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#TigrayGenocide | Shedding Light On A Clifftop Massacre In Ethiopia | የአክሱም ማኅበረ ደጎ ገደል ጫፍ እልቂት ሲገለጥ

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on April 2, 2021

On an arid plateau somewhere in Ethiopia, a man in uniform pushes a dead body which goes tumbling head over heels off the edge of a cliff. More corpses are strewn around nearby rocks and boulders.

The scene comes from one of five graphic videos which started appearing from 9 March, 2021, on the EthiopiaMap Telegram channel. Viewed together, they show Amharic-speaking soldiers, one of whose uniforms bears the markings of the Ethiopian national flag on its sleeve, rounding up a group of around 25 to 30 people in civilian clothing. The captives file towards a precipice at gunpoint, where they are executed.

These videos were taken by the soldiers (mostly male and some female) themselves.

Since last November, a war has raged between Ethiopia’s federal government and rebel forces in the Tigray Region in the country’s North. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled across the border to neighbouring Sudan.

In recent months, credible reports of massacres, looting and rape have emerged from the region. As one UN official remarked to Britain’s Sky News this month “We don’t know what the situation is in rural parts of Tigray and what we don’t know really worries us”.

Bellingcat and colleagues from Newsy and BBC Africa Eye have located the execution videos from the EthiopiaMap Telegram channel to a cliff approximately 15 kilometres South of Aksum, a city in the wartorn Tigray Region. The closest town is Mahbere Dego, which may be the last place these men were seen alive.

Audible Clues

The language used by the soldiers can establish their likely origin. According to Gubae Gundarta Beyene, a translator and communications scholar at the University of Oregon who hails from Ethiopia, the soldiers in the videos are not speaking in Tigrinya or Arabic, the primary languages of Eritrea. Tigrinya is also the native language of the vast majority of the Tigray Region’s inhabitants and of TPLF supporters.

Instead, they are speaking Amharic — Ethiopia’s administrative language and the native tongue of the Amhara people. Gundarta, who produced a translation of the speech in the videos, stated that the soldiers’ accents indicate that they are mostly native Amharic speakers from the Amhara Region, though some may be second language speakers from the Oromia Region.

On several occasions in Video One and Video Two, the armed men describe their victims as “Woyane” (Amharic: ወያኔ, Tigrinya: ወያነ). This word is a particularly important indicator of the armed men’s allegiance.

The scene described at the beginning of this article comes from Video One. “We learned brutality from the Woyane. There isn’t much we can do about it. This is what you become in the end”, asks the man filming the corpses, who, according to Gundarta, speaks Amharic with an Amhara Region accent. A voice in the background recommends dousing the bodies with kerosene to burn them. The speaker regrets that he has none.

In Video Two, a man speaking in Amharic with an Amhara Region accent films three dead bodies by the cliff edge. “As you can see, these are Woyane corpses. We have put them all out here,” he explains. Gunshots ring out in the distance, leading him to turn around and cry “Attaboy! You’re a hero! Such a hero! This is the end for Woyane. We have no mercy left”. Another corpse can be seen on the ground as a group of uniformed men walk away.

Who are the “Woyane”?

This epithet, which roughly translates as “insurgent”, is used derisively for rebels or people believed to be affiliated with the TPLF. However, some Tigrayans use it as a term of pride, referring to the Woyane Rebellion of the 1940s, when their ancestors rose up against the rule of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie.

“It was a rallying cry for the Tigrayan struggle, which was also along the lines of demanding autonomy or at least against marginalisation against the central state,” explained the International Crisis Group’s Davison.

“It looks very much like they are accusing those people in the video of being members of the TPLF. The fact that these people are suspected of being Woyane is almost seen as justification for the violence being exacted upon them,” Davison added.

Audible Clues

While the five videos do not contain enough information to determine when exactly they were recorded, other clues may offer further avenues of inquiry.

For example, a satellite image taken on 20 January 2021 shows approximately 16 vehicles just 150 metres from the cliff where the executions took place. The image also shows the presence of an artillery battery on the plateau by the trucks:

This satellite image taken on 20 January 2021 shows military vehicles and artillery approximately 150 meters north of the cliff where the massacre took place (Source: Includes material © CNES 2021, Distribution Airbus DS all rights reserved / PLEIADES satellite imagery Acquired through ShadowBreak Intl via BBC Africa)

The Missing Clue

What can we say about the executions at the clifftop that day?

Our geolocation confirms that a massacre took place in Mahbere Dego.

There is some evidence to suggest the allegiance of the soldiers, from an Ethiopian flag on one soldier’s uniform to their use of the Amharic language and the word “Woyane” to describe their victims. These clues point towards the presence of the Ethiopian military or its allies at Mahbere Dego. Beyond these hints, however, the identities of the executioners cannot be conclusively established by open source methods alone at the time of publication.

The final clue may lie in on the ground reporting in Tigray, something which remains particularly dangerous.

Until that changes, open source material continues to be a key resource for documenting the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Tigray, some of which is being provided by perpetrators of the crimes themselves.

“Why don’t you get closer and record?” one armed man exclaims to the camera in Video Four. “How could we not record the way they die?”

Read the full report


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