Recent exchanges on [social] media among self-claimed propagators of the so called ‘Agazian’ movement, the antagonists, and few independents have attracted the attention of many active youth. And it has also provoked me to write on the general issues attending the movement.
Even though brotherhoods such as Agazianism had been declared dead long time ago due to multiple historical and political changes both at home and elsewhere in the world, recent signs of resurrection of the idea signals the rise of the movement from its grave. On the face value, such resurrection of the issue appeared to many a good news to be embraced. However, an in-depth observation on what is in it gives a quite different and grim reality.
The writer of this piece believes that the resurrection of the issue of Agazianism is not a simple matter worth relegating to dust bins. We need to bring it to light for more discussion and public scrutiny, and criticism so that the general public would be able to make an informed decision on the subject matter.
I know that publicizing this blatant issue and racist movement is tantamount to giving credit to the proponents of the agenda. However, looking down the agenda and ignoring to write about it would also create them an opportunity to advance their agenda unnoticed by the public. Thus I preferred the first strategy despite its limitations to the second one.
Of course, few print and online media have also published the work of many writers from the two side of the aisle. And such media coverage has also been another pushing factor for me to jot down on the issue. On this raw, ‘Wurayna’, the local Tigrigna magazine, and An Eritrean news site Awate could be mentioned. In the first case, the owner and managing director, Getachew Aregawi in his latest edition has given considerable coverage for the Agaizian movement. As may be imagined, he has also shown his soft spot to the movement in several occasions in this publication. In the later one, the administrator of the site awate.com has also written recently an article in opposition to the movement. Although I mention those names only to showcase the contradicting positions of people on the matter, the dissemination of same opinions by different people on social media is almost a daily phenomenon.
On this article I would try to discuss briefly what constitutes the contemporary agazians, the major ideological pillars of the Agaizian movement, their position on state, religion, multiculturalism, and the prospect of the two which are the targets of the movement, Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the eye of agazians. When I talk about agazians, I would like it to be understood as a movement that ties up the two Tigrigna speaking people living on both sides of the Mereb River, as the advocates themselves believe. Thus, it is considered as one movement, and readers should look at the whole discussion of the issue from this perspective.
Who are in the Movement?
According to data obtained from social media updates of individuals and groups and well thought-out publications posted on various media, the type and form of the movement, and the people claimed to be spearheading the movement are diverse in terms of ideology, geography, and certain markers of identity. Among them, however, the group led by an Eritrea expatriate known by the name Tesfazion and his same version from Tigray that suffers from an absence of organization and an ideologue appeared to be vocal and visible.
Getachew Aregawi in his latest piece published on his own magazine has singled out the existence of three types of groups advocating the agenda of the movement. According to him, The Association of Agaizian brotherhood, the Native Agaizian, and the National Front of Agazians are the three movements working for the restoration of the unity, honor and reputation of the Agaizian people that is believed by the propagators as being lost before 3000 years. Based on the coverage he gave to each movements on the magazine, I come to understand that the last two are the most active and strong movements currently.
In spite of the seeming difference among the movements regarding the interpretation of history, policies, political goals and strategies, they dominantly share the same views on major aspects pertinent to the movement. I will discuss this in length on the ideological pillars of the Agaizian movement on the following section.
Significant part of the history of Ethiopia is unwritten and thus unknown. It had been written either by foreigners who had little, if not nothing, familiarity with and knowledge about the cultures and beliefs of the society or the chronicles of the time who had a specific interest in it, or by somebody whose knowledge of history is obtained from oral accounts passed down from generation to generation. As a result in all possible scenarios there is a greatest possibility for our history to be heavily vulnerable to distortion, manipulation and grave errors. Despite this, we are still struggling over whether this or that history is right or wrong only to justify our current actions. The identity of the members and supporters of the movement, therefore, should be understood against this background.
While discussing Agazianism with my friends as to what actually initiated the movement and who possibly could be the members of the movement, one of them opine that those who lost hope in TPLF and EPLF/PFDJ are most probably the initiators of the idea. Especially, from the Eritrean side, the youth pushed out of their home by the current regime and residing abroad are the ones who lined themselves with the movement. The likes of Tesfazion who perceived regime change in Eritrea in the near future as an unlikely has crafted a new political strategy under the name of agazianism that has in the long run the potential to divide the people in both countries and lessen the unity of the people in their respective nations and as a result create a vacuum where his movement would possible fill.
He comes to recognize that the supremacy of the highlanders in Eritrea is eroding and is under threat from the non-Tigrigna speakers whose influence in the country is perceived as growing. So to consolidate the power of the people he belongs to, he should solicit support from Tigrigna speakers from the other side of the river under the pretext of reunion and brotherhood. That is why in his latest video on YouTube he explained that the disintegration of Ethiopia is none of his business in so far as Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians come to his rescue. Of course, his respect to other people with different language and religion is regrettably low or non-existent.
On the other hand, from the Ethiopian side, let alone ordinary/independent folks, even members of the TPLF, member of the ruling coalition party in the country, has fallen victim of this movement. This is partly, according to some, due to lowering level of trust in the party and their perception that Tigray is impoverishing over time due to the no peace and no war situation with Eritrea and the closure of the Port of Asseb and Massawa. Their frustration is believed to be one of the factors pushing them toward the margin and ultimately inside the movement.
However, the growing mutual ethnic hatred, escalating narrow nationalism and chauvinism evident in Ethiopia can be also considered as the other push factor for the Tigrian elites to become desperate about the movement. Those narrow nationalists have set out in search of ‘brothers’ to minimize competition from within, and expanding opportunities in the new union. But there is no surety whether this goal would actually materialized in actual terms.
Several historical accounts have been recorded to date about the people of ‘Agazians’ and virtually all of the accounts agreed on the fact that they are immigrants who crossed the red sea to Abyssinia before the birth of the Christ. The understanding of their history is uniform and is almost congruent with what most history texts contain. And their entire ideology embodied in Agazianism is predicated on such historical narrations, even though there is no evidences of any sort to substantiate or support it unequivocally.
Major Ideological Pillars of the Movement
A political movement without one or another type of ideology to guide its actions and behaviours and explain its position vis-à-vis other political actors is like a traveler without a compass. In the absence of ideology, movements of any kind are destined to have no vision or at least a clear road map as to how to accomplish its political ends.
In similar vein, the agazians movement has appeared to possess certain ideological pillars from which its political philosophies are emanated and the success of its vision of creating strong and sovereign agazians state is predicated. Even though Getachew wrote that the three agazians movements have different ideological basis, they do have certain common points to be shared. A thorough analysis of those movements provides that religion, language, conception of common enemies, and the scope of the territory/ jurisdiction, of the would be Agaizian state are the main issues equally agreed and shared by the movements. Therefore, we would look in to the position of the movement on sovereignty, secularism and multiculturalism. The first three elements can be understood in terms of an identity marker, and the last one as geographical or spatial marker. Now I will try to elaborate in detail how they characterize the would be agazians state in terms of the above ideological foundations of the movement in both side of the River.
Religion is believed to be one of the unifying element of the people of Agazian state. The movement maintains that Christianity and its historic relation to the state of Israel is one of the major, and perhaps the foremost element helpful to mobilize the people. It further points out that the state of Israel is the kind of republic envisioned to be built on the land of Agazians. To accomplish this political nationalism a common hatred to all kind of religious followers currently living in and around Agazian land is a precondition.
In other words, Islam-phobia is the guiding principle of Agazianism. The movement has gone up to pledging to put in place a wall to prevent the Non-Christians and non-Tigrigna speakers from entering their territory and ultimately keep the purity of the republic. For instance, one Eritrean has written on awate.com this:
Trumpian on me when he said in yesterday’s video that the Agaiazian Nation will build fences to protect itself from the filth of Affar and Oromo surrounding it. His fear of Islam is out of this planet and he lumps all Moslems as nut-bars who will one day kill all Christian Agazians.
Language/ethnicity is the other idea where Agazian nationalism is going to be established. In this regard, Tesfazion believes that there is no successful country created by needling together multiple identities and if there was ever one, it is doomed to fail. He asserts that the Agazians in the organization did it single handily to reclaim the 3000-year-old heritage of their forefathers that was watered-down and corrupted by the invasion of Islam and then Amhara. He implores those who he calls the Agaizians in both Eritrea and Tigray to unite and establish the Agazian Nation of 8 million strong, where the rights of the ethnic groups are protected under its emblem, and an ancient civilization with a track record of enshrined rule of law, he offers. He contends that the Aksumite Civilization does not belong to backward Ethiopia.
There should not be a country called Eritrea or a province called Tigray, he said, both are the same people and TPLF and EPLF are one movement that were created to serve as vanguards of the Agazian Nation of our forefathers. To add, Getachew has also confirmed that the two organizations are not more being the quintessential of failure and miscarriage of the long struggle of the two people believed by the proponents of the movement to be the building blocks of the future Agaizian state
Spatial /Territorial scope of the future republic extends from north of Eritrea to Alawah River located in Amhara regional state. Leaders of the movement believes the Eritrean state should be replaced by the Agazian Nation based on the dominant Tigrinya ethic group, with its dominant culture, language and leadership lording over the Agazians. To his credit, he believes in a democratic governance where the inalienable rights of the minorities are respected, allowed to prosper, where the rule of law is supreme to protect every citizen to blossom unimpeded, Salih argued. But in reality, as Tesfazion reiterates in most of the videos released on YouTube, the minorities have no place in his future republic, it is a concentration camp, if there is any.
The prospect of Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia and Eritrean are two sovereign states recognized by the international community. Both are home to people with different religious, ethnic, gender, professional and other affiliations. It is true that the two states and their respective peoples share historical and cultural; and they were once up on a time under one political union. But as every theory/practice on state formation can tell they have come to form separate independent states.
The state formation both in Ethiopia and Eritrea have undergone a series of ups and downs and is the result of a long fought struggle of their people. Despite this, the prospect of the two states have come to encounter challenges posed from the Agazian movement. The survival of those ancient and sovereign states as united as ever is now under attack from the same enemy.
This nascent nationalist movement is a challenge to the two states in their effort to nation and state building they have long been carrying out. It is a danger to the two states in any way comprehendible, if not now, in the near future. But the governments of the two states do not look serious about the possible danger of the movement.
Considering the multi-religious and multi-ethnic composition of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the project of the movement to create an agazians state by carving a certain territory from Tigray, Eritrea and even Amhara national regional state the prospect of civil war in these areas is pretty certain. The movement has gone so far as to declaring non- Christians and non-Tigrigna speakers as savages, enemies; and plans to eliminate them to create a pure state of agazians. In the words of Tesfazion, the Godfather of the movement, a state that lacks purity in its population is doomed to fail; and he proposes the elimination of those people from both sides of the river in the process of creating an Agazian state.
State building is not an easy enterprise. More difficult thing for most states particularly in Africa states known by their diverse population is the process of nation building. Ethiopia and Eritrea have gone so far in accomplishing the two projects. Nonetheless, the agazians dream is to reverse the gear and trapped the states in prolonged war and ultimately bring to their disintegration. To do so, the movement has engaged in engineering a new identity called agazians with the possible effect of redefining the geopolitics of the region.
As to Fukuyama, nationalism or national identity can be forged in different mechanisms. Among them, the first is defining of political borders to fit populations; second, the moving or physical elimination of populations to fit existing borders; and the third way is, the cultural assimilation of subpopulations into the dominant culture often involve violence and coercion. I believe the first two are the principal mechanisms Agazians would like to apply to establish their nightmarish Agaizian state. He insisted that national cohesion may express itself as external aggression. It is based on the view that the political boundaries of the state ought to correspond to a cultural boundary, one defined primarily by shared language and culture. This is exactly what the forerunners and followers of the Agazian movement are agitating to be done in the effort to form their future state.
If there is any means, however, to form the future state of agazians, it would only be accomplished on the grave of the Ethiopian state. Many opponents of this movement are clear about its political goals being disintegrating Ethiopia and inciting hatred and civil war among its ethnic groups. Knowing this, everyone, from both Ethiopia and Eritrea have to be vigilant to protect their people and their states and defend the unity and territorial integrity of the nations every single time. Indeed as my mini-research on the movement conducted in Raya (Tigray) suggests it has almost no root both in terms of ideology and an actual movement. Many participated in the research have no clue as what the name ‘Agazian’ stands for and the ideological components driving the movement at all. But there is no guarantee that the movement would regain or re-sew a breath of life in the future as the place is adjacent to where most of the proponents of the Tigray version of the movement are found.
Lately but not least, the government particularly of Ethiopia should be able to single out those who instigate ethnic hatred in the country, as it is hoped it is dealing with the situation, and make sure that any further agitation is not fomenting by any means available on the land. We need not to overlook this emerging racist and treasonous move as it may gain momentum in the future and pose challenge to the unity and integrity of the Ethiopian state and pose peace and security related challenges thereto.
My personal take on the whole situation of the movement, therefore, is that it must be contained before it intoxicate the youth generation; and further pressed until it goes back to its grave once and for all.