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Genocide in Tigray? Ethiopian Christians Debate Orthodox Patriarch’s Claim

(Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)

The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in his first public comments on the war in his country’s Tigray region is sharply criticizing Ethiopia’s federal government, saying he believes its actions constitute genocide: “They want to destroy the people of Tigray.”

The United States ambassador hosted him today to learn more.

In a video shot last month on a mobile phone and carried out of Ethiopia, the elderly Patriarch Abune Mathias addresses the church’s scores of millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked. He is ethnic Tigrayan.

The video comes as the conflict in Tigray marks six months. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and Tigray ones, the result of a political struggle that turned deadly in November. Dozens of witnesses have told the AP that civilians are targeted.

“I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” Mathias says, speaking in Amharic and listing alleged atrocities including the destruction of churches, massacres, forced starvation, and looting.

“It is not the fault of the Tigray people. The whole world should know it.”

Our coverage included four evangelical perspectives, including:

Without naming the offending parties, the Ethiopian Gospel Believers’ Churches Council (EGBCC) has made clear statements in favor of the peace process, she said, and against the “destructive forces intent on destroying Ethiopia.”

Earlier, the EGBCC organized two separate weeks of prayer and fasting for the Tigray region, mobilizing resources on its behalf.

But Abebe noted that the conflict started when the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) first attacked the national army. While lamenting with the patriarch the sexual violence against women and other atrocities in Tigray, Abebe wonders why he has not spoken out against ethnic violence in other regions.

Perhaps he is a victim of a TPLF misinformation campaign?

“The patriarch’s statements were irresponsible,” Abebe told CT. “To throw around a term like genocide is a massive mistake that might embolden rebels across the country, when a critical election is just one month away…”

This article was originally published by Christianity Today on May 10, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.