At least 800 Tigrayans killed after defending ‘Ark of the Covenant’ from Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers

Eritrea Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: The Times, by Jane Flanagan) –

An elderly woman who sought refuge in Axum was among those hurt in the attack last November; she later died of her injuries
An elderly woman who sought refuge in Axum was among those hurt in the attack last November; she later died of her injuries AP

Panic that occupying troops would plunder their most sacred treasure pushed the devout in Ethiopia’s holiest city to race into harm’s way to defend it, according to a witness to atrocities committed in the country’s civil war.

As clashes broke out between soldiers and rebel militia in Axum, worshippers rushed to the church where the Ark of the Covenant is reputedly secured and in which hundreds were seeking refuge.

“When people heard the shooting they ran to the church to give support to the priests and others who were there protecting the ark,” Getu Mak, 32, a university lecturer, told The Times. “Certainly some of them were killed for doing that.”

The Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets with the Ten Commandments, was carried to Jerusalem by King David
The Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets with the Ten Commandments, was carried to Jerusalem by King David

Described in the Bible as a gilded wood casket housing stone tablets etched with the Ten Commandments, the ark has been in the church’s compound since the 1960s. Its defenders had armed themselves only with “cobbles and sticks”, witnesses told a researcher from the Europe External Programme with Africa, which is investigating reports of atrocities.

Up to 800 people were killed in and around the Church of St Mary of Zion at the end of November by pro-government forces, according to an account given by a deacon at Axum’s most revered site.

Bodies were left on the city’s streets for days, drawing hyenas down from the nearby hills to scavenge. When soldiers left Axum, mass burials were held, according to witness statements.

Reports of the destruction and looting of priceless artefacts by troops since the conflict began in early November in the northern, heritage-rich Tigray region had prompted fears that the ark would be targeted, Getu added. “Everyone was worried it would be taken, to Eritrea, to [the capital] Addis Ababa, or just disappear, including me.”

The ark is said to be held at the Church of St Mary of Zion in Axum
The ark is said to be held at the Church of St Mary of Zion in Axum AP

He watched the mayhem on November 28 from his city centre hotel room, more than a week after government troops and those backing them from neighbouring Eritrea had descended on the city after heavy bombardment.

A day after the killings at and near the St Mary of Zion church, Eritrean forces went between homes, ancient ruins and churches looking for those sympathetic to the renegade Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Getu said: “There was no mercy shown, they didn’t care if you were young, old, whatever. They killed people and took everything they could — from the electronics shop, the bars. There were many corpses.”

A shutdown of the internet and mobile phone networks has cut Tigray off since Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, deployed the army against the area’s leadership. News of rumoured atrocities, including scores of rapes and massacres committed by both sides, are only now filtering out.

Abiy, 44, who won the 2019 Nobel peace prize, declared victory against the TPLF in late November after pro-government forces took the regional capital, Mekele. His government has denied the involvement of Eritrea but is now being forced to row back on claims that no civilians had been killed in the campaign.

This week the foreign ministry admitted that “rape, plunder, callous and intentional mass killings” could occur in a conflict where “many are illegally armed”. It blamed Tigrayan militia for leaving the region “vulnerable”.

Humanitarian organisations have warned of a looming hunger crisis on the same scale as that seen in the mid-Eighties, which prompted the Band Aid fundraiser. Eighty per cent of Tigray’s population of six million remain cut off from help, the UN said.

Heritage experts acknowledge that a worsening humanitarian emergency must be prioritised over Ethiopia’s historical riches but the vulnerable artefacts are valuable to more than the Tigray region or the country.

Alessandro Bausi, an expert in Ethiopic texts and manuscripts at Hamburg University, said that the “cultural annihilation” being waged in Tigray should alarm the world.

How the ark got to Axum

In the Book of Exodus, God commanded Moses to “make an ark of acacia wood” after delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. A gilded ark, or chest, was duly fashioned by the Israelites and in it Moses placed the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament says that the ark was held at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem for centuries but vanished after Jerusalem was sacked in 586 or 587BC. According to Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians the ark was taken to Axum by Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel, in the 10th century BC. For the past 50 years it is said to have been been housed in the Chapel of the Tablet, designed by Emperor Haile Selassie, in the holy city of Axum in Tigray. No one is permitted to have access to the relic apart from a solitary monk.


1 thought on “At least 800 Tigrayans killed after defending ‘Ark of the Covenant’ from Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers

  1. Zena Awet

    Adhanom Gebremariam, governor of Seraye province , 1945-2021 died in the battle directing and committing genocide in Tigray.

    Zena of lobbists
    ruler of Dubai’s princess wife allegedly had a two-year affair with her married British bodyguard — and paid at least $6.4 million to try to keep it quiet, according to a report.Acc to reports he has twenty-three children, nine sons and fourteen daughters, from different wives.
    wanna read more

    He paid the hospital expenses of a Nigerian mother and her quadruplets stranded in the city with mounting medical bills, according to the hospital.

    How come leaders do turn blind eyes for the atrocities committed by UAE in Tigray ??????????

    People who are presumbed to have their fingers on the nuclear button(most powerful people and states their run) facilitate war crime either selling weapons(china, russia), turning blind eyes or being silent for so long time or until the time they wish to expose it accompanied by professional justifications , not taking action asap, witholding news of genocide committed by powerful states like UAE ???

    How Ethiopia paid $130,000 to polish its image in Washington – and is asking for more( FEBRUARY 11, 2021 )
    Ethiopia has hired a new lobbying firm for outreach to Congress and the Joe Biden administration as the country battles a diplomatic crisis with Egypt and ethnic strife at home.

    The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington signed a $35,000-per-month contract with DC-based law firm Venable on Feb. 1. The contract is for an initial three months but can be extended.
    Oh, and on a side note, I donot believe those stories told by media that former officials were not informed or unaware about the war in Tigray, particularly those who were appointed in Asmara and addis ababa US embassies. They could definitly be informed for the matters of saftey of their citizens what is going on in the city and country they live in and other reasons(ex they oversee the horn of Africa for the security reasons for decades) . You could imagine you are from a powerful country and work for saftey of your citizens and you dnot know nothing about war in the country.defintely they were in favor of Abiy and Isayas and their words and actions proved it to us. You could read an an excellent article about it in one of our media outlets.

    FYI, ከማኻትኩም ዝበሉ ሰብ ሙያታት ካብ ተፈላለዩ ናይ ዜና ማሕበራዊ መራኸቢታት ክተቅርቡልና አድላይ እዩ፥ንህና አብ ናጸላዕትና ዩትዩብ ስሩዕ ዓሚላት(ተኸታተልቲ)ስፗንሰራት ክንከዉን የብልናን ፥ ዮሴፍ ይጥና(claims to be ናይ አምሐራ ፋዉንዴሽን ሀላፊ ) zibehal seb weyanen megdel ytsedikal ena bela he dessiminate hate speech against Tegarus . weyane kibahal kelo kuluni kulu tegaru eyu. You could take a screen shot of videos like that and show it to the world . I dnot advise every tegarus to watch that video or other . You people of skills and expertise of technology could help us fighting against those hate speech fueling the genocide.

    The more a man speaks, the less he is understood. – Abraham Lincoln so, I should stop here . Thank you for your understanding. Let us join hands in condemning the war on Tigray. I can assure you something for sure- you will not take side with TPLF or any political body if you officially condemn the war against civilians and destruction of Churches, monasteries , mosques, and precious heritages of our world endemic to Tigray. This is amessage for those of you claim የኔ ፗለቲካ ሀይማኖቴ እና ሀገሬ ናቸው፥ stop fooling yourselves.

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