousands of years ago.
There are hundreds of rock churches, monasteries, mosques, archaeological sites, stelae, sacred places, museums, palaces, parks and forests, cemeteries, statues, etc. Some of them are UNESCO registered world heritage sites. Some of them are too sacred, some only of their type and some very unique.
As owner of indigenous pride and home to tremendous touristic values and treasures, Tigrai has been targeted several times in history. This is only a continuation of what has been happening across generations. Enemies have been using this as a means of demoralizing, humiliating and cultural cleansing of Tigrians. Their treasures has been raided and directly targeted.
Yodit Gudit, Ahmed Giragn, and the Italians in two different invasions have destroyed churches, manuscripts, cultural values, and many more treasures. Religious and scientific works of the Stephanites (Deqiqe Estifanos) were also burnt and destroyed by a Showan king Zara Yaccob. Tigrai and Tigrians have been consistently targeted for millennia. Now, history has come to repeat itself and destroy what was able to make it through the long raids.
“Even if you destroy them, you are just adding another layer of history on top of them” Alula Tesfay
Eight months ago, forces of half a dozen partners of evil neighbors and their mercenaries declared genocide on Tigrai, with the intent of wiping out all Tigrians from the face of the earth. Cleansed thousands, displaced millions, looted and destroyed factories, schools, health facilities and every useful structure of Tigrians. The historic, religious and cultural heritages were no exception to the destruction and looting.
As part of the dictators ethnic cleansing, completely wiping out these treasures was one target. The Amhara expansionists, Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers have extensively looted and destroyed the artefacts, manuscripts, books and other cultural and religious treasures of churches as well physical structures of historic, religious and cultural importance.
Ongoing conditions and other parameters didn’t allow onsite assessments to understand the magnitude of damage. A comprehensive study towards the vandalization and looting of all the heritages affected cannot be presented here. The government of Ethiopia blocked all communication means that made reporting and documentations difficult. Until the time comes for such a possibility, the following are few of the reported damages.
- Aksum, the cultural capital of Tigrai, was the historical capital of the Aksumite Empire. The archaeological sites in and around Aksum are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. They were threatened in mid-December 2020 by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.
- The al-Nejashi Mosque was shelled. Its dome, the minaret and tombs of Islamic figures were damaged. (bbc)
- Saint Emmanuel, around Negash, was also damaged. (bbc)
- More than 1200 monasteries and churches are ruined, religious treasures are looted (Mahebere Kidus Yared Zeorthodox Tewahdo)
- Cherkos Church in Zalambesa was bombed and looted (eepa)
- A museum that houses artifacts from the Pre-Christian period in has been partly damaged and plundered. (apollo-magazine)
- Ancient medieval manuscripts have been burnt (telegraph)
- Following the bombardment of Debre Damo, a 6th century sacred monastery, twelve buildings were destroyed, treasures located inside the monastery, such as ancient manuscripts, were by troops from neighboring Eritrea who are allied with the Ethiopian National Defense Force. (christianpost)
- There are reports of looting of manuscripts from Tigrayan churches and monasteries, and warnings that they will sooner or later be taken out of Ethiopia to be sold at antiquities markets in other countries. (aai.uni-hamburg)
- Eritrean troops were looting everything they can get their hands on in Tigrai. They’ve also gone through some monasteries and churches, taking Bibles and icons back across the border. (theguardian)
- Sacred Landscapes of Tigray that have come under attack include Abreha wa Atsbeha monastery, Wukro Cherkos, and Mariam Dengelat (tghat)
- Many churches along the Ethio-Eritrea border have also suffered significant damage. The newly constructed Aba Zewengel Church building of Maebino Holy Cross monastery was reported to be demolished although it was not possible to confirm with images. (tghat)
- The church, archaeological sites and the monastery of Abune Mezeraete in Yeha were reported to have been looted by Eritrean soldiers in January and on December 31, 2020 (eepa)
- Heavy fighting has been reported around the archeological sites of Mai Adrasha, Beta Samati, Mifsas Bahri, Adi Ketema (Adi Gorazu), Gulo Mekeda, Wukro Gaewa, and Yeha (tghat).
- The spectacular sacred landscapes of Geralta, Tembien and Atsbi has been made battle grounds for several months (unesco)
- Looting and destruction in the churches and monasteries of Debre Abay, Waldiba, rock-hewn churches of Gheralta, looting of Tigrean cultural heritage, particularly ancient manuscripts and ecclesiastical service objects, from countless ancient churches, including Marawe Krestos, Asir Matira, Mariam Dengelat, etc (eritreahub)
- The Museum at Mekelle Martyrs Monument destroyed.
- Keshi Ghebru Statue in Humera was demolition around mid-November 2020.
- The National Museum of Emperor Yohannes IV (Hatsey Yohannes 4th) was also looted and destroyed. Due to less attention given by the government of Tigrai during the presidency of Abay Woldu, the museum was transferred to the federal government. But troops of the same government looted and destroyed the museum.