Tigray Crisis Tests Ethiopian Christians Along Ethnic Lines

As Abiy’s military closes in on TPLF forces, thousands flee to Sudan.

The jagged rock spires and steep mountains of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia are home to some of the oldest churches in the world.

Against that historic backdrop, forces loyal to the central government in Addis Ababa have pushed toward the regional capital, Mekele, fighting soldiers loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Fierce fighting has raged since November 4, when Ethiopians awoke to see Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announce that he had sent federal troops to Tigray in response to an attack on the Northern Command Post of the National Defense Force in the region. The once-dominant TPLF, whose relations with the central government had been souring for months, had attacked federal troops.

“The last red line has been crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation,” Abiy said.

All internet and telecommunications have been shut off in Tigray since then, making information difficult to verify. The Ethiopian government says it is making advances that include the capture of the ancient city of Axum, where the church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is believed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church to host the original Ark of the Covenant.

As they retreated, TPLF forces damaged the Axum airport and destroyed bridges leading into Mekele.

“There was a lot of confusion,” a Christian expat working in the Tigray town of Shire, near the border with Eritrea, told CT. Evacuated by the United Nations last week, he asked to remain anonymous in order to protect his work there. “That first day was the worst, because people were killed, shot, and beat. We heard soldiers trying to hide in homes, and other soldiers trying …

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