Ethiopian government forces allegedly killed about 750 people in an attack on a Christian church in the city of Aksum, located in northern Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region, Christian Today reported on Tuesday.
Ethiopian federal troops and allied ethnic Amhara militias allegedly forced hundreds of people hiding in Aksum’s Maryam Tsion Church onto the church’s front square and shot them in recent days. An estimated 750 people were killed in the attack.
While the exact date of the alleged massacre remains unknown, it was first reported by the Belgian-based peacebuilding non-profit Europe External Program with Africa (EEPA) on January 9. According to EEPA, Aksum locals believe the attackers targeted Maryam Tsion “with the aim to take the Ark of the Covenant to Addis Ababa.”
Maryam Tsion is Aksum’s most ancient and sacred Christian church. It dates back to the 4th century AD and is believed to have been built by the first Christian ruler of the ancient Aksumite Kingdom, which included the Ethiopian region today known as Tigray. Locals have long believed that Maryam Tsion holds the Ark of the Covenant. The Aksumite Kingdom, of which Aksum was the capital, was the first sub-Saharan African state to officially adopt Christianity. Tigray is home to thousands of ancient Christian churches and monasteries.
Maryam Tsion is part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which boasts about 36 million members, according to Christian Today.
Ethiopian federal forces launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4 after forces aligned with the Marxist, separatist group allegedly attacked a federal military base in Tigray. Fighting between the two parties in Tigray has escalated since then, with reports of civilian massacres allegedly perpetrated by forces on both sides emerging in recent weeks. Reports this month from local Tigray sources suggest that the region’s unique religious and cultural heritage has been targeted by federal troops as they continue their military campaign against the TPLF.
“There are reports of Christian manuscripts being stolen from churches and monasteries [in Tigray], and burned – with some manuscripts as old as the 13th century,” the Telegraph reported on January 17.
“I know the [Tigray] province well, having worked there occasionally between 1982 and 1993, and annually since 2000. My objective has been to examine archaeological sites and to document Christian antiquities,” Michael Gervers, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, told the Telegraph.
“I have heard that … the Amanuel church, which has sat on the top of a pinnacle for centuries, has been damaged through shelling. Around 800 Ge’ez manuscripts were looted from the Shire region,” he added. Ge’ez is the classical Aksumite language in which ancient Christian texts were written.
“The list goes on. A Belgian team … managed to reach the town of Shire, where they videotaped a tank covered with looted goods,” he alleged.