Solomon Alabachew acted quickly when violence broke out last year in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province, snatching his Kalashnikov and going to the front alongside his fellow ethnic Amhara militia fighters.
The rapid seizure of western Tigray, which the Amharas allege was taken from them decades ago, is Solomon’s life’s greatest achievement, the 37-year-old told journalists this week.
That explains his present rage at resurgent ethnic Tigrayan rebels, who launched a new push on Monday to expel the Amharas once more, igniting new violence in an already bloody eight-month struggle.
Solomon drew his weapon, put on his green fatigues, and raced north two days later, arriving in the Amhara mountain village of Adi Arkay with thousands of other warriors waiting for orders to advance.
Top leaders in the Amhara area, which has long been entangled in severe land disputes with Tigray, its northern neighbor, have called for a large mobilization.
Gizachew Muluneh, the Amhara government’s spokesman, stated on Wednesday that regional special forces and militias will switch to “attack” mode to reverse the Tigrayan rebels’ recent battlefield victories.
His comments came just hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2019, threatened to “repel” attacks by Ethiopia’s foes.
– ‘We are not going to back down –
Solomon, who is itching to battle again, welcomed the bellicose talk with open arms.
“We came here to take the necessary precautions, exterminate, and pay the price. From top to bottom, the Amhara people have mobilized,” he stated.
“The people have been patient with the government’s stance so far, but we will not back down even if the instructions (to assault) do not arrive.”
Last November, Abiy dispatched troops to Tigray, claiming that the move was prompted by an attack on federal army camps ordered by the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
It was the brutal conclusion of a lengthy feud between the young, reform-minded leader who came to office in 2018 and the party that had controlled national politics for nearly three decades prior.
It was also a good opportunity for Amharas to reclaim land in western and southern Tigray that the TPLF had unjustly taken in the early 1990s, according to them.
The US has expressed worry about ethnic cleansing in western Tigray, where Amharan soldiers are suspected of displacing tens of thousands of residents.
Last month, however, the war took an unexpected turn when the Tigray capital of Mekele fell to the rebels, prompting Abiy to declare a unilateral truce and withdraw most federal soldiers from the province.
To maintain their lead, the rebels launched a new onslaught this week, claiming that it would “liberate every square inch of Tigray,” according to a spokesman.
Getachew Reda, the rebel spokesman, also stated that the rebels had taken control of Alamata, the largest town in southern Tigray and that they would soon take control of Mai-Tsebri, north of Adi Arkay.
– ‘Attempting to terrorize our people’
Requests for comment on Ethiopia’s army’s losses and gains have gone unanswered. Colonel Bamlaku Abay, the chief of Amhara’s militia bureau, admitted some losses in an interview but said Getachew’s allegations were exaggerated.
“They have taken control of a number of locations in and around Korem (a town in southern Tigray) and Mai-Tsebri. When the military left, they took over those positions “From his current base in Adi Arkay, Bamlaku claimed.
He said, however, that once the Amhara militias deployed en masse, he was “quite confident” that they would push the rebels back, claiming that they were motivated by historical rights to the land.
“The TPLF is attempting to terrorize our people and our country, but we have so far remained silent,” he stated. “We will be victorious. On our side, we have the truth. They are not in possession of the truth.”
– “Existential danger” –
Amhara militia fighters sipped coffee, polished boots, and milled about on the streets of Adi Arkay, which is tucked among jagged mountains near the pre-war border between Amhara and Tigray, just down the street from Bamlaku’s office.
Hundreds of their comrades marched south along the main route out of town, pistols slung over their shoulders and personal belongings secured in Spiderman and Bob Marley-themed tote bags, though Bamlaku maintained they were simply on a rotation and would return soon.
Although a federal military camp is located at Adi Arkay’s southern entrance, Amhara militia fighters have stated that they expect to spearhead the drive into both western and southern Tigray.
According to Fenta Tereffe, a spokeswoman for the North Gondar zone, which includes Adi Arkay, the goal is to stop the rebels at Mai-Tsebri.
If that doesn’t happen, he says, the rebels will march south all the way to Addis Ababa, slaughtering Amharas along the way.
He wouldn’t say how many militia fighters had been mobilized this week, but he did say that “we have more than enough for the effort.”
“Not only fighters, but resources,” he said, adding that some city officials had chosen to forego their wages this month to help fund operations.
Other non-combatant contributors include Amhara women who prepare sacks of bread, dried injera, and roasted barley that young people rush to the front, according to Fenta.
“The Amhara people do not want conflict, and they understand that fighting brings no profit… However, we are now facing an existential peril,” he stated.
According to an Ethiopian political scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because to the sensitivity of the situation, such strong utterances illustrate the strength of feeling on both sides of the dispute.
“In Tigray, we are approaching the most passionate phase of the conflict,” he stated.