How the Tigray war destroyed a Tigray-Amhara marriage

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An old friend recounts the story of a Tigrayan woman’s suffering far away from the battlefield.

Since the devastating war in Tigray broke out in November 2020, Tigrayans’ lives all over the country have been reduced to misery while the neglectful international community watches in silence.

Similar to what happened during the 1976-1991 war against the Derg and the Ethio-Eritrea war in 1998-2000, this war has negatively impacted Tigrayans’ social, economic, and professional lives as well as causing psychological damage and straining interpersonal relationships with members of other ethnic groups.

I’d like to share with you my friend Hadas’ story, whose call I unexpectedly got a few weeks ago, because I believe it to be emblematic of these terrible impacts.

Hadas and I attended the same elementary school in Mandar Awrora, which is a small town in Tigray around ten kilometers west of Dansha. Throughout the years, we competed against each other to be the top students in our classes, challenging each other while still being friends.

I hadn’t seen or talked to her since I relocated to Axum in 2007 for my secondary school. It felt surreal hearing her voice over the phone after all these years and reminiscing about the past.

It was wonderful to be able to speak with her and relive some of our happier childhood times. However, given that our homeland is the battlefield of the bloody ongoing war, it’s quite common for every joyful occasion to be followed by tragic news. This is the new norm of Tigrayan life.

Hadas told me everything that has happened to her since the war started as we began sharing tales of our losses and woes. When I asked if she would be willing to share her story, she immediately answered, “of course, people should hear about our suffering.”

Normal life

Hadas attended Arba Minch University for her undergraduate studies after finishing her preparatory school at Shire High School.

She stayed there for five years and, during that time, she met a young man who was enrolled in the same programme as her. It didn’t take her long to fall in love and start building a long-term relationship with him.

She had a great time there and those years had given her a sense of purpose. After all, a new chapter in her life had begun, she had started her university life, and she was looking forward to being independent and seizing every opportunity she encountered.

Hadas got married to her partner. She eventually moved to Gondar, her husband’s hometown, and began working at the Gondar Water and Sewerage Authority Bureau. At that time, everyone was willing to live and work anywhere in Ethiopia because the country was considered to be stable.

She stayed in Gondar for almost seven years and gave birth to her first son there.

As far as she could tell, her marriage didn’t face challenges until the widespread confiscation of Tigrayan properties and brutal attacks on Tigrayans began in Gondar and other parts of the country immediately after the war broke out.

World collapses

Her husband’s devotion to her started to wane at that point and his hatred for Tigrayans started to come to light. Moreover, she feared that someday the atrocities she was witnessing in the city might find their way into her home.

Because she was terrified he might hurt her, she left her husband right away and started living alone with her only son. Her hopes for a happy marriage and decent lifestyle, the children she always wanted, and her ambition to pursue higher things in life all vanished in an instant.

Without warning, life abruptly became an emotional rollercoaster. Days passed by, yet soon thereafter, the police and other intelligence agencies started looking for Tigrayans in the city. Nearly every Tigrayan home was illegally searched and most of the families’ possessions were seized.

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A few days after this dynamic emerged, the police arrived at her home and she was arrested. Hadas was at a loss as to whom she could entrust with caring for her son. Despite being informed of her circumstances, the police refused to help.

Fortunately, she was able to connect with foreigner volunteers who could look after him. They assured her that he would stay with other children in their camp and that she could come at any time to pick him up.

She was then taken into custody despite having done nothing wrong and was transported to one of the notorious prisons in the city. She remained imprisoned for six months without any visitors, languishing there simply because of her Tigrayan ethnicity.

Hadas told me those months were the hardest of her life and that she feared she would not survive. “There were a great number of Tigrayans who were interrogated and went missing during the night and were never made to return to their prison cells. I might have been among them,” she elaborated.

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It was heartbreaking to hear Hadas reliving the depressing and stressing traumas she experienced in the prison cell as she spoke to me about her grief.

When she was finally released, she got an opportunity to see her son again. Soon after, still afraid for her life, she fled Gondar after borrowing money for her transportation.

Hadas preferred to leave her child with the foreigner volunteers until she felt at ease in her new situation. She believed that bringing him with her would just make him suffer more as he would find out she had neither family nor enough money to care for him.

Destroyed life

Hadas left everything she owned, including any spare clothing, phones, or other possessions. She does not have a place of her own and is staying with friends in the Oromia region, with whom she found refuge and who are helping her survive.

Upon fleeing, she didn’t have her academic credentials with her. When she requested the governmental agencies reissue her documents, they refused.

“I miss my son so much, he’s the only person I have. Only seldom do I hear his voice. I always worry that something bad might happen to him. I made every effort to ensure that he had a happy childhood in his early years,” Hadas said.

“I’m also unsure where my family members are and whether they are alive or dead. Will I meet my son again, Getu?“ she sobbed, overwhelmed by her anguish.

“This war has destroyed my life and my marriage,” Hadas said as we concluded our conversation.

It is tragic that our women and children suffer the most every time a war breaks out. My dear childhood friend and former classmate Hadas is not okay. We Tigrayans are not okay. We are in danger for no fault of our own.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Tsega-brhan Mebrahtu, 27, and her children Milen, 3, Abel, 6 and Arsema, 10, were displaced from Tigray’s western zone to Mekelle. UNICEF, UN0409569, Leul Kinfu.

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