On February 18th, 2021, 41 recent graduates from Mekelle University in Ethiopia boarded a bus leaving from the city of Mekelle in the Tigray region en route to Addis Ababa. Several of the students had received their diplomas in Mekelle the previous week and were on their way back to their hometowns to attend a graduation ceremony. The bus was being escorted by members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. When the bus reached Adi Mesino, students on board the bus reported being stopped by several gunmen. According to several witnesses, the number of gunmen was between 30-50. The Defense Force members on board exited the bus to speak with the gunmen, and the confrontation ended in a barrage of bullets striking the bus with all of the students on board. There are currently reports that the National Defense members escorting the bus died in the attack; however, these reports are unconfirmed.
The surviving students were released by the gunmen. According to BBC Amharic, one survivor recalls the gunmen telling them that “you are the surviving students.” After the attack, survivors were transported to the neighboring town of Alamata and were taken to Kobo Hospital. Six students died after the attack and more than 10 were injured. The gunmen responsible for the attack have yet to be identified.
This massacre is one among many of the violent attacks on Ethiopian civilians as a result of the ongoing war between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government. Mulugeta Abai recounts the almost three year long history in a report written for the Canadian Center for Victims of Torture.
There has been conflict between the two groups since 2018 after the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) elected current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Up until that point, the EPRDF ruled Ethiopia and consisted of multiple political parties, of which the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was included.
During his reign as prime minister, Ahmed had enacted certain peace agreements that many took issue to, including a peace treaty with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Prime Minister Ahmed did not include the TPLF in these agreements, which led to the belief that Ahmed was attempting to dismantle the group.
Further conflict led to Ahmed giving the Ethiopian military a green light to silence those in opposition to him, which would initiate the onslaught of violence against civilians. The Tigrayan people began a revolt in an attempt to take Ahmed out of power. He then disbanded the EPRDF and replaced it with a group called the Prosperity Party and removed the TPLF.
The peak of the Tigrayan conflict hit once Ahmed’s term was ending around October of 2020, when he decided to postpone the upcoming election and extend his term, citing COVID-19 as a factor. The TPLF, considering this unconstitutional, decided to move forward with a regional election on September 2020 in spite of the cancellation and won the majority vote. Prime Minister Ahmed rejected the election results and made efforts to suppress any external coverage of the election.
On November 4th, 2020, Ahmed labelled the TPLF as a terrorist organization and declared war against the party. The National Defense Force was deployed against the people of Tigray. According to UN News, the Ethiopian Army had even stated that there will be no mercy for the people of Mekelle.
The ongoing tragedy in Ethiopia has destroyed the lives of many people. Many are currently living with no electricity and no way to communicate with their loved ones outside of the country. The people of Tigray can only hope for a peaceful resolution to the bloody war and massacre in their community.
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