The original trustees of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Columbus, Ohio, have accused its clergy of switching the language of services from Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, to Tigrinya, the language of the Tigray region. They say the clergy is taking sides in a war between Tigray leaders and the Amhara, allied with the Ethiopian government.
The clergy in the church in Columbus, which is home to about 40,000 Ethiopian-Americans, told Associated Press (AP) that Tigrinya was added and did not replace Amharic to better reach the congregation, and that the changes were not political in nature.
“The Ethiopian social fabric … has been torn apart,” said Tewodros Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America, based in North Carolina.
The complexity of the war has made some rethink their position on it. Ethiopian-American journalist and activist Hermela Aregawi advocated for humanitarian work to help Tigray in the early days, but eventually distanced herself from those fundraising efforts when she felt they became politically motivated in favor of Tigrayan leaders.
Adem Kassie Abebe, a program officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in the Netherlands, told AP that for each side, the anger and longtime grievances are real. “Saying ‘I understand you’re angry,’ that would go a long way (for) both sides,” he said. “That opens a channel.”
Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America blames the war on a federalist governing system that ties the country’s dozens of ethnicities to land and power, pitting them against each other. So long as Ethiopia has this system, he said, “there will be another war.”
“It’s good to see so many Ethiopians actively involved,” he said. “We’re not coming (together) as one, but hopefully one day. We’ll be a force.”
The Ethiopian diaspora has more than three million members.