An estimated 750 people were massacred at the Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, Ethiopia, according to a report. The church (which is reputed to house the Ark of the Covenant) is in Tigray, a region that has been ravaged by violence since last November and which remains unstable.
“Maryam Tsiyon Church has been attacked (local people believe with the aim to take the Ark of Covenant to Addis Ababa),” said a Jan. 9 report from Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA). EEPA is a Belgium-based non-profit that focuses on promoting human rights in countries in the Horn of Africa. “Hundreds of people hiding in the Maryam Tsiyon Church were brought out and shot on the square in front. The number of people killed is reported as 750.”
In a report published Jan. 12, EEPA said,
More detail has been released on the massacre at the Maryam Zion Church in Aksum. On Tuesday, 15th of December, Ethiopian federal troops and Amhara militia approached the Maryam Zion Cathedral in Aksum. The church was full, and 1,000 people may have been in the building or the compound surrounding it. A confrontation happened after which people were forced to come out on the square. The troops opened fire and 750 people are reported to have been killed. Many residents of Aksum are still staying in rural areas and have not returned yet.
Another source puts the dates of the Aksum church massacre around Dec. 17-20 and claims it was perpetrated by troops from the neighboring country of Eritrea.
Church Tragedy One of Many in War-Torn Tigray
Tigray has been the center of a conflict that began on Nov. 4 last year. At that time, the government of Ethiopia retaliated against an alleged assault from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the latter of which governs the Tigray region. Reuters says over two million people have been displaced since the conflict began.
Details about the attack on Maryam Tsiyon Church have been difficult to verify because Ethiopian authorities have been preventing journalists from accessing the region. However, the Church Times notes that Amnesty International has confirmed the validity of reports of other massacres. For example, Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa commented on one such mass murder that occurred on Nov. 9, saying, “We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.”
In early January, AP News confirmed that troops from the neighboring country of Eritrea were involved in the conflict, despite the fact that the Ethiopian government had denied that Eritrea was aiding it in the war against the TPLF. According to the AP, Eritrea is a “bitter enemy” of the TPLF and is “described by rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive countries.”
[Eritrean] government security forces monitor phone calls, scrutinize activity and conduct countless raids which target Christians, seize Christian materials and damage house churches. Christians can be arrested and imprisoned without trial. Many Christians are held in inhumane prisons because of their faith, and their loved ones often do not know where they are or even if they are still alive. In June 2020, the UN reported there was no meaningful progress to address human rights violations in Eritrea.
The situation in Tigray remains dire for many. Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, has reportedly stabilized somewhat, but the same cannot be said elsewhere. It has been difficult for humanitarian aid groups to reach the region, and as a result, many are dying from starvation and a lack of medical care.