Soldiers limped in cafes, armed police bristled behind the rows of priests, militiamen in faded uniforms slumped in Ethiopia during the celebration of Epiphany of Saint George, an ancient Orthodox Christian tradition.
It was celebrated in Lalibela on 26 January after several months on the frontline of Ethiopia’s devastating civil war. At first sight, it could have been any normal year. Father Tsige Mezgebu, the archbishop who officiated the ceremony, said, “It is a day of double joy for us.”
However, the celebration was stopped because of the conflict. Subsequently, Father Tsige Mezgebu said, “Pray again for the fighting to an end, and do not celebrate before it has.” His words were a subtle retaliation to the central government of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed.
The day before the Epiphany celebration, at a military camp stationed in a kindergarten, volunteers known as ‘Fanos’ took part in marching drills. They cried with emotion. They said they are ready to defend Amhara against aggression waged by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front).
On 26 January, the government announced the lifting of a draconian state of emergency, imposed in November 2021 in Ethiopia as Tigrayan forces fought their way to within 100 miles of Addis Ababa, before being pushed back by government forces abetted by newly purchased armed drones. Several schools and many hotels remain occupied by troops in Lalibela after this incident.
Earlier Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced an amnesty for some of Ethiopia’s most high-profile political prisoners including senior TPLF officials, in a bid to facilitate “national reconciliation”. TPLF is the political party that controls the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
After this announcement, the authorities decided to establish a “Commission for National Dialogue” to end the conflict, which broke out in November 2020 between the national government in Addis Ababa and the TPLF. In recent months there have been multiple diplomatic and political efforts to end the conflict in the region.