Shadow of war looms over Ethiopia's Meskel festival

Addis Ababa: The shadow of war loomed over Ethiopia’s Meskel festival in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, with high security, low turnout, and Orthodox Christian priests calling for harmony and pardoning in their sermons.

The occasion – generally a joyous affair where gigantic groups gather around bonfires – marks the moment when the fourth-century Roman Empress St Helena found Christ’s cross in Jerusalem.

As they do many years, many priests, musicians, and singers clad in white robes met up on the tremendous territory of the capital’s Meskel Square.

However, the mood was a lot darker, and the clergy kept turning to the conflict raging again in the northern region of Tigray.

“Truly speaking, this year, we Ethiopians are not celebrating the festival in full happiness,” said Diocese supervisor Abuna Markos, radiant in a white robe with gold trim and weaved silver peevish and blue floral designs.

“Very much like the mothers were crying under the cross, our mothers in the North are also crying. They are suffering. This suffering is common to us all. It’s our own,” he said, holding a gold cross encrusted with red gems.

The war in Tigray, which broke out in November 2020 and has spilled over into other areas, has killed a large number of individuals, dislodged a lot more, and left an expected 13 million people in desperate need of food aid.

The conflict has pitted Ethiopia’s federal armed force, its regional allies, and the Eritrean military against forces faithful to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that controls Tigray’s provincial government.

The central government and its allies accuse the TPLF, which long dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, of trying to reassert its predominance, while the TPLF blames the central government for abusing its powers and mistreating Tigray.

Both dismiss each other’s allegations. Following quite a while of relative calm, battling erupted again in August.

By Archana

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