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How the Tigray war destroyed a Tigray-Amhara marriage

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An old friend recounts the story of a Tigrayan woman’s suffering far away from the battlefield.

Since the devastating war in Tigray broke out in November 2020, Tigrayans’ lives all over the country have been reduced to misery while the neglectful international community watches in silence.

Similar to what happened during the 1976-1991 war against the Derg and the Ethio-Eritrea war in 1998-2000, this war has negatively impacted Tigrayans’ social, economic, and professional lives as well as causing psychological damage and straining interpersonal relationships with members of other ethnic groups.

I’d like to share with you my friend Hadas’ story, whose call I unexpectedly got a few weeks ago, because I believe it to be emblematic of these terrible impacts.

Hadas and I attended the same elementary school in Mandar Awrora, which is a small town in Tigray around ten kilometers west of Dansha. Throughout the years, we competed against each other to be the top students in our classes, challenging each other while still being friends.

I hadn’t seen or talked to her since I relocated to Axum in 2007 for my secondary school. It felt surreal hearing her voice over the phone after all these years and reminiscing about the past.

It was wonderful to be able to speak with her and relive some of our happier childhood times. However, given that our homeland is the battlefield of the bloody ongoing war, it’s quite common for every joyful occasion to be followed by tragic news. This is the new norm of Tigrayan life.

Hadas told me everything that has happened to her since the war started as we began sharing tales of our losses and woes. When I asked if she would be willing to share her story, she immediately answered, “of course, people should hear about our suffering.”

Normal life

Hadas attended Arba Minch University for her undergraduate studies after finishing her preparatory school at Shire High School.

She stayed there for five years and, during that time, she met a young man who was enrolled in the same programme as her. It didn’t take her long to fall in love and start building a long-term relationship with him.

She had a great time there and those years had given her a sense of purpose. After all, a new chapter in her life had begun, she had started her university life, and she was looking forward to being independent and seizing every opportunity she encountered.

Hadas got married to her partner. She eventually moved to Gondar, her husband’s hometown, and began working at the Gondar Water and Sewerage Authority Bureau. At that time, everyone was willing to live and work anywhere in Ethiopia because the country was considered to be stable.

She stayed in Gondar for almost seven years and gave birth to her first son there.

As far as she could tell, her marriage didn’t face challenges until the widespread confiscation of Tigrayan properties and brutal attacks on Tigrayans began in Gondar and other parts of the country immediately after the war broke out.

World collapses

Her husband’s devotion to her started to wane at that point and his hatred for Tigrayans started to come to light. Moreover, she feared that someday the atrocities she was witnessing in the city might find their way into her home.

Because she was terrified he might hurt her, she left her husband right away and started living alone with her only son. Her hopes for a happy marriage and decent lifestyle, the children she always wanted, and her ambition to pursue higher things in life all vanished in an instant.

Without warning, life abruptly became an emotional rollercoaster. Days passed by, yet soon thereafter, the police and other intelligence agencies started looking for Tigrayans in the city. Nearly every Tigrayan home was illegally searched and most of the families’ possessions were seized.

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A few days after this dynamic emerged, the police arrived at her home and she was arrested. Hadas was at a loss as to whom she could entrust with caring for her son. Despite being informed of her circumstances, the police refused to help.

Fortunately, she was able to connect with foreigner volunteers who could look after him. They assured her that he would stay with other children in their camp and that she could come at any time to pick him up.

She was then taken into custody despite having done nothing wrong and was transported to one of the notorious prisons in the city. She remained imprisoned for six months without any visitors, languishing there simply because of her Tigrayan ethnicity.

Hadas told me those months were the hardest of her life and that she feared she would not survive. “There were a great number of Tigrayans who were interrogated and went missing during the night and were never made to return to their prison cells. I might have been among them,” she elaborated.

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It was heartbreaking to hear Hadas reliving the depressing and stressing traumas she experienced in the prison cell as she spoke to me about her grief.

When she was finally released, she got an opportunity to see her son again. Soon after, still afraid for her life, she fled Gondar after borrowing money for her transportation.

Hadas preferred to leave her child with the foreigner volunteers until she felt at ease in her new situation. She believed that bringing him with her would just make him suffer more as he would find out she had neither family nor enough money to care for him.

Destroyed life

Hadas left everything she owned, including any spare clothing, phones, or other possessions. She does not have a place of her own and is staying with friends in the Oromia region, with whom she found refuge and who are helping her survive.

Upon fleeing, she didn’t have her academic credentials with her. When she requested the governmental agencies reissue her documents, they refused.

“I miss my son so much, he’s the only person I have. Only seldom do I hear his voice. I always worry that something bad might happen to him. I made every effort to ensure that he had a happy childhood in his early years,” Hadas said.

“I’m also unsure where my family members are and whether they are alive or dead. Will I meet my son again, Getu?“ she sobbed, overwhelmed by her anguish.

“This war has destroyed my life and my marriage,” Hadas said as we concluded our conversation.

It is tragic that our women and children suffer the most every time a war breaks out. My dear childhood friend and former classmate Hadas is not okay. We Tigrayans are not okay. We are in danger for no fault of our own.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Tsega-brhan Mebrahtu, 27, and her children Milen, 3, Abel, 6 and Arsema, 10, were displaced from Tigray’s western zone to Mekelle. UNICEF, UN0409569, Leul Kinfu.

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Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. Cite Ethiopia Insight and link to this page if republished.

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About the author

Getu Mak

Getu is a lecturer at Adigrat University, the founder of TigraiCodes and a member of Tigrai Hiking Group. His book, PRIMED FOR DEATH - Tigray Genocide: A Survivor's Story, will be released soon.

11 Comments

  • The story of Hadas might be true or fabricated. Let us assume it is true. Who is responsible?
    TPLF lead ethinic federalism is the only responsible system for atrocities to happen between different ethnic groups in Ethiopians. Before TPLF existence no Ethiopian hate any other Ethiopian or any foreigner. For that manner even when you go to forign countries no one hates other foreigner in a such big extent as Hadas story. Hatred is not the character of average 21 century human beings. TPLF inaculated into peacefully living society a poison that every one to be polarized to the same language speaking ethnic groups, in school, religion, city, work area, etc.
    The question is now how to alleviate the problem? I believe Ethiopians should critically understand why dividing policy adopted in such peace loving multi-ethinic Ethiopia and how Ethiopians and the world should stand together this devilish dividing idea not to come again any where in this century.

    • Ethnic hatred was started by Menelik who empowered the Amhara and enslaved the rest. Multinational federalism was an attempt to correct the neftegna-gebbar system of rule. Do not blame federalism for your crimes. The neftegna crime against the rest has been here for over a century. Take responsibility and correct your ways. Respect the right of others to be themselves. There is no reason why civilians of non-Amhara ethnicity should be attacked, robbed and arrested in Gonder.

  • I am sorry for Hadas. But for Getu to overblow a single personal family story to promote a political agenda is insensitive and cruel. Shame on you.

  • When Tigrian expelled Eritreans in 1991 from Ethiopian, TPLF the Tigrian guard had pulled gold out of Eritrean teeth.

  • Getu thank you please tell Hadas that reading these pages we feel her pain may god reconnect her with her family safely and that she can heal the deep scares so she can teach her son love and happiness. May we have strength and good graces.

  • Well said Gutema, not that I believe the whole story, but it can happen.
    You can reverse the same story in what has happened in Tigray, in fact there are many worst stories than this. Many of the federal army’s wife’s and children’s had been humiliated, tortured and killed by TPLF. The route of all these issues are no one be TPLF ethnic federalism.

    However, we should all stop passing the blame to each other and try to live together as an Ethiopian.

  • Great work, and truly exemplary, Getu Mak. This tragic story of Hadas speaks volumes about the difficult lives of many Tigrayan families who are still going through a difficult period as the result of unbridled hate propaganda which has been propagated in all forms by the state and non-state actors alike.

  • People in Amehara and Tiglra are intermingled in marriage , economy and social. however, TPLF led government made Ethiopian to be divided by adopting a policy called divide and rule, it is the most disgusting political philosophy Of human history

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