Ethiopian Orthodox Christians Call for Biden’s Help 


WASHINGTON – A large and colorfully dressed crowd of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians peacefully demonstrated on March 5 at the White House led by religious leaders calling upon President Biden, the US and the world to intervene on their behalf in an ongoing systematic campaign of oppression and intimidation against their religion by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party.

Abiy is a study in contrasts. Having had a Muslim father and Orthodox Christian mother, he converted to Pentecostalism as a young man and took to heart his mother’s pronouncement at the age of eight that he would one day be Ethiopia’s “seventh king.”

The former military intelligence officer, once head of cybersecurity at Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Administration (INSA), was described by a friend in a 2022 Foreign Policy magazine article as a “power-hungry intelligence officer obsessed by fame and fortune.”

Awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2019 as a reformer “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea,” he has instead disappointed all those who had great hope he would continue leading the way in unifying the country. His acceptance comment at the award ceremony that “war is the epitome of hell” has no meaning today, ringing especially hollow after his war on Tigray which has caused massive deaths, starvation and genocide against the Tigrayan people.

Tigray is not alone as the continued attacks against the church clearly show. The demonstration was both religious ceremony and secular in nature, interspersed with prayers, testimonies and speeches regarding the present state of religious affairs in the country along with the telling of suffering and oppression of Orthodox Christians. One shocking comment by a religious leader recounted how refugee children, left homeless by war in the country, have been “eaten by hyenas” in the night as well as the bodies of the dead.

“President Biden, we hope you are listening” was a plea directed at the stately presidential home by a religious leader that was ironically void of the president who was in Selma, Alabama at the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the 58th anniversary remembrance of “Bloody Sunday” where in 1965 during the Civil Rights movement white police officers beat marchers attempting to cross it into the city. The theme of oppression for the day being a commonality.

Many of the colorfully dressed demonstrators held signs both in English and Amharic directed at PM Abiy accusing him of being “a murderer, a liar, a genocider, a mastermind and for massacres.” Another sign warned Abiy to “Keep your hands off Orthodox Church.”

Recently, in the capital of Addis Ababa and elsewhere across the country, several attacks against worshippers by the military and police have been characterized as systematic in a continued effort to diminish the importance of the church and its followers along with “eliminating the religion.”

In January, it was reported that worshipers were tear-gassed by police during services in St. Estifanos church near Emperor Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. Within days, Borkena Ethiopian News reported after that attack the “Oromia region police fired upon… three members of the church during a solemn epiphany procession when the replica of the Ark of the Covenant was on its way back to Woybela Mariam Church altar in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Ten others were wounded. Oromia police authorities fired at the crowd on grounds that people were wearing cultural dresses with Ethiopian flag colors.”

The universal message of the White House demonstration was one of unity in a country of ethnic, tribal and religious differences, where one common and cohesive national factor is that of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church as a great uniter in a fractured and divided nation.

A woman demonstrating commented in a conversation with this reporter that Abiy is on a path to destroy the church either in favor of Muslims or to see that no common bond is shared among people. Religiously, Ethiopia is 43 percent Christian, 34 percent Muslim and 19 percent Protestant.

One ironic and very American note during the demonstration was that among the crowd was a lone Muslim Uyghur demonstrator flying the flag of East Turkistan holding sentinel in protesting China’s suppression and genocide of the Uyghur people. This contrast of religious differences only expressed how the suppression of religious ideas and beliefs is universal in nature and that religion as an institution is both feared and denigrated by authoritarian governments in their quest to dominate and control people. Hatred and fear know no bounds.

© 2023 nuzeink all rights reserved worldwide

Photos: Phil Pasquini

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.


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