Anti-government protests erupted in Ethiopia’s Amhara region earlier in August, when thousands took to the streets of Gondar and Bahir Dar to protest over the administration of disputed territories. Members of the Welkait-Tegede community, who identify themselves as ethnic Amhara people, are demanding their lands be administered by the Amhara region, instead of the Tigray state.These territories used to be part of Amhara, until the political coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) introduced a federal system and restructured the region, including those areas, into the Tigray region.
Who are the Amhara people?
Numbering at least 20 million, the Amhara people are Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group and inhabit the Amhara region and the northern and central part of the country.
They mainly speak Amharic, which has Semitic origin and is related toGeʿez, the language used in sacred literature in the Orthodox Church. Until the 1990s Amharic was the official language of Ethiopia and is still one of the most spoken in the country.
The majority of Amhara practice Christianity and the Orthodox Church plays a central role in the community.
The Ahmara are mainly farmers and cultivate maize, wheat, barley,sorghum,and teff – a staple food in the region.
Social stratification is present in all sectors of Amhara people’s life and “low-class or low-ranking members are expected to almost religiouslyrevere people of higher status. This happens in the family, religious and secular institutions.”
The Amhara practice three types of marriage. Kalkidan is the marriage by civil contract and is the most common. Qurban marriages are perfomed in church and cannot be dissolved, even after the death of one partner.
Damoz marriages are temporary arrangements by which the woman is paid to be a temporary wife. Children born during Damoz marriages are legitimate.
Amhara and Oromo people
All but one of the Ethiopian emperors were Amhara. This has created conflicts with other ethnic groups in the country.
The Amhara people have been in conflict with members of the Oromo community – Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group – for centuries.
Some historians and observers link the beginning of the conflictto the Abyssinian Emperor Menelik II’s conquest and occupation of several independent southern nations or provinces during the 1865-1913 period.
The occupation of lands inhabited by Oromo people led to decades of conflict wich resulted in the death of millions of Oromo people.
Tensions between the two groups were further exacerbated during the socialist era (1974- 1987) ruled by the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, known as Derg, which translates as ‘council’.
During the socialist period, Oromo called for more representation in the nation’s social and political affairs.
In 1973, Ethiopian Oromo created the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which stemmed from the discontent among people over a perceived marginalisation by the government and to fight the hegemony of the Amhara people.
The demonstrations were the culmination of a wave of unrest that has rocked Oromia in recent months. People are calling for self-rule, the liberation of political prisoners, the end of what they perceive as “military regime” in the region and the cessation of an alleged crackdown by security forces on “peaceful and unarmed” demonstrators, mainly students and farmers.
There is no apparent connection between the two waves of demonstrations, but members of both communities have shown support for each other’s causes.