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Breaking the Social Fabric & Cultural Values: a facet of the genocide on Amhara people in Ethiopia

May 29, 2023

By Desalegn Birara 


Amhara is known for its social organization, institutes & values that maintain order and sustain the community unruffled. It has the social stratification that has respective functions. These attributes of Amhara have been feared by invaders and perpetrators from in & outside. Historical enemies who were defeated by the virtues of Amhara have created minions, transfused their hate to Amhara to these purported entities, and designed a grand amalgamated attack to exterminate Amhara.

Culture revolutions were imposed to make sure that the social values and institutes cannot resurge; system replacements orchestrated agitation on the community’s self-reliance; value denominations and new definitions of social behaviors confused perception of social actions; and all of these were mainstreamed to the community continuously. These interventions destroyed the organic social fabric and allowed the installation of alien systems that alienated the people from their cultural milieu.

The attack on Amhara’s social fabric is factionalist by approach. It identifies intrinsic and extrinsic filaments that composed the fabric of relationships, and attacks targeted elements discretely. The internal attack is a direct intervention to disturb the function of social values in the community, while the parallel extrinsic attack is focused on disparaging Amhara’s external relations. The internal attack aims to crumble the Amhara community, while the parallelly implemented foreign relations create enemies to Amhara from near and far. The confluence of aims is making Amhara a disintegrated helpless community that is hated by everyone in the world and consequently, whose annihilation can be justified.

This article presents two dimensional views on the status of social fabrics. The view into internal attributes comprise the criminalization of ènbedãdé, the spoiling of trust and the mortification of mediation as examples of the attack on intrinsic social values. The diverging dimension views factors into/from outside, at regional and global levels. It scrutinizes the Eritrean and Sudanese relations with Ethiopia to epitomize the attack on elements of extrinsic values.

Hermeneutic phenomenology is used as a method to gather information and reflective analysis is used to discuss the undergoing genocide on Amhara people.

Criminalizing Ènbedãdé

Criminalization of community sacraments and banning the autochthonic social control measures was among the vast intervention of the TPLF regime in its first five years on power. The regime intimidated the community and forced to stop its organizational practices that had public trust & reliance on their integrity; to install systems and structures that the government has full control. Such system replacements abolished the endemic institutes which earned the highest veracity that had been tested in thousands of years. In this regard, the banning and criminalization of ènbedãdé (እንብዳዴ) as stated by Girma Berhanu in his book titled ‘Finote Amhara’ marks the earliest attack to destroy the software versions of Amhara’s social institutions.

“እንብዳዴ” – ènbedãdé: – is a procedure of declaring an individual for complete social rejection. In the typical Amhara cultural community, crimes of treason, arson, and other high-level felonies are punished by rejection; unlike modern jurisprudence that sentences lifetime imprisonment or death penalty. The social rejection can be applied to a variety of crimes that an individual commits. The community goes through thorough assessments and by its designated institutes to resolve the problem. The offender will be approached thru his family, friends and God fathers or the elderly. A series of intermediations are exhausted before it reaches the declaration of ènbedãdé.

The ènbedãdé is declared at the local church or mosque where every household head or representative gather. Additionally, the criminal’s relatives, personages from other vicinity and representatives of different social organizations like mahibertegnoch, iqubtegnoch, blacksmiths, weavers, and merchants, are called to attend. The ènbedãdé shengo – i.e., a committee who took care of the case, presents the charge to the gathering. The shengo chairperson or sometimes the church administrator reads the misdoing that the person committed and explains the process that the intermediaries have gone through. Even though by that day everyone already knows that the delinquent is going to be sentenced ènbedãdé, his case will be read aloud to the public. After reading the charge to the public, the person will be given a chance to say his last words if he/she wills. Because it is until this moment that the person is considered as a living being. Whatever the last words be, follows the declaration “Mr. XYZ is sentenced ènbedãdé”. Then, his family, friends, relatives and warn hearted people cry and the scene instantly converts to resemble a funeral.

After ènbedãdé, the individual is considered as a dead body, no more human being. No one talks to an ènbedãdé sentenced person, no one in the community. Because, that person is a walking ghost after death whom people run away from. No one exchanges things with him in the market. No one borrows him anything. If anyone is reported to borrow him tools or even greet him, that person also will be sentenced ènbedãdé. In this situation the sentenced person can hardly stay a few weeks and usually kills him/herself. In rare cases, the ènbedãdé sentenced person leaves the country for another society, where integrating anew can be an option.

The community preserved its security and confidence in its organization through such control norms. In Amhara, it is believed that cleanliness and strength are from within. If the community is traitor free, no external enemy can penetrate it. The wars against foreign aggressors and consequent great victories prove the strength of the social values, institutes & organization.

The reign of TPLF in 1991 culminated the exercise of ènbedãdé in Amhara. Because TPLF was founded on hating Amhara and envisages taking Amharan land after eliminating the people. It fought to the teeth to dismantle the values that hold the community together as one strong entity. Thus, ènbedãdé was criminalized by TPLF. Ènbedãdé sentenced criminals were set free, and even glorified and given crucial positions by TPLF. The TPLF system made sure that those ènbedãdé criminals have optimal safety and guaranteed them for their personal security. Hence, they subscribed for lifetime mission and have already proved that they were the most trusted agents by TPLF. For most of them, TPLF arranged education and training opportunities including higher education abroad. When they return, they took over administrative positions where they find the base community open and unarmed for ruthless revenge. These persons in a council are called Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), more commonly known as ብአዴን.

Spoiling Trust

In the typical Amhara culture, trust is a daily operating system. It surprises foreigners when people exchange things worth of hundreds of thousands birr without any receipt or third party at a random marketplace. Guarantee is telling the truth that the item is real, or it works in the capacity as explained for the exchange. And it exactly does. People used to trust each other; not necessarily because everyone is obedient to the relationships, but certainly afraid of the consequences of distrust.

For example, a farmer goes to a market to buy an ox. He goes to buy the ox from a person whom he never met or knew before. But he knows for sure that after he buys the ox, if the ox breaks barn at night and escapes to the earlier owner – usually happens, the person will bring the ox back to the buyer, himself. If he denies and by any means proven to be disbelief that bears ènbedãdé.  After the coming of TPLF to power, prime minister Meles Zenawi at the National House of Peoples’ Representatives session that was broadcasted by the national Tv, declared that ‘theft is a job unless the thief is caught’. Stealing and corruption became standard social behaviors let alone breaching promises. The TPLF cadres who at some point in time were sentenced ènbedãdé or were about to, made it fashionable to betray relationships. The community was panicked. But could not control or have the necessary structures to reverse the looming social issue. As a last resort until some coping mechanism is devised, people do not have trust amongst each other as they used to, anymore. Breaking the trust between people has been a profound success to the regime.

Mortifying mediation – “ሽምግልናን ማርከስ”

The most contemporary campaign of the anti-Amhara regimes is mortifying mediation. Amhara used to trust mediations as a mechanism of resolving conflicts and clearing up doubts. Religious fathers and the wise elderly had a dependable role in the community to intermediate between conflicting bodies, objectively.

The regime repeatedly used the respected and wise elderly and religious fathers to mediate with armed groups. The armed fighters accept the call by these respected intermediaries and sit for discussion around the table. The regime deceives everyone in the process and the mediation converts in to capturing. For example, Zemene Kassie was captured at Bahirdar after he was called for mediation by a group of mediators. The mediators’ team comprises of professors, Federal law makers, religious Papas, successful entrepreneurs, and public figures. However, the regime installed its army in clandestine before it sent its representatives for the mediation; and vehemently, betrayed the mediators.  The regime used the age-old conflict resolution method to capture and imprison the Fano leader. Mediators were powerless to prevent that. They can no longer give a security guarantee for parties whom they approach to mediate with the regime now. The elderly lost their dependability simply because they accepted a responsibility that they can not deliver.

Mihret Wodajo, the eastern Amhara Fano general, was approached by the same conspiracy. However, this time around enough lesson has been taken from the Bahirdar experience. Nonetheless, the trick has a double tier advantage to the regime. First, it automatically, helps capture the rebelled forces’ leaders and disperses their groups. Second, it systematically erodes the value and social role of the respected elderly and religious leaders. Looking at what happened to the captured ones and witnessing the powerless intermediaries who can never give a warrant to any party, no Amhara will depend on mediation anymore. This diminishes the role, trust, and solidarity of Amharas amongst each other. The regimes paralyze each value and institute one after the other until they leave the community completely anomic.

The use of priests and elderly to negotiate with armed groups, and later deceiving them, is a tactic to disgrace priests and the elderly in society. Because the public will perceive them as cooperatives of the scandal which gradually obliges the public no longer to rely on traditional conflict resolution mechanisms meddled by the elderly and religious fathers. The elderly and religious fathers lose their reliability, credibility, and roles in society. This further disintegrates and disenfranchises the targeted community. Thus, Amhara is being finessed to hate its own values and institutions for dogmatic alterations. The more frantic the obstructions of traditional mediation by the elderly bear, the more aggressive the people become to destroy their own values. The regime has the role only to catalyze the process so that the people destroy themselves faster.

As explicitly stated in “የመደመር መንገድ” breaking the social fabric and cultural values of Amhara is the gate way for new Ethiopia. The book scrupulously presents public poems, songs, tales, oral stories, and proverbs as obstacles of his ‘medemer’ program. Especially, starting from page 260 on wards, the folklore of Amhara that connote the invincible moral height and pride of the people are discussed. The author criticizes the poems and condemns the attitude of people who signify themselves through these traditions. He twists the meanings of poems that were once dedicated to individuals’ patriotism & heroism to hatemongering, barbarism and anti-social definitions. Much of the effort in the book is to persuade the reader if not forcing the public, to erase the memories that are loaded in oral heritages and refurbish people’s mind for loading new sentiments. The author believes that the presence of these poems and traditions is preserving and branding an Amhara moral as heroic & more patriotic than others. He echoes that Amhara is equated to Ethiopia, which by all means & at any cost must be broken down to a sentiment bounded to its designated region, at minimum. It is crystal clear that squeezing Amhara is a policy direction to swell the regime’s preferred community. Because this book is imposed to serve as constitution of the people, dogma of religions, policy of the government, and philosophy of the country.

Amhara in Ethiopia’s external relations

The attack on extrinsic values of Amhara focusses on the ways how others are wanted to perceive it and how Amhara is portrayed to them. It is the alignment of Ethiopia’s foreign policy. The external relationships have regional and global dimensions. Regionally, the relationship of Ethiopia with neighboring countries has been isolating Amhara. The isolation of Amhara in foreign relations gives the ruling regimes the freedom to impute historical and future snags to Amhara. Amhara will be accountable for any trouble the regimes make inside or outside.

For example, Ethiopia has the longest border land with Sudan; and this boarder lies in the Amhara land altogether. Thus, Amhara people reside the nearest to Sudanese people. If the Ethio-Sudan relationship should work in the natural friendly manner, these boarder-sharing citizens must be safe and enjoy the friendliness. However, the Ethiopian government, for four decades now, has been attempting to build the intercountry relationship sacrificing its own citizens. Amharas have been continuously attacked by Sudanese paramilitary forces across the entire boarder. Amhara civilians have been murdered, their properties looted, and farm produces burned to ash. Millions of Amharas have been displaced from those invaded lands and unreturned yet.

Sudanese forces are elicited by the Ethiopian government to claim these lands, without the resident communities, of course. Because the goal is exterminating the people and take their fertile lands. Had the Sudanese forces claimed both the land and the people residing on the land, the atrocities could have not been to the extent we realize. By the Ethiopian foreign policy design, Sudanese people are prepared to hate Amhara Ethiopians.

Another neighboring country, Eritrea celebrates its national Independence Day on May 24, since 1991. Eritrea was a colony of Italy for many years. Eritrea’s actual independence from the Italian colonial rule is not recognized, surprisingly. Instead, Eritreans celebrate the day they seceded from Ethiopia as their national Independence Day.  They are persuaded to consider secession more imperative than independence. They decreed that their national Independence Day is the day they withdrew from Ethiopia, and preferred to persuade themselves that they were colonized by Ethiopia, not by Italy. Vitalizing Eritrea’s separation from Ethiopia greyed the entire colonial history, mainly so that Amharas can be accused of all past grievances. Hence, the instant recognition of Eritrean ‘independence’ by the then regime in Ethiopia was a sinister plan to blame Amhara people for colonizing Eritreans and plot a targeted attack. The TPLF led EPRDF government was the first entity to acknowledge the secession of Eritrea from the Ethiopian federation and the earliest to approve the colonial thesis in their relationship with Ethiopia. Antagonizing Amhara with its neighboring countries was a conspiracy intended to make Amhara restless from both inside and outside forces.

The broader international society has a skewed perception of the intricated multidimensional multitier attacks on Amhara. Some governments in the western world are complicit in attacks. They want to revenge Amhara for their historical humiliations. As Roman Procházka in his book titled ‘Abyssinia: the powder barrel’ deeply states the Ethiopian monarchy, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Amhara people were the strongest institutions that defeated the colonial wars against European powers. The hate to Amhara, their monarchy and their religion emanates from the Adwa victory. Prochaska not only identifies the powerful establishments, but also forwards dismantling policies. Accordingly, for over a century, the Ethiopian orthodox church has been a focus of stabbings in same magnitude to the Amhara people. Similarly, culmination of the Ethiopian monarchy was a result of western powers and their homeland proxies combined industry. Thus, westerners are inert to the woes of Amhara people. Contemporary regimes in Ethiopia capitalize on such vents to shun Amhara from the international relations arena, so that the ongoing genocide remains silenced forever.

The way now

There should be a chance to look back to the origins. It is essential to revitalize & capitalize the social values and social control structures. People need their trust back. The society needs ènbedãdé now. The respect for fathers, mothers, people’s representatives, and religious leaders in society is crucial. The people need their unity and strength. They need protection. They need their pride and patriotism. Good values need to surge and stream not to shrink. Victims of genocide need justice. Survivors of the genocide need freedom.

Amhara people must be free, as their name implies! Amharas must liberate themselves. They are the sons and daughters of Fanos who overcame more drastic times. They must become Fanos to their own survival. People must struggle for their liberty. They need the spirit of heroism. The structures and systems that protect individuals must be instituted now. Amharas need their country.


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