In-depth

Under Ethiopia’s federal system, Western Tigray belongs in Tigray

The evidence also suggests that the area was majority Tigrinya speaking prior to the federal era.

Ethiopia’s 1995 constitution introduced a system of multinational federalism that radically altered the country’s politics and administrative structure.

It created highly autonomous regional states delineated along ethno-linguistic lines. This entailed reconfiguring the former provinces, which were partly based on geographic divisions, into regions based on groups’ settlement patterns, language, and other demographic features.

While the administrative boundary readjustments were welcomed by many in Ethiopia, elites from the Amhara community were among the most consistent detractors. The inclusion of the areas known as Welkait, Tsegede (Tegede), Tselemti (Telemt), and Humera into Tigray Regional State has been a specific point of contention.

These territories were part of Begemder and Gonder provinces dating back to at least the era of Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913) but, after 1995, were formally incorporated into Tigray under the federal structure. The detractors assume that because Amharas previously dominated these provinces politically and economically, the territories belong to Amharas, and so must become part of Amhara region.

The movement to ‘restore’ Welkait (a term often used to refer to the four areas) to the Amhara region remained a constant force in Ethiopianist-Amhara circles throughout the 1990s. Amhara residents of Welkait, a mix of older residents and more recent settlers who came seeking to work in the large farms, have long resisted Welkait’s inclusion into Tigray.

The Amhara residents, just like their Tigrayan counterparts, trace their ancestry on the land back centuries and, although a minority, are dispersed throughout the contested territory. The movement to unite Welkait with Amhara region led to the establishment of the Welkait-Tegede Amhara Identity Restoration Committee in August 2015.

That name shows that those involved generally don’t identify as a separate group, but that they are Amharas seeking to get their Amhara identity affirmed.

The Welkait committee then galvanized a movement throughout Amhara to annex Welkait by any means including military action. It gained momentum during the early months of Abiy’s term and culminated during the outbreak of the Tigray war when Amhara forces ‘reclaimed’ the land in late 2020, leading to what Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have described as “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity” in Western Tigray.

This violent irredentism stands in stark contrast to the relative silence among other regional or ethno-nationalist elites of, say, Oromia, Tigray, and Sidama, who generally don’t make similar claims on, respectively, Gambella, Afar, and, Wolayta, even though they can present equally compelling justifications along the lines of the arguments put forth by Amhara nationalists.

During the Tigray war, Amhara forces annexed the four districts in West Tigray and Northwest Tigray zones, which are now under the Amhara region’s administration. Yet, since the federal government has not officially recognized the change, the forcible annexation remains unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, by the federal government implying that such a military takeover of contested territories is acceptable, the annexation has set a dangerous precedent for handling territorial disputes among regional states.

Moreover, the occupation is perhaps the biggest obstacle to successful negotiations between Addis Abeba and Mekelle. Tigray’s government considers the restoration of its control over the area to be non-negotiable, a stance that is diametrically opposed to the Amhara government’s position.

While the TPLF-led regional government—and later the federally appointed Tigray interim administration—insisted on the dispute being settled through constitutional means, the Amhara government, as well as many Amhara elites, have consistently justified the military takeover and called for the federal government to give blanket legal recognition to the ‘restoration’.

The contrasting stances of the two rival regions are driven by their respective faith in or distrust of the constitutional system and the strength of their case regarding ownership over Welkait.

An examination of the legal, demographic, and historical evidence provided by the two sides sheds light on why Amhara nationalists resorted to reclaiming Welkait through military action.

Unconstitutional irredentism

The 1995 constitution declares that regional states are “delimited on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people concerned.” This was the basis upon which new regions were created.

As such, these criteria have consistently been the basis by which territorial disputes between member states within the federation were resolved. The validity of Amhara claims to Welkait would thus need to be addressed based on their congruence with the constitution.

Amhara nationalists argue that the TPLF’s “forceful annexation” of these territories into Tigray was done illegally.

On the one hand, Amhara elites accuse ethnic federalism of fomenting division and disunity by emphasizing what separates rather than unites Ethiopians, and reject ethno-nationalists’ demands for recognition and entitlements based on claims of indigenous land ownership.

But, on the other hand, those same elites fight to uphold the historical entitlements of Amhara people—entitlements they believe Amharas have been unjustly deprived of by Tigrayan leaders during the three decades of the federal era.

While they generally avoid examining the dispute based on the constitution, claims based on the constitutional system by Amhara nationalists manifest in two forms: allegations of TPLF-led demographic engineering in these territories, and of sustained state coercion of the local Amhara population.

Demographic engineering?

The claim that the TPLF carried out ethnic cleansing to alter the demographics of the disputed territories has been made by Amhara activists since the 1990s.

Achamyeleh Tamiru, in an essay titled “Forceful Annexation, Violation of Human Rights and Silent Genocide,” summarizes the claim as follows:

“The Amharic speaking areas contiguous to Tigray State have been recipients of the brunt of the atrocities. One of the methods used by TPLF to erode away Amhara identities is the dislocation of Amharas from the area and settling thousands of former TPLF fighters from arid and infertile lands of Tigray to the more fertile land of Wolkait-Tegede region. It took steps to change the administrative language of the area, started producing documents and stories to inculcate the “Tigrayness” of Wolkait.” [p.2]

For the most part, advocates of the ‘Amhara genocide’ thesis recognize as legitimate the 1994 and 2007 national census data wherein Tigrayans constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the contested territories.

However, to reconcile their position that ethnic Amharas dominated Welkait with the contradictory census data, they put forward a theory that TPLF, since its guerrilla days, carried out systematic ethnic cleansing of the areas, resulting in a dramatic demographic shift in Tigrayans’ favor.

The evidence they point to involves the alleged discrepancy between the 1984 census data, collected under the Derg, and the subsequent censuses of 1994 and 2007 conducted during EPRDF rule.

As two authors argued in a piece published last year:

“One cannot help being struck by how the population of the area could have changed so drastically in just a decade, that the population of northern Gondar alone could have become 97 percent Tigrayan, when the Tigrayan population in the entire province was only 6 percent in 1984?”

Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, 1984: Analytical report on Gondar region [P.33]

The 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Tigray Region VII [p. 37]

 This supposed ‘drastic’ shift then leads them to conclude that TPLF must have carried out ethnic cleansing of Amharas coupled with a large-scale settlement of Tigrayan ex-combatants and refugees in the areas.

The problem with their reasoning is that the 1984 census, upon which the theory rests, doesn’t support the conclusion.

First, it states that certain lowland areas of Northern Ethiopia have not been covered and proceeds to give their estimated population sizes. In fact, Welkait, Setit, Tsegede, and Tselemti are listed among those areas which were not covered by the census.

Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, 1984 [p.2]

Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, 1984 [p. 91]

Second, attempts by Amhara irredentists to use the 1984 census to portray a picture of an Amhara majority population in Welkait prior to TPLF’s alleged tampering with the demographics fails due to a major miscalculation: the population of Welkait, Tsegede, Setit, and Tselemti constitute only seven percent of the total population of Gonder.

This being the case, even if the entire population of these territories was Tigrayan, the census would still show an over 90 percent Amhara majority in Gonder.

Therefore, while it is true that there was a mass settlement of Tigrayans during the 1990s into what were relatively sparsely populated areas of Western Tigray, the 1984 census doesn’t support the claim of an Amhara majority in Welkait.

Linguistic evidence

Indeed, several pieces of evidence show that Tigrayans constituted the majority of the population of the contested territories long before TPLF came onto the scene.

Donald Levine’s classic work, “Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture,” published in 1972, contains a map of the then Northern Ethiopia that clearly shows the territories as Tigrinya speaking.

   

The slanted pattern showing the Tigrinya-speaking territories includes Southern Eritrea, Welkait-Tsegede, and Raya-Azebo, which were outside of the former Tigray province. It doesn’t include the eastern part of the Tigray province, which was later incorporated into the newly formed Afar regional state.

As such, the Tigrinya-speaking shade fits neatly with the current boundaries of the federal-era Tigray regional state.

Similarly, two other books published during the Derg era by the government-funded Ethiopian Revolution Information Center also confirm that the disputed territories were populated by Tigrinya-speaking people long before TPLF’s alleged tampering with the demographics.

Class Struggle and the Problem in Eritrea, 1979 [p.140]

The Ethiopian Revolution and the Problem in Eritrea, 1977 [p.8]

Another interesting piece of evidence is a letter by an Eritrean opposition figure, Seyoum Maascio, during the years of the Eritrean federation that was published in Ruth Iyob’s history of Eritrea’s independence struggle.

In it, Seyoum not only identifies Tselemti, Welkait, and Tsegede as Tigrinya-speaking but also affirmed his party’s intent to incorporate these territories as part of an attempt to create an independent Tigray-Tigrinya nation.

 

The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism, 1941-93 [p.161]

This shows that the perception of the people and territories of Welkait-Tsegede as Tigrayan predates TPLF and was prevalent even among Eritreans.

Resettlement effect

Although Tigrinya speakers were the majority in Welkait well before the emergence of the TPLF—which invalidates the assertion that TPLF needed to carry out resettlement to shift the demographics of the area in Tigray’s favor—there nonetheless was a resettlement of Tigrayans in what has become Western Tigray after the coming to power of TPLF-EPRDF.

However, the resettlement was not different from intraregional resettlement programs implemented elsewhere in the federation, including the Amhara region. The program has more to do with helping food insecure and displaced populations by resettling them to more fertile areas than a sinister plot to tinker with demographics.

The impact of the resettlement on the demographics can be determined fairly accurately from the changes reflected between the 1994 and 2007 censuses.

The first step would be to determine the impact of resettlement before the 1994 census.

Before the 1994 census was conducted, two refugee repatriation operations were carried out in Humera under the stewardship of the United Nations in June 1993 and February 1994.

These resulted in the resettlement of 14,288 refugees, which is 8.2 percent of the total 174,630 Tigrayan residents in Western Tigray as registered by the 1994 census.

The resettlement increased the resident Tigrayan population from 80.7 percent to 87.9 percent. Although this is significant, it by no means turned a minority group into a majority.

Other resettlement operations were implemented well after 1994.

For instance, the ex-combatant resettlement program of Humera was announced in late 1994, which means that it didn’t affect the 1994 census. This implies that whatever influence the resettlement of refugees and ex-combatants had on altering the ethnic demographics of the area should be reflected in the changes observed between the 1994 and 2007 censuses.

Indeed, from 1994 to 2007, the resident Tigrayan population of Western Tigray rose from 87.9 percent to 92.3 percent.

The resettlement of refugees and ex-combatants may of course have played a part in the close to five percent rise of Tigrayan inhabitants. However, a five percent increase on an already overwhelming Tigrayan majority does not constitute significant “demographic engineering”.

When examining specifically the demographic shift of Welkait Wereda in Western Tigray, a more startling picture emerges. Between 1994 and 2007, the population of ethnic Amharas doubled while the Tigrayan population decreased by more than four percent.

The increase of ethnic Amharas in Welkait is the result of a large influx of Amhara laborers, some of whom later settled there. This is a far cry from claims that local Amharas were persecuted and ethnically cleansed.

Therefore, evidence indicates that the effect of these resettlement programs was negligible and that some areas in Western Tigray have actually seen an increase in the Amhara population while the number of Tigrayans decreased.

Amhara oppression?

Another line of argument presented by Amhara nationalists declares the 1994 and 2007 census data invalid, along with documentation from the TPLF era regarding the demographics of the contested territories.

Moreover, despite asserting TPLF-directed persecution of Amharas in the contested areas, it nevertheless maintains that, up until the start of the Tigray war, the population of Welkait-Tsegede was an Amhara majority repressed by the regional state apparatus.

With that assumption in mind, it seeks to find ways—including constitutional means—of ‘restoring’ these allegedly ‘ancestral lands’ of the Amhara to their rightful owners.

This movement culminated in the formation of the Welkait Identity Restoration Committee. The committee largely conducted its meetings in Gonder but was able to gather 25,000 signatures from allegedly exiled Welkait Amharas living in the Amhara region.

Although more research needs to be done into the issue, claims of economic injustice may well have played an integral role in motivating the identity-based political campaign.

For example, a key player in the committee was Colonel Demeke Zewdu, a former TPLF member with Tigrayan parentage who is now a senior Amhara administrator in the annexed zone. He was among those who some researchers claim was motivated by implementation of a Tigray regional investment law that disadvantaged them.

Around a decade ago, Mekelle insisted that individuals had to have ten hectares of land to qualify as an investor, which Demeke didn’t possess. He was therefore treated as a farmer and the excess over five hectares, the maximum for a non-investor, was stripped from him.

In 2016, the committee he was part of submitted a petition to federal and regional institutions, including the House of Federation, calling for the government to recognize their Amhara identity and grant them the right to practice their culture as well as protect them from persecution.

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However, the House of Federation decided that the issue should be addressed at the regional level and sent a letter to the Tigray government, which ignored the matter. Instead, government authorities, primarily in Addis Ababa and Gondar, reacted by arresting the leaders of the committee and banning public meetings. These types of oppressive measures lasted until the 2018 transition, with, for example, Demeke released from prison in February, around a month before Abiy was appointed EPRDF leader.

Such authoritarian tactics by the TPLF-EPRDF authorities wasted a crucial opportunity to handle the issue through peaceful, constitutional means. That approach fuelled the Amhara irredentism that led to an explosion of violence in 2020.

However, the fact that Amhara forces ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from Western Tigray demonstrates a determination to alter the demographics of the contested territories—create an Amhara majority—before it’s possible to try and settle the dispute through a referendum.

After all, the rush to force Tigrayans from the disputed territories wouldn’t have made much political sense if the resident population was indeed majority Amhara.

This reinforces the evidence from the demographic polls demonstrating that the majority of residents in the disputed territories identify as Tigrayan and they were there well before the TPLF-EPRDF took power in 1991, and indeed before the TPLF’s rebellion gathered strength in the 1980s.

Historical arguments

At the core of Amhara irredentism are claims and evidence that supposedly demonstrate that the Amhara have a unique right to the disputed territories.

This historical argument is two-pronged: On the one hand, evidence is presented to try and show that the contested territories have never been administered by Tigray province. On the other, lines are quoted from historical records to show that the contested areas have always been an integral part of Amhara society.

However, Amhara as an ethnic identity is a recent construct whose existence was vigorously disputed as late as the 1990s.

A famous debate on the issue took place between Mesfin Woldemariam, a pan-Ethiopian academic, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 1993, where the former denied the existence of  an Amhara ethnicity.

Similarly, among many other prominent pan-Ethiopians, Andargachew Tsige—an Ethiopian nationalist politician and an Amhara—often argues that there is insufficient ground to characterize Amhara as an ethnic group, and that the Amharic language is the sole binding feature of the Amhara identity.

According to historian Brian J. Yates: “Scholars and politicians have attempted to sketch out what an Amhara is, but there are considerable divergences on the nature of this identity. Some argue that it is a cultural identity; however, much of the scholarship indicates that it is solely a class-based identity, devoid of ethnicity.”

Consequently, owing to the lateness of the development of an Amhara identity and the absence of basic features of an ethnic group, it can’t make a cogent, legitimate territorial claim.

Tegegne Teka writes:

“The Amhara do not possess what people usually refer to as objective ethnic markers: common ancestry, territory, religion, and shared experience except the language. The Amhara have no claims to a common ancestry. They do not share the same sentiments and they have no mutual interests based on shared understandings. It is, therefore, difficult to conclude that the Amhara belong to an ethnic group. But this does not mean that there is no Amhara identity.”

What is now Amhara region used to be a group of kingdoms turned provinces in which the majority of inhabitants spoke Amharic. In contrast, Tigray—or Tigre as it was known during imperial era—for centuries operated almost as a confederate, a consolidated administration with somewhat defined territories.

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Several historical books do identify a loosely allied group of areas around Lake Tana as Amhara lands. Such historical references in some instances even identify the contested territories as belonging to the Amhara.

Nevertheless, it should be remembered that these same historical sources exclude Gojjam, Shewa and, at times, Wello, from the list of territories they consider Amhara land.

At least in this sense, Amhara irredentists’ claim to Welkait is self-defeating; the supposedly authoritative sources that are quoted to justify ‘reclaiming’ Welkait also suggest Amhara region should forfeit Shewa and Gojjam.

The absence of irredentist claims on the southern half of Afar, which used to be part of Wello province, also reveals the inconsistent and politically motivated nature of the claims on Welkait.

Similarly, arguments by Amhara scholars to prove that Welkait never belonged to Tigray are unconvincing, as a number of historical sources show that there were several periods since medieval times when these territories were part of what can be considered Tigray province.

Among these, the most widely quoted evidence is from a 19th-century book by Michael Russell titled “Nubia and Abyssinia, Comprehending their Civil History, Antiquities, Arts, Religion, Literature, and Natural History.”

In this book, the territories belonging to Tigre province are listed, and include Welkait, Simien, and Lasta. The latter two are currently part of Amhara.

 

Professor Wolbert Smidt recently published extracts of a map that shatters the claim of absolute and uninterrupted Amhara historical control over Western Tigray.

Among these, Handtke’s map of 1849 clearly shows that 19th-century Tigray included Welkait and Waldubba. These pieces of evidence prove that there were periods in Ethiopian history when these territories were under the administrative control of historical Tigre—a forerunner to the present Tigray regional state.

Moreover, the fact that most of the place names in Welkait are Tigrinya names points towards a very strong Tigrayan presence since ancient times. For instance, out of 30 villages and towns in Welkait Wereda, around twenty have distinct Tigrinya names.

Villages and towns in Welkait
1.      Mai Gaba 11. Adi Gaba 21. Indabo
2.      Mai Chea 12. Wef Argif 22. Salasa Ayna
3.      Mai Timket 13. Bilamba Michael 23. Adi Werki
4.      Mai Humer 14. Bilamba Kirshi 24. Awra
5.      Mai Tsemri 15. Kulita 25. Shekuda
6.      Belesa Qokuah 16. Bet Mulu 26. Welel
7.      Adi Filho 17. Ruba Lemin 27. Debre Mariam
8.      Kalima 18. Jamus 28. Midri Weyzero
9.      Megue 19. Kisad Delela 29. Shirela
10.  Adi Remets 20. Selam 30. Dejena

Places with indisputably Tigrinya names are italicized.

Constitutional dilemma

The arguments and supporting evidence presented above show that the inclusion of Welkait into Tigray was carried out in accordance with constitutional requirements.

There is insufficient evidence to support the claims by Amhara irredentists that the TPLF used criminal tactics to steal Amhara territories.

All evidence indicates that these territories have always been populated by a Tigrayan majority, a fact that provides constitutional justification for their inclusion in Tigray.

What should also be recalled is that such territorial readjustments were carried out throughout Ethiopia. Each of the pre-1991 provinces underwent radical reconfiguration along ethno-linguistic lines, leading to many groups losing chunks of territory that they had been historically associated with.

For example, just as it obtained districts in Western Tigray from Gonder, Tigray lost its entire eastern territories, which it had controlled for centuries, to the newly formed Afar.

The provinces making up Oromia also lost territories: Assosa had been part of Wellega, Gambella was administered as part of Ilubabor, Jigjiga belonged to Harar, and so on.

Using the same logic, the newly established Sidama regional state could claim the entirety of Wolayta and Borena.

Yet, all other regional states have remained more or less faithful to the constitutional criteria for territorial configuration. In contrast, efforts by Amhara irredentists to annex Tigray’s territories amount to open defiance of the constitutional order.

Consequently, the manner in which the House of Federation tries to settle Amhara claims on Western Tigray may set a precedent for how it will deal with other irredentist campaigns.

Providing legal recognition to the militant takeover of Tigray’s territories could lead to expanding conflict to settle old territorial scores across the federation.

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Correction: The name of the committee has been corrected to the “Welkait-Tegede Amhara Identity Restoration Committee” from the “Welkait Identity Restoration Committee”. Originally, the next paragraph read: “While that name suggests a distinct Welkait identity, those involved generally don’t identify as a separate nationality, but that they are Amharas seeking to get their Amhara identity affirmed.” This has also been amended to reflect the correct committee name.

Main photo: A bridge over the Tekezze River that was destroyed during the war.

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About the author

Abel Tesfaye

Abel is a teacher who closely follows Ethiopian politics.

59 Comments

  • See also the very detailed and sharp map “Languages in Ethiopia” by Bender et al. (1976)
    https://zenodo.org/record/6582952 – also at that time the whole Western Tigray was mapped as Tigrinya-speaking, up to to Humera and May Kadra.
    But, of course, comments will now flourish that Bender was TPLF agent and received “millions” from them.

    • Thank you, Professor Jan Nyssen.
      I have read the paper you Authored the “Dataset: Western Tigray in 108 historical and 21 ethno-linguistic maps(1607-2009)”. You have produced an important historical and ethno-linguistic maps; it will be a great reference for universities and colleges in our region (Horn Africa). I truly appreciate you and your time you spent to prepare the historical records. It is an amazing work.

      In your paper you have put an interesting view “These maps demonstrate that the argument that Welkait was “always a part of Begemdir”, or else Amhara, is not based on evidence, apart from a territorial reorganization in the mid-twentieth century.”
      I completely agree with you, before 1930/1935 Begemdir was Southern part of Gonder (South-Eastern part of Lake Tana). If you look the maps from 1608 to 1930 Begemdir was Southern part of Gonder (South-Eastern part of Lake Tana). Generally, Begemdir before 1930/1935 and, Begemdir after 1930/1935 until 1991 they refer two different geographic areas (completely opposite areas). I think the author of this article should have included that part of evidence. By the way the name “May Kadra” you mentioned above is Tigrigna name “ማይ ካድራ”, may/mai/ማይ means “water”, and Kadra is a type of plant that grow in that area.

      Just an FYI: Regarding the trash talkers – Some of them are Eritreans (for obvious reasons) and most of them are the so-called Amhara irredentists (they don’t like facts, they love “Kebra Nagast” like narratives). They don’t debate with evidence; they are just wired to insult. Case-in-point – you will see the response to this thread…

      Thanks,

  • Wow this is a very nice work! Exhaustive!

    Here is an excerpt from the following paper written 1948!!!!!!! WHICH WITNESSES TIGRAYAN MAJORITY IN 1948!!!!

    Sebbene isolato dai Tigre,i l Uolcait suole essernec onsideratop arte, sia perche tigrina ne e la massa della popolazione, con iniezioni amhara, e tigrinon e e il linguaggio,s ebbene deformaton el lessico in modo da as-sumeres piccate caratteristiche dialettali.L ‘amarico e compresod a buona parte della popolazionee , per cosi dire, tolleraton ella vita d’ogni giorno. Un censimento dell’autorita italiana accerto la presenza di 2060 fami-glie, delle quali 1965 cristiane (318 di ex-schiavi in gran parte residenti stabilmenten el Mezega), 73 musulmanee 22 falascia. Data una composi-zione di cinque personep er famiglia,s i hanno 10.300 abitanti.

    English (Google translated)
    Although isolated from Tigre, Uolcait is considered to be a part of it, both because Tigrinya is the mass of the population, with Amharic injections, and Tigrinya is the language, although deformed in the lexicon so as to as sumere strong dialectal characteristics. Amharic is understood by a good part of the population is, so to speak, tolerated in everyday life. A census carried out by the Italian authorities showed the presence of 2060 families, of which 1965 were Christian (318 were former slaves, most of them permanent residents of Mezega), 73 were Muslim and 22 were Falashia. Given a composition of five persons per family, there are 2300 inhabitants.

    IL UOLCAÌT Author(s): GIOVANNI ELLERO Source: Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, Vol. 7, No. 1 (gennaio-giugno 1948), pp. 89-112

    https://booksc.org/author/GIOVANNI%20ELLERO

    • Small corrections to the translation
      (third line): “…so as to assume strong dialectal characteristics…”
      (last sentence): “Given a composition of five persons per family, there are 10,300 inhabitants.”

      Giovanni Ellero (1948; field data recording in 1939-40) also hinted at identity issues and territorial conquest in Welkait, in the early 20th Century. Two verses from his article can be used to summarize it.
      To characterise the indomitable character of the Welkait people, Ellero mentioned a verse commonly used by the Welkait farmers:
      ዓደይ ትግራይ፡ ማሕረሰይ ወልቃይት
      ላሕመይ ሕንጊድ፡ ሰበይተይ ኮራይት
      ተራኺበን ክልተ ኣራዊት (1),
      contextually translated from Tigrinya as:
      My land is Tigray, my croplands Welkait
      My cow is wild, my wife angry
      Now, the two have joined their forces

      Reversely, the Gondarines had this verse:
      ወልቃይት ፅገዴ ሰሜን አርማጭሆ
      ኣልገዛም ኣልሽ፡ ተገዛሽ እነሆ,
      translated from Amharic as:
      Welkait, Tseghedie, Semien, and Armachoho
      You said “I will not surrender” and yet! you have been subjugated (2)

      Notes:
      (1) The term ኣራዊት [arawit], when used for people, points to someone who is not easy to handle.
      (2) The verse shows the sense of subjugating a region, a region that does not belong to them. If it were already under their jurisdiction, why would someone state “ኣልገዛም ኣልሽ” [algezam alsh] (“you said I will not surrender”, “you” being here: Welkait, Tsegede, Simien, Armachiho, i.e., the contested lands of western Tigray and surrounding)? The verse indicates that at some points in time these areas were subjugated (by force or by decree) by Gondar.

      • Giovanni Ellero, a subject of Facist Italy died in 1942. Who peer reviewed his findings? Then again, you might have pulled this out of your a**.

  • TPLF led government was the mastermind of today’s ethnic based administration region of Ethiopia. TPLF has created distorted history and divided family’s, neighbors and people in general. a good examples of language based TPLF apartheid type of division was manly exercised in southern region, Afar, Somali, Benishangul , Amehara and the like.

  • Welkayt & Tigrey r still in Ethiopia🇪🇹. 1- Welkait should be its own Raya State or 2-🇪🇷Independent Raya Republic🇩🇯. 3- If Tigrey still remains within United Ethiopia🇪🇹, Western Tigrey is justified to maintain mapped federal constitution in 1995.
    Politically important history of Ethiopia is from 2000-2022 even forget about in 1990s. At the moment, Ethiopia has limited choices either Federalism/Confederation or independent/brutal disintegration. the irony is Amhara who can NOT save their people from killing, are talking about still centralism or this & that. basically, Ethiopia🇪🇹is in Civil-war & heading to early stages of failed state. in fact, SSNN Dubub already accepted to free forcefully 4-Ethnic states & they r keep doing it because NO-one can stop them & Amhara state is next to let go non-Amhara. There’s no “rule of law” in Ethiopia; OROMO can do whatever🇪🇹they want & scare no gov. just killing. What keeps together in Ethiopia is just PM Abiy & his weak gov & milking employees for the last drop$$.

    Ethiopia completely changed & the World 🌎has changed, in addition, millions of people in all East Afrika are facing droughts & starvation. please, wake up from your dreams. 🌾🌿🌾🍋🍉🤲🇪🇹🇸🇸🇵🇸🇪🇷🇺🇬🇩🇯🇸🇴🇰🇪🤲

  • Nice work! Though comments will be highly polarized!!!

    Please see also this article of 1948!!!

    IL UOLCAÌT Author(s): GIOVANNI ELLERO Source: Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, Vol. 7, No. 1 (gennaio-giugno 1948), pp. 89-112

  • Abel, this is a well researched article! Since this is a very hot issue, the chance of getting genuine response is rare! As I go through the comments, I found many comments go out of the core title “Under Ethiopia’s federal system, Western Tigray belongs in Tigray”!!

  • Abel Desta wants Chinese development model. Ironic thing is: that’s exactly what you had under EPRDF!

    • Nothing ironic about it. I was okay with the EPRDF, except that the EPRDF couldn’t hold on to power and when they got ousted, they tried to regain that power by any means necessary, including a horrendous war. I’m vehemently against a violent takeover of government in the 21st century. Do you see that happening in China? But the biggest grudge I have against the EPRDF/TPLF is their shameful promotion of ethnicity at the expense of Ethiopian unity. We also shouldn’t have lost Eritrea: loss of Eritrea was neither good for the Eritreans nor for Ethiopians. Now we have to use someone else’s ports since we lost access to the Red Sea. I’m consistently in support of economic development at the expense of everything else, including the “freedoms” the West preaches about incessantly. A person who is starving cares very little about his freedom — rather he cares more about something to eat. Abiy Ahmed’s Medemer is a great vision for the country and I have the greatest respect for him — FOR NOW. But he needs to get a firmer grip on the government: (1) Replace that joke of a constitution with something more centralized WITHOUT ETHNIC POLITICS, (2) Fill the GERD completely and let’s get more power — in more ways than one, (3) Convince the people of Tigray that the TPLF is really bad for them and that they (people of Tigray) belong with the people of Ethiopia, (4) Get AGOA back and encourage more FDI.

      On a more personal note: everyone here is in support of one ethnic group over another, but I sound different because I grew up in one of the remotest parts of Ethiopia where people struggled to make ends meet with subsistence farming. And these people neither knew nor cared about any kind of politics. They just wanted to survive with so many mouths to feed. That is true now with the vast majority of Ethiopians as it was then with my remote Ethiopian community. So please stop promoting ethnic hatred in all its form and let’s have a united Ethiopia we can all be proud of.

      • A couple points. Eritrea was lost as a result of brutal war, scorched earth tactics of HaileSelassie and Derg. No way to keep Eritrea as part of Ethiopia after that. Now exact same on Tigray. Tigray is lost to Ethiopia if any justice can prevail instead of realpolitik of great powers and their subordinates.

        Your leaders need to learn from history instead of repeating it. Imagine if Derg had followed their initial leader Andom and made some peace deal with EPLF and didn’t purge all educated people in Ethiopia.

        • Dear brother, You are wrong , Eritrea was an Italian colony like that of South Sudan was a British colony. To give you broad understanding ,we need to understand about the result of the 2nd world war which was created human and material loses both for British and other colonial power in Europe. The war (the 2nd war) created a condition meaning, (colonial power became unable to keep their colonies ) and the new power America and the Soviet Union whom fought the 2nd world war decisively, wants all colonies to be free and Eritrea to join into Ethiopia and South Sudan into north Sudan in 1947 and 1952 respectively

          More over thus scenario the incorporation of Eritrea and South Sudan into Ethiopia and Sudan) was a mistake act.

          Because It created civil war both in Ethiopia and Sudan since 1960s. The other name of thus act is called,a time bomb which was exploded in Sudan and Ethiopia since 1960s. To come to my point,Eritrea got independence, was not because of Derg or Hailessilasse policy . rather it was becouse of the 1960s where African got independence and Eritrean elite raised questions to be independent by referring international law principles called ” if colonies achieved independence why not for Eritrea and South Sudan which had been administered and demarcated their colonial boundaries during colonial time. Where as Tigrai it is / was part of Ethiopia since Ethiopia’s creation . If you understand me, let us come to our mind and unity together for better Ethiopia which is our motherland.

  • Amhara expansionists – another euphemism for another round of conflagration??? Be sensible – this is the 21st century no one is expanding. Work hard anywhere on the planet and you will make it. Don’t always love death….

  • The only reason this article has been published now is because there is a real possibility that Welkait will be given back to the rightful owners of the territory. This article “proves” that Welkait is part of western Tigray only if we look at it through the lens of the constitution which, unsurprisingly, was written by the TPLF to legitimize their brutal and illegal takeover of the land. Unfortunately for the writer and other TPLFites the status quo has changed and it will never go back to the way it was before. So if Tigrayans want to leave in peace and harmony with their neighbors they’re gonna have to learn to accept the fact that Welkait won’t be part of their region anymore. Besides the only reason the TPLF wants it back is because the western part of it borders with Sudan. Which means if the TPLF is allowed to reclaim Welkait, they’re gonna take their time to resupply and rearm with Egypt and Sudan aiding them and they`ll open another round of war and devastation.
    But at the moment all the huffing and puffing and hollow posturing ain`t gonna help them if the peace talks should fail and the conflict reignites once more. The TPLF might want to appear strong and capable but the reality is the complete opposite. They better play wisely with the cards they`ve been dealt.

    • I think this the usual ignorance that we see everyday. It’s sad to see some of you still living in delusions. The article already shows us the fact with a concrete evidence that Welkait was part of Tigray now and centuries ago. Instead of playing the same kind of boring game time to time, please try to justify your argument with evidence. The TPLF play card is over and now will buy it anymore. Try something new.

  • Everyone should take into account that TPLF has been working on creating Greater Tigray for over 40 years. Therefore, all recent evidences have no place here as they could have easily been engineered or fabricated by TPLF. The TPLF regime is known for corrupting census data to remove millions of people, particularly Amhara, this is a fact. Citations of maps such as by Donald Levin cannot be presented here as evidences as their work was not focused on such matter primarily, maps are simple sketches. They were meant to show places where the language is spoken and doesn’t show enough details to prove such matters. A conclusive argument should see all available evidences, particularly, the older ones, rather than being selective and misinterpreting them beyond their contexts.

    • If you have such evidence come forward and present to the public instead of speculation. So far what we are seeing is supporting Tegarus claim.

  • You Amharas can cry and insult all you want. This looks pretty good to put in front of an impartial court.

  • I wonder how Abel Tesfaye’s argument in the article would stand vis-a-vis Eritrea. Before that land was christened as Eritrea by the colonizing force of Italy in the 19th C., it was called Bahirre-Negash and was under the legal and administrative jurisdiction of Tigray; moreover, it satisfies all the demographic, linguistic, historical, ethnicity criteria that the author listed to support his argument about how a land could be categorized/re-categorized as Tigray-ian.

    • Very simple. If Eritrea had remained within the Ethiopian federation, the Tigrinya speaking part would have been constitutionally an integral part of Tigray Regional State. The Afar speaking part would have been part of Afar Regional State. It has declared independence before this happened. So what is so complicated about this?

  • You must be a puppet of #TplfTerrorsitGroup. FYI: In 1991, TPLF annexed the Welkait territory to the Tigray Regional State, and called it West Tigray. Later, in 1995, it tried to legitimize the annexation by introducing Ethiopia’s current constitution, which divided the country into ethnic regions. This, the annexation took place before the constitution was in place. But even if the territories were annexed after the constitution, Amhara people weren’t represented and can automatically reject it.

  • Abel Tesfaye, using a misprint in Donald Levine’s book as argument. Read the content of the book on page 1:

    Quote: ”The Abyssinians comprise two linguistic and geographical groups—the Amhara and the Tigre.* The Tigre inhabit the northern part of Ethiopia, above the Takazze River; their lands fall in what are now (book is from 1970’s) the province of Tigre and the former Italian colony of Eritrea.

    Quote (page 2): The Amhara inhabit vast areas of what are today the provinces of Bagemder, Gojjam, Wallo, and Shoa.

    Abel Tesfaye is using Ethiopian Insight to either promote Donald Levine’s book, or is using it to present falsified history. Whatever it is, he managed to ”convince” Getachew Reda and other idiots.

    Abel, Tigray made a big mistake for it’s 30 year occupation of our ancestral lands, in return we will fight you Tigre rats for the next 300 years.

    • Dawit S Gondaria calling Tegaru as “rats” and to fight for the next 300 years? And yet you want us to call ourselves Ethiopians? Nope! First educate yourself to express with a language and logic that is acceptable. Bring evidences to argue NOT to call people of Tigray who are created in the image of God like Amhara Oromo and etc…Does it make sense.

    • Mr. Dawit, I believe you forget something that Donald Levine wrote this book during Haileslase Era despite the fact that you ignored Welkait was annexed way back during Menelik to Bagemder. Donald was trying to show the geographic location of Tigray during that Era, however he explicitly stated that the majority population was tigrigna speaker.

  • Those who interest read most reliable evidence rather than majority voice without one side blaming. I don’t expect fair ideas those Ethiopians who don’t want to recognized Eritrea still aggression Ethiopia. Fake Ethiopians!!!!

  • Wow 👌 what a wonderfully educated analysis. The amhara restorationist and the international community must take into consideration that this federation will disintegrate and will be difficult to carry the consequence unless things are handled wisely I.e sticking to the constitution.

  • Administrating the Welkaiet at a certain point in the glory of the Amharas during the reign of King Menelik and Haileslasie is not sufficient reason to reclaim the land. Gonder was under the rule of King Micheal Shul, Tigray should reclaim it.

    The adventures of past Amhara kings should not be the source of continuous strife of Amhara people with all their Neghibouring regions. Amhara elites must stop glorifying medieval Amhara expansionist ideology if they want to leave in ethiopia peacefully. They have the responsibility to pass peace and prosperity to the new generation unlike their predecessors.

    • Absolutely! Amhara elites claime for Metekel, Kimant, part of Agew, Arsi and North Shewa including Finfine based on adminstering the area at one point in history is not only wrong but is the main distanilizing factor to fragment Ethiopia.

      Such Amhara policies of expansionism led to the creation of Dijou outi, Eritrea and of it continues anabated can fragment the country further.

  • I say just get rid of the whole cockamie ethnic federalism that resulted in this egregious mess we find ourselves in. It’s a sad state of affairs when one egg costs 12 birr and a tiny studio apartment costs 3 million birr to purchase. People don’t have food to eat, nor do they have a place to call home, yet we whine and moan about ethnicity. Centralize power in Addis with a China-style government. Look at where the Chinese are today: they have an economy second only to that of the US. Need I say more?

    • … cockamamie ethnic federalism … Apologies for the slight spelling mistake. Occasionally happens to everyone.

    • Dear Abel,

      your argument is not logical and realistic. Multinational federalism was with us for the past 29 years and we saw a time when inflation goes up abd down. The current inflation abd rising cost of living and inflation is the result of war as we are spending on non productive areas which is war. FDI is not coming, indusyry were closing and hard currency earned is low and production/ productivity is less in tomes of war leadibg us to such crises.

      So don’ bring false analogy. Make peace to yourself, control your madness to centralize the states while even Gurage’s are asking to form regional state so as to have decentralized administration to serve their community well. It is day dream to wish a centralized government for our people who practiced federalism for three decades. Do you want another rounds of war & destroy our beloved country? I think you are living in fantasy in one of Western countries without understanding the context here, interests by the majority of the people of Ethiopia from North to South except those few urban elites who want to continue war & playing with fire to destroy our country, and social fabrics.

      Ethnicity and discrimination is more rampant during emperial era than current times. The way forward is to democratize the federalism, make it more autonomous (instead of the fake one by TPLF). No way to unitarist and China style government as we having different contexts, history, physiological make-up. Did Eritrea with China style brought any change to her people? No. But under the nose of China, Taiwan has made lots of difference with democracy, openess and rule of law for its people unlike Eritrea. Such kind of unitarist and dictarial regimes were tested and miserably failed in the past fifty decades in Ethiopia. Why you want it again? Such idea usually comes from those enemies of Ethiopia who want choas, killings, civil war and devastation of our country.

      • You are saying war is responsible for the current inflation that Ethiopia is experiencing, and exactly how did this war start? And who was responsible for starting it? Ethnicity is at the core of our problems. Do you see the Chinese killing each other? Do you see them starving? I’m tired of hearing phrases like the “starving Ethiopians” and I advocate a Tiananmen-style crackdown to prevent destruction of property and loss of lives in the name of these useless ethnic squabbles. Democracy doesn’t work in Ethiopia because somebody will always seek to dominate everything and everyone when they get a chance. Why didn’t the TPLF promote true democracy when they had a chance? Just read a book called “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs instead of whining about ethnic federalism crap.

          • What you are all talking about is meaningless, senseless and the reflection of your background which is/was highly motivated by corruption ,wildly ethnic based life styles and beneficiaries of the ethnic based system which is a disgusting political philosophy of the late TPLF leaders and there’s affiliations. Over and above, Ethiopia is a sovereign country which is neither destroyed nor divided because of your ambitions of corruption.

        • You should read some history of China. Han Chinese as dominant majority population have been assimilating other peoples. The latest to fall under the Chinese imperialists are Tibetans and Uighurs. These peoples do not want to be assimilated. The similar situation in Ethiopia should men you all become Oromo.

          • So what if they got assimilated? You think it really matters when you are starving to death? Assimilate away, I say. I’m all for China and assimilation so that economic development takes center stage. Tell me, this: what did the so-called ethnic federalism do for Ethiopia? Where are we today? There isn’t anything that anyone here can tell me that will convince me ethnic federalism did a single iota of good for Ethiopia. Don’t kid yourselves. Assimilate away, but develop the country the Chinese way.

  • Abel Tesfaye -is this a real name or some tplf-troll well paid? Why don’t you try to compromise instead of throwing fuel on burning stove? Don’t generalize as Amhara elites… etc because you are pushing the center to the outskirts of extremism.

    • You better find your own league instead of stooping low to attack. If you have anything of a substance to show for, rebut his well detailed and fact based argument with counter argument. Pathetic.

  • The very authoritative Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, with contributions by some 300 international and Ethiopian scholars, in its Volume V (2014) holds a map of the languages of Ethiopia. The extent of the Tigrinya language is mapped widely across the Tekkeze River, up to the Sudanese border (page 598). Just like it is mapped on earlier language maps.

    See also: Dataset: Western Tigray in 108 historical and 21 ethno-linguistic maps (1607-2009) – https://zenodo.org/record/6635584#.YutlkBxBw2w

    • 1* Jan Nyssen is an Belgium man who advocates on behalf of the TPLF, who lived in Tigray and has business/academic interests there.

      2* Zenodo.org is a self publishing platform for which the majority of published ”research” is not peer viewed, in other words, everyone can make an account and dump their ”research” there.

      Nice try, ”Jan Nyssen”

    • Surprising you are presenting a 2014 Encylopedia as evidence. I have seen your pseudo scholar writing on the same subject brining selective and unfounded evidence to prove the same case. The TPLF regime has removed over 3million Amhara people from the 2007 census as if they disappeared in a puff of smoke. TPLF has been working on greater Tigray for over 50 years. No one will fall for such pseudo scholar tantrums here. There is over 1000 of years evidence Wolkait has never been part of Tigray.

  • The 1849 map by this TPLF paid con artist Wolbert Schmidt from Mekelle University is a misrepresentation of reality and history. ”Tigray” was under the control of an Amhara Wube Haile Maryam from Semien from the 1830’s to 1850’s.
    Tigray was hardly united before Wube either, Agame fought Tembien, Tembien fought Enderta, your loose confederation remark is laughable.

    Two sinister individuals (Mesfin Woldemariam and Meles Zenawi) and handful of garbage scholars don’t get to decide for us, how we identify ourselves. Just because we gave you radicals a cold shoulder over your tribalism and hate, doesn’t mean we will sit idly by forever. We will fight back, and you will suffer the consequences of us having to fight back!!

    We love OUR language, culture, our music, our fashion, our arts and our history!! We don’t care about what sheeps say about us. We are proud Amharas and yes the language Amharic makes us Amhara and we LOVE IT (we don’t care for the alien languages such as Tigray or Oromo languages).

    2.5 million Amharas dissapeared from the census between 1994 & 2007. The EPRDF regime and now the Prosperity Party under Abiy Ahmed Ali wants to eradicate my people and my culture. We will not rest until the previous and current regime is held responsible for the dissapearance of my people.

    Amharas will fight back!!

    • exactly. This section in the article “In contrast, Tigray—or Tigre as it was known during imperial era—for centuries operated almost as a confederate, a consolidated administration with somewhat defined territories.” is completely false. None — and I do mean none — of the current regions operated in a consolidated administration ever in in Ethiopian history. All the lands were controlled by some nobility that claimed the lands and those nobles fought amongst each other for control of more land. This is perhaps most truthful in Tigray. It had hundreds of nobles in a relatively small area and thus had to deal with multiple in-fighting amongst the nobles.
      The author is trying to deceive the readers by repeating the same old lies used by TPLF in its manifesto in which it “re-wrote” Ethiopian history as it pleased and for the first time ever mentioned a non-existent tigrayan “nation”.

      • I wish, you had some knowledge about history. We Tigrayans had well defined territory with a centralized king before anyone in the Horn of Africa,though the kingdom had weakened through time. And there are several historical books which shows the map of Tigrigna Speakkng people and even before the Current Ethiopia had come to existence. Therefore,don’t think as everyone is as foolish as you are,because we have historical evidences which were written before the modern Ethiopia came to existence which show as Welkait was and is part of Tigray and the names of every Wekait’s place is in Tigrigna. More importantly,the people are Tigrayans.
        Therefore,there are three options to settle this:
        1) Tracing history: so,we will trace history back even before Ethiopia was conceived,not since the kingdom of Minilik II
        2) Referendum: Holding free and fair referendum to the of Welkait
        3) Remove via Force: though it could cost lives,we are sure that,these settlers and expansionists will not win,because we are fighting for our freedom not to oppress anyone.
        In conclusion,I want to you,you dhugaa Bilisumaa to start thinking as human being who wants to answer questions based reasons and evidences,not based on favors and hates,ok!

    • Yes, indeed. They are trying to deceive the gullible world which most of the time want to lean in their favor

  • You can say whatever you want, but the TRUTH is written by scholars like ቴዎድሮስ ታደሰ በለይ A series of his studies under the title የወልቃይት ጠገዴ እና ጠለምት እውነታዎች (ከታሪክ፣ ከሕግ እና ከስነ ሕዝብ ምህንድስና አንጻር) was published on the zehabesha.com which is still available. The third and last part was published on July 15, 2022. Read it, re-read it andrefelect on it and finally learn from it. If you’re an honest person to learn and change his opinion on the subject, try it. Good luck.

    • False narrative can not guarantee you to get what you thought. There are citations used here and there, which of course are false and ethnic centrist articles written for your Tigre Consumption. You can consume that by your self but you will never dump on the brave Amharas. You commit holocaust and ethnic cleansing on ethnic Amharas in Wolkayit Tsegede. This will never happen again at least while human beings exist on earth. You have gathered fallacious arguments here and there and articles written by your Tigrayan dreamers. Forget that, The Amhara people suffers a lot for the past 30 years and you commit homicide while you occupy the different parts of the Amhara territory in your ignorant war on the people. Be like, you can t get it but you can dream forever, Wolkayit. As to the naming of places, it was not a problem for the Amhara people to name anything with Tigrayan naming. Surely , in a couple of months, places and localities in Wolkayit should be re-named by Amhara Names if it has any business with your ownership, period.

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