The conflict in Tigray stems in part from the outsized role the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the primary political party representing the region, has played in recent decades in national politics in Ethiopia despite Tigrayans’ status as an ethnic minority. The political coalition that the TPLF led was dissolved in 2018 by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after he took office. The coalition’s ethnicity-based regional parties were merged into a single party, the Prosperity Party, which the TPLF refused to join. Tigrayan leaders have said they were unfairly targeted by political purges and allegations of corruption.
On Nov. 4, 2020, Abiy announced a military offensive in response to an alleged attack on a military base in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The conflict soon escalated into an all-out civil war in which mass atrocities have been reported. Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor to the north and former adversary, joined the side of the Ethiopian government early in the conflict. Some have accused Abiy’s government of ethnic cleansing.
For much of the war, Tigray was under blockade by the Ethiopian government, which halted all humanitarian aid and forbid aid workers and media to enter the region.
The Ethiopian government and the TPLF signed a peace deal brokered by the African Union (AU) in November 2022, bringing the war to an end on paper. It is estimated that 600,000 people died in the conflict and there are reports of ongoing violence in various parts of Tigray. Though Ethiopia is extremely diverse overall, the Tigray region is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, at around 96%.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Tigray. In 2021, after his weekly Angelus, the pope prayed a Hail Mary for the people of the Tigray region.
“There is famine today, there is hunger there,” Francis said. “Let us pray together for an immediate end to violence, for food and health assistance to be guaranteed for all, and for social harmony to be restored as soon as possible. In this regard, I thank all those who work to alleviate the suffering of the people. Let us pray to Our Lady for these intentions.”