x

World

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Patriarch Blasts Tigray “Genocide”

NAIROBI, Kenya — The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in his first public comments on the war in the country's Tigray region is sharply criticizing Ethiopia's actions, saying he believes it's genocide: "They want to destroy the people of Tigray."

In a video shot last month on a mobile phone and carried out of Ethiopia, the elderly Patriarch Abune Mathias addresses the church's scores of millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked. He is ethnic Tigrayan.

The video comes as the conflict in Tigray marks six months. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and Tigray ones, the result of a political struggle that turned deadly in November. Dozens of witnesses have told the AP that civilians are targeted.

"I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray," Abune Mathias says, speaking in Amharic and listing alleged atrocities including the destruction of churches, massacres, forced starvation and looting. "It is not the fault of the Tigray people. The whole world should know it."

He calls for strength, adding that "this bad season might pass away." And he urges the world to act. 

The comments are a striking denunciation from someone so senior inside Ethiopia, where state media reflect the government's narrative and both independent journalists and Tigrayans have been intimidated and harassed. The video also comes as Ethiopia, facing multiple crises of sometimes deadly ethnic tensions, faces a national election on June 5.

Dennis Wadley, who runs the U.S.-based Bridges of Hope organization and has been a friend of the church leader for several years, told the AP he shot the video in an impulsive moment while visiting him last month in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. 

"I just pulled out my iPhone and said if you want to get the word out, let's do it," Wadley said on Friday after arriving in the U.S. "He just poured out his heart. … It's so sad. I actually hugged him; I never did that before."

A church official reached on Friday confirmed the video and the interest of Abune Mathias in making it public. The church patriarch serves alongside a recently returned exile, Abune Merkorios.

"I have said a lot of things but no one allows the message to be shared. Rather, it is being stifled and censored," Abune Mathias says in the video. 

"Many barbarisms have been conducted" these days all over Ethiopia, he says, but "what is happening in Tigray is of the highest brutality and cruelty."

God will judge everything, he adds.

Ethiopia's government says it is "deeply dismayed" by the deaths of civilians, blames the former Tigray leaders and claims normality is returning in the region of some 6 million people. It has denied widespread profiling and targeting of Tigrayans.

But witnesses have told the AP about seeing bodies strewn on the ground on communities, Tigrayans rounded up and expelled and women raped by Ethiopian and allied forces including those from neighboring Eritrea. Others have described family members and colleagues including priests being swept up and detained, often without charge.

Churches have been the scenes of massacres — one deacon in Axum has told the AP he believes some 800 people were killed in a November weekend at the church and around the city — and of mass graves.

"People were dropped over the ground like leaves," the patriarch says of Axum, Ethiopia's holiest city.

Abune Mathias, born in 1942, has been outspoken in the past. In 1980, he became the first leader of the church to denounce the rule of Ethiopia's communist regime "and was forced to live abroad for more than thirty years," according to the United Nations refugee agency.

RELATED

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis, who recently had the flu, was brought to a hospital in Rome for diagnostic testing after the papal audience Wednesday, the Vatican said, without giving further details.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

Nikki Haley Wins the District of Columbia’s Republican Primary and Gets Her First 2024 Victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he won’t give up a push to convince the United Nations and world to recognize the occupied side of Cyprus that was seized in unlawful 1974 invasions.

HELSINKI (AP) — NATO kicked off an exercise on Monday to defend its newly expanded Nordic territory when more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations take part in drills lasting nearly two weeks in the northern regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Russia’s Supreme Court upheld Monday a ruling barring liberal politician Boris Nadezhdin from running in the upcoming presidential election.

KUCOVE, Albania (AP) — NATO member Albania on Monday inaugurated a refurbished Soviet-era air base, the alliance's first in the Western Balkan region.