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Who is the Rightful Owner of Western Tigray? By Yonas Araya

Who Is the Rightful Owner of Western Tigray?

In November 2020, genocidal forces of Colonel Abiy, Isaias Afwerki, and the Amhara Kilil’s politicians invaded Tigray with the chief purpose of conquering its land and terrorizing its population into submission. Consequently, the Amhara kill’s army, along with the kilil’s vigilante group, known as Fanno, massacred thousands of Tigrayans in Mai Kadra, Humera, and other towns and forcibly drove out hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from their ancestral land for centuries, from west of the Tekeze River.

As of this writing, the vigilante group, known as Fanno, continues to massacre Tigrayans in a gruesome way in Humera and other towns and dump their bodies into the Tekeze/Setit River or into mass graves, with the blessing, if not, with the tacit approval of the Amhara kilil’s politicians and the Amhara political elites worldwide, and with a deafening silence from Col. Abiy and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and its chief commissioner, Daniel Bekele.

Notwithstanding the evidence, the Amhara kilil and the Amhara political elites worldwide have made historical claims of the land west of the Tekeze River. They have been claiming that, without providing any historical or any piece of inherent evidence, before the EPDRF made that territory part of the Tigray kilil, the Amharas had inhabited it for centuries.

Therefore, I think it is fair to ask the Amhara kilil’s politicians to buttress their claims with some piece of inherent evidence. For example, even if you have never been to the state of California, when you pull it up on Google maps, you will learn that almost all of its towns, hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and forests have Spanish names. The reason is that California had first been conquered by the Spaniards before its sovereignty fell under Mexico and finally under the USA after the 1948 Mexican–American War. Similarly, in many parts of North America, you will find many names of lakes, rivers, creeks, hills, falls, bays, mountains, and others that took their names from the languages of indigenous Native American/American Indian tribes. Those are historical or inherent pieces of evidence.

I have never been to the Western Zone of Tigray. Still, since the day the Amhara Kilil invaded it in November 2020 and forcibly drove out hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes, I pulled it up on Google maps.  I learned that the names of many sites in the Western Zone of Tigray originate from the Tigrigna language. I have also learned that there are many sites even inside the current Amhara Kilil with Tigrigna names. 

Moreover, I have also learned of many places in the Western Zone of Tigray whose names an authentic Amhara person cannot pronounce correctly, such as Adi (ዓዲ), Aini/Ayni (ዓይኒ), Himora/Humora (ሑመራ), Hamli (ሓምሊ).  It also seems some Amharic-speaking individuals mispronounce some of their loan words; for example, they mispronounce the Tigrigna word Tslemti (ጸለምቲ), which is the name of an area currently in the Amhara Kilil, as Telemt (ጠለምት).

Below, you will find a map of the Western Zone of the Tigray region, followed by a list of names of places. From there, you will learn that the origins of the names of the majority of the areas happen to be Tigrigna, which will unequivocally dismiss the historical claim made by the politicians of the Amhara kilil.

Note: The aim of the information above is only meant to present the map of the entire western Tigray on one page for easy reading. This map has been formatted to fit on one page and should not be used as a reference for legal purposes. The coordinates for the sites tagged with red circles are based on rough estimates. To get their precise longitude/latitude coordinates, visit Google or other online maps.

Note: The table below contains the list of sites visible on Google maps at the time of this writing.

The Boundaries of the Kilils Created in 1995
The EPDRF understood clearly that human beings are mobile. For millennia, humans constantly migrated or moved from one settlement to another for various reasons:  to run away from hostile enemies, or due to war, feuds, resource depletion, epidemics, drought, or famine. Therefore, the EPDRF decided the boundaries of the new regions not be based on historical claims made by any ethnic group, but on demography; that is, on which ethnic group was the predominant inhabitant of any given area at the time of the delineation. Additionally, the new boundaries took into account settlement patterns and the consent of the people. To those ends, the government used the national census taken in 1994.

Now, suppose one argues the TPLF could have skewed the 1994 census data in favor of Tigray, one can also refer to another essential record. According to Haileleuel Getahun’s (an Amhara scholar) book, as was quoted by **Dereje T Asefa, Ph.D. (a Tigrayan Scholar), when the western Tigray was under the Gondor province’s administration, ethnic Tigrayans comprised 91.7% of Humera, 89.3% of Tselemti (currently in Amhara kilil), 96.9% of Welkait, and 76.1% of Tsegade’s inhabitants, and overall comprised 89.3% of the inhabitants of the four areas mentioned above.

As a result, the Commission delegated to delineate the boundaries of kilils decided to make Humera, Welkait, and Tsegade part of the newly created Tigray kilil. At the same time, the Commission ceded a large territory primarily inhabited by an Afar ethnic group, a territory that had been part of the Tigray province since 1942, and incorporated it into the newly created Afar kilil.

Similarly, the Commission incorporated parts of the former provinces of Begemeder (Gonder), Wollo, North Showa, and Gojjam into the newly created Amhara kilil.

However, although over 90% of the area west of the Tekeze River’s inhabitants are Tigrayans, the politicians of the Amhara kilil are still claiming to be its rightful owners, just because in 1942, an Amhara king, Emperor Haile Selassie, unfairly made it part of Begemder.

Worse, the Amhara kilil’s politicians and the Amhara political elites worldwide have been implying as though the 1942 map had existed for centuries before the EPDRF revised it. It also seems the Amhara political elites have many Ethiopians convinced that the 1942 map had been in existence for centuries before the EPDRF abolished it. So much so one senior government official recently said that he knew the western part of Tigray was part of Gondar because that was how he learned it in school, presumably during the Derg or Haile Selassie governments.

What Are the Other Facts?
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the current Ethiopian nation-state had still been in the making before it had finally acquired its current international borders recognized by European colonists. Before the early 20th century, and especially before 1942, there might’ve been places recognized as the land of Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Agame, Gurage, Menz, Sidama, Lasta, Oromo, or others. Still, those places never had demarcated boundaries or maps. Administrative divisions, such as Awarajas, or Werdas, which usually consisted of certain villages, had imaginary or loosely defined and fluid boundaries depending on the desire or lack thereof of the kings or feudal warlords that ruled over them. However, upon his return from exile, Emperor Haile Selassie commissioned provinces with delineated borders to be established; thus, in 1942, Ethiopia created 12 regions with delineated boundaries known as provinces or Teklai-Gizat (ጠቅላይ ግዛት).

During the 1942 creation of the provinces, Emperor Haile Selassie chose, purposely, in order to suffocate or box-in the Tigrayans, to incorporate the land west of the Tekeze River, which the Tigrayans had inhabited for centuries, into the province of Begemder, a region predominantly inhabited by an Amhara ethnic group. Worth noting, Tigray was in a tumultuous period during that time; thus, Tigrayans were in no position to counter the powerful Amhara king, Emperor Haile Selassie.

Similarly, during that time, Emperor Haile Selassie forcibly seized tens of thousands of hectares of land from many indigenous people in the south and central Ethiopia, condemning the indigenous peoples to live as serfs in what had been their ancestral lands.

The indigenous people remained serfs in their ancestral lands until The 1974 Revolution, which was partly inspired by the land-to-the-tiller Student Movement, which advocated for the abolition of the feudal institutions and the land tenure systems.

Again, worth noting, when Emperor Haile Selassie decided to incorporate the western part of Tigray into the province of Begemder, his decision was based purely on political and economic factors.  The first was to deny the Tigray people free access to a sovereign nation, Sudan, and the latter was to deny Tigray a fertile land and the revenue thereof.

Nevertheless, if the core objective of The 1974 Revolution, before the Derg hijacked it, had been, among others, about land-to-the-tiller, the aim of the revolution that toppled the Derg government in 1991 was about giving all Ethiopians the freedom to live with dignity.  It was about giving all Ethiopians the liberty to celebrate their native languages, culture, and history. Therefore, although it has many flaws, the aim of creating new regions with new boundaries was meant to fulfill the core objective of that revolution.

Claims by the Amhara Kilil and the Amhara Political Elites Worldwide
Claim-1:  For millennia, the Western Tigray was inhabited and owned by the Amharas.
Fact: If that is the case, why do many places in western Tigray have Tigrigna names? It is believed the Tigray Kilil did not change the names of the sites after that part of Tigray officially became part of the Tigray kilil in 1995.
Claim-2: Before the TPLF incorporated the land as part of the Tigray kilil, the western part of Tigray was part of the Gondor province.

  • It is true, the western part of Tigray was part of Gondor province. But so were all parts of the Benishangul-Gumuz region and some parts of the Oromo region. So, by that logic, will the Amhara kilil politicians claim as their own the entire Benishangul-Gumuz, and parts of the Oromo Kilils and incorporate them into the Amhara Kilil?
  • Furthermore, by that logic, the whole Oromo kilil will have to be abolished, and its territories absorbed by Gondor/Begemder, Wollo, Gojjam, Welega, Shoa, and other provinces. The whole Afar kilil will have to be abolished, and its territories absorbed by Wollo and Tigray. If not, which is it?

The Committee designated to delineate the boundaries of the regions did not take into account any historical claims of any specific area by any ethnic group. It only considered the ethnic group that predominantly inhabited any given site at the time of the delineation.

Nonetheless, had the Committee also considered historical claims in its decision-making process, it would still have assigned the Western Zone to the Tigray region because the inherent evidence favored Tigray.

Therefore, it’s fair to assert that both under historical claims, although irrelevant under the 1995 constitution, plus under the 1995 Federal Constitution, the Tigray kilil is unequivocally the rightful owner of the western territory of Tigray.

It appears the Amhara kilil’s politicians had realized the constitution was not on their side and that they could not have the Western Zone of Tigray by following constitutional due process. Therefore, they decided to use the Ethiopian federal, and Isaias Afwerki’s armies to conquer Tigray by cleverly exploiting Colonel Abiy’s immaturity and his delirious wish to become the “7th” king and Isaias Afwerki’s deep hatred for Tigrayans and jealousy of their leaders’ remarkable accomplishments. To that end, the Amhara region’s politicians promised the man-child a crown; they also promised Isaias unfettered access into Tigray to quench his insatiable thirst for revenge.

At this point, I think the last and only way for the Amhara political elites and the Amhara kilil’s politicians to get the territory west of the Tekeze River back into Gondar will be by abolishing the 1995 constitution, thereby abolishing the kilils, and replacing them with the 1942 provinces.

By the way, who’s to say the Amhara kilil’s politician next move will not be about dismantling the federal structure, thereby abolishing the kilils and replacing them with the 1942 provinces? The 1942 provinces did not recognize the rights of all Ethiopians. Therefore, until 1995, there was no such thing as a Somali, a Benishangul-Gumuz, an Afar, or an Oromos kilil, to list a few. So, now who’s to say that the politicians of the Amhara kilil will not depend on Ethiopian federal and Isaias’ army, coupled with Col. Abiy’s buffoonery, to achieve their goals? 

If Ethiopians fail to stop the Amharas’ politicians’ dangerous adventure now, who is to say, next, the Amhara kilil’s politicians will not claim to be the rightful owners of lands currently being administrated by the Oromo, Afar, Benishangul-Gomez, and other regions. Moreover, as was pointed out before, millions of indigenous Ethiopians were made to live as serfs in their ancestral lands during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. So, now, who’s to say, next, they will not abolish the 1975 Derg Government’s proclamation, “The March 1975 ‘Land to the Tiller’ Proclamation”?

Be that as it may, it does not appear other Ethiopian kills have realized what is in store for them.  I think it is incumbent upon the Tigrayans to sound the alarm to all Kilils in their native languages – in Oromia, Afar, Somalis, and others, not only because it benefits Tigray, but also it’s the right thing to do.

Lastly, the Amhara region’s politicians’ conduct to contravene the constitution and their decision to treat the federal army as their private bodyguard is reprehensible. Moreover, as if those acts of treason are not reprehensible enough, the Amhara Kilil and their errand boy’s decision to engage in the ethnic cleansing of their fellow citizens, yet still, if those acts of treason are not enough, their decision to invite a hostile and vindictive foreign leader to help them violate the constitution and engage in the ethnic cleansing of their fellow citizens will remain as something the Tigray people cannot be expected to forget for many generations to come.


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