The Bishoftu Hora Irreecha Massacre
Visit to Bishotu Lake Hora
By Worku Gadissa, February 8, 2019
This paper is the third of a series with Irreecha Massacre and is adopted from an article “Remembering Irreecha Massacre” posted on Ayyaantuu, August 2017.
This paper tries to discus in brief several issues:
– My recent visit to Bishoftu Hora.
– A brief overview of preparation for war by government forces.
– Crime and lies to cover up genocide.
– Irreecha Bilisummaa memorial monument.
I completed high school in Bishoftu and made many visits since then and very familiar with city and the surroundings. In September 2018, I went to Bishoftuu Lake Hora to retract where annual Irreecha celebration takes place. To me it was like a spiritual journey after twenty years. Ever since I was student, I have deep attachment and love to the natural beauty of Bishoftuu lakes and surroundings.
Bishotu is blessed with natural beauty, six lakes and richness’s of its Adaa ‘tef” fields and warm weather. Study indicates that the lakes were formed by asteroids or meteoroids hit the earth. Lake Chalaqlakaa have already dried up and disappearing and barely visible. Lake Hora Arsadi is shrinking, believed to be from global act of climate change. The sacred tree where women use to seat round and make their rituals is still there and looks very much like it did before 40 years ago. The lake has shrunk, as a result of which the sacred tree stands now about 50 ft. from the edge of the water.
In the month of October after three months of cold rainy season left, cool air weather set in and the hills and fields are blossoming with lily- like seasonal wild orange color flower, “abaaboo”. This is the month when farmers expect bumper crops. October is a month of hope and joy, when flowers are blooming and bearing fruits and the fields are ripe with crops.
I visited Bishoftu Lake Hora, observing places and terrains where on October 2, 2016, 7oo innocent civilians were murdered by TPLF/OPDO collision forces. The total number dead will never be known with precision, but some sources put it more than 700 Irreecha worshipers were murdered.
My mind was filled with old memories of rituals performed under the “sacred tree” by old ladies. I will never forget the big sacred tree, where women used to gather at foot of Odaa tree performing cultural rituals and making ceremonials with coffee and rub the sacred tree with butter and doing other ritual acts. The sacred tree is still there and must have been anointed with tons of butter over a century. I will never forget what me and my friends did to those ladies were performing rituals, we use to ridicule them, confronting and exposing them to laugh, bigotry and intimidation. Now, I feel guilt, shame and regret for trying confronting and intimidating those ladies at the thought that I was acting out of ignorance and foolishness having higher religious moral ground than them.
There is general misunderstanding, bias and degradation and racism attitude toward Irreecha Celebration. But, sadly, for too many people the truth about Irreecha is buried under the weight of a century of misconception and ignorance. Irreecha have been most misrepresented and least understood by many non- Oromo and especially by church people who viewed it as pagan idol worship. Often demeaning and degrading and insult words were used to characterize Irreecha. Past and present government and religious authorities tried everything to prohibit Irreecha festivals. Oromo have no right to have their own religion, their culture have been rejected and suppressed. Oromo have no place of honor. Our past is our present and our ugly past is still with us.
Having said that, thanks to the Qeerroo struggle we are now entering new chapter of Oromo history and it is not easy to silence our ancestral and forefathers’ cultural institutions.
Also, today, there is a significant shift in Irreecha celebration. The old common practices of anointing the tree trunk with butter is over. Today no more ritual or any sort offering being performed. [You probably read the differences between Irreecha and church worship from my previous article.]
During my visit I have met and talked to several Bishoftu residents and particularly to two young guys present at the event, October 2, 2016. One acting as tour guide and the other a small boat owner. All the stories they tell is sad and shocking. The first one said he did not recall anything like it, dead bodies lying everywhere of bullet wound and those stamped into the ditch. They said that, when life munition shooting started, people began run all direction and stampeding into the ditch. Hundreds fallen into the ditch, exposed to dust and suffocated and died. Surprisingly enough, all the folks I talked to said that there was life munition shooting at the crowd by government security forces.
However, there are attempts denying use of bullet for cover-up and misleading of heinous crime committed by government forces. There was lies and misinformation about the number of people massacred. Haile Mariam Desalegn ex-PM, who is a pathological liar by nature, put the number of dead to 54. He also said: “no bullet being used and no one died of bullet wound.” Interestingly enough, he used the massacre for propaganda strategy denying the act of terror carried out by the military. Furthermore, to his shameless lies, he blamed and denounced the crowd for violence and lawlessness. Haile Mariam lack competence and he created crises for the country that lead him to his down fall. Furthermore, he thanked and promoted the special security forces carried out the killing of innocent and unarmed people during the Oromo up rising.
Preparation for War
All of us have heard and saw how the Irreecha Massacre took place but not many knows how it did happen. From the government prospective, there is an effort of cover up and misinformation to the public that people died by stampeding into a ditch and not by bullet.
Beginning early morning, October 2, 2016, thousands of special forces the Agazi, security agents and polices converged on Bishoftu with full military gears, armored vehicles, AK- 47 guns and special anti-riot forces with tear gas. Heavy armored vehicles took positions along the main road to Lake Hora. Additionally, army helicopter was on reconnaissance mission, kept flying back and forth over the city as a show of force and also to crate physiological warfare and spread terror among the crowd.
From the city limit, all the roads leading to the lake were lined by military and polices forces. The entire operation made Bishoftu a war zone rather than thanksgiving Irreecha festival. Where is the enemy?
The question for everybody is why TPLF/ OPDO needed such big preparation? Note, I am going to use TPLF/OPDO because they work on two sides of the same coin and they are working for another venture of EPRDF come back. According to the operation plan, sometime before shooting commenced, local and foreign social media reporters were told to leave the area so that the act of crime may not be seen and reported. Furthermore, it was said that at the time no telephone working in Bshoftu area an indication that government wanted news blackout.
Just before firing started, someone from the crowd chanted a slogan “DOWN WITH WOYANE! DOWEN WITH WOYANE! DOWEN WITH WOYANE! The chants echoing through the entire crowd. The chants infuriated Agazi and security forces who were already filled with hate and anger started sporadic shooting toward the crowd. As shooting started crowd burst forth, tumbling over each other into a hidden ditch.
Note, a report says that the security forces purposely had moved army vehicles into a blocking position and trap people from escape. On the back side of the crowd is a compound fenced with wire and front side is open ditch while both ends of the ditch was blocked by vehicles. So, then all escape routes were blocked and only way to flee from bullet is to jump into a hidden ditch.
The shooting was not a coincident but well planned and systematically carried out by hate filled anti –Oromo and anti-Irreecha sentiment government forces.
Agazi is the most notorious TPLF`s special army with license to detain or kill and perhaps rivals by Nazi Gestapo. Its sole purpose to eliminate government opponent enemies. They carry out arbitrary arrest detention and right to kill. The blood thirsty and wicked joint TPLF/ OPDO instrument of killers enjoy killing unarmed innocent people. They were given one assignment only “shoot to kill”!
The Agazi, count about twenty thousands and supported by tens of thousands informers and spies and generally based in Oromia region and people constantly live under horrifying act of fear and terror. This same special terror forces are still carrying out killing all over Oromia. To encourage more killing they were constantly praised and honored for heroism by former PM. Haile M. Desalegne. In his inauguration speech, even current prime minister thanked and praised the military for their bravery and success to bring down the uprising in Oromia.
Likewise, TPLE also created, trained and armed the Somalia Lieu Police, to carry out proxy war against Oromo people. Lieu Police have, displaced more than one million Oromo’s, burn down villages, looting properties, robe cattle, murdering people and rape women. Similar crime is being carried out in Western Oromia region. For the last four years the Central government close its eyes and did nothing. No action taken by current government when Oromo’s are evicted from their birth place and mistreated and killed. Everything is on purpose for purpose of weakening Oromo people socially economically and politically.
Genocide Crime Investigation
What is really genocide? Genocide is defined as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a nation, ethnical or religious groups.
The fact that TPLF come out in full battle preparation form shows that they are purposely and systematically for a war of ethnic cleansing against unarmed civilian population is a crime of genocide. Shooting life ammunition into unarmed crowed carrying sticks, green grass and flower in their arms and murdering 700 instantly is a genocide. The reality is people were killed for no reason other than being Oromo`s. They wanted to displace and eliminate the Oromo and take their lands. It was Meles Zenawi who said in pride “we will make you a minority”!
Human Rights Watch and others have continually stressed the importance of accountability and justice in Ethiopia. The current EPRDF government cannot give blanket amnesty or excuse crime of deliberate mass murder and must comply with legal forms and standards. First of all no one has the right morally or legally to forgive crimes. Only the victims or their relatives/ families have the right to forgive. The only way for victims to see justice done is through fair trials where victims can describe the ordeals. The new government, in an effort to consolidate power did not want to bring charges against the security officials who carried out the slaughter. The old EPRDF machine still working to rise to power under different names.
However, the decision to ignore mass murder atrocities and let go the criminals may carry a higher price and will never help in building genuine peace and democracy. It is sad that those responsible officials are free and enjoying good life just like everybody. There were mass killing in cities and villages all over Oromia, but Irreecha was the largest single day massacre. It was a preplanned and premeditated massacre for which the government is fully responsible. It is sad and unfortunate, human suffering will continue unabated for the forcible future in Oromia.
So then, what shall we do? Our task is simple, try to establish a board of independent inquiry commission investigation and find out truth, who directed the massacre? We want the incident to be investigated and culprit brought to justice.
The Day of Mourning
On October 2, 2016 a death cloud darkened Bishoftu sky.
Irreechaa is a cultural day of thanksgiving to God [WAQAA]. Irreecha is rooted in rich Oromo historical past and associated with Gadaa system of government. Many believe that Irreecha is a harvest festival celebrated with folklore dance and songs. Other take it is a political manifestation against TPLF tyrannical rule. All the above are true but Irreecha celebration includes religion, culture, thanksgiving and politics. But as we all know Irreecha today undergoing a revival and have become a political manifesto, re-vibrating new Oromo revolutionary struggle for freedom, equality and justice. But sadly for too many non- Oromo the truth about Irreecha is buried under the weight of century old misconception and ignorance.
On October 2, 2016, millions, gathered, some estimate put it 4 million come from all walks of life to celebrate Irreecha cultural celebration. All came to pledge their devotion and allegiances to Waqaa Almighty. They were all happy and felt thankful that God had taken such good care of them during winter and to step on to summer. All, were happy and cheerful, singing and dancing but all of a sudden death cloud darkened the sky, bullet sound changed the mood into grief and weep. Those who went out in joy to celebrate Irreecha but ended up by death and they did not make home back.
Simple question, why did peaceful people carrying bundle of green grass and flower on their hands be massacred?
October 2 is the day of deep grief and mourning and weeping for the families and friends of those killed and will be remembered as the National Day of Mourning in Oromia. The day to honor and thank those who have been killed.
Crime and Lies
There has been deception and there has been big lies how people died. Haile M. Desalegne stated that “no one died of bullet wound” Furthermore he gave the number of dead 54 only. He is a pathological layer by nature. He lied to the world when he said “there is no political prisoner in Ethiopia.” What you make out of that? Mengistu H. Mariam also said “tinigne enqa algedelnkum” [I did not even kill an insect.”
Instead of asking for apology and remorse he falsely accused the crowd for lawlessness and violence. Furthermore he constantly threatens Qeerroo saying: “yemayadagim ermeja enwosdalen” [we will take decisive action and crush you].
There is a confusion about the trench where the crowd stamped and buried alive suffocated and died. All government social propaganda media tell lies that all death occurred by stamping into the open ditch ”gedel”. Gedel is the Amharic synonymous word for cliff or gorge. Cliff or gorges are natural high steep face of rocks or deep narrow valley, while a ditch is manmade. Irreecha annual event commonly takes place along open dusty plain area and there are no cliff or gorge in the vicinity. The reality is that people died of bullet wounds as well as stampeding to a ditch. The truth of the fact is that in Ethiopia high authorities live in a culture of lie and deception and they never tell the truth.
In the middle of the dusty way leading to the lake there is long old open ditch, extending from the lake front across the main road to the Agriculture Institute and beyond. Many did not know that a ditch exits at all. The open ditch approximate dimensions are, four meters deep, three meters width and half km. long. It is said that the ditch was originally excavated for irrigation purpose during Italian occupation. Tall tree bushes and close clipped ever green hedges growth inside the ditch and is hardly distinguishable as open trench.
According to eye witness account when shooting and tear gas throwing started the crowd started fleeing, knocking and tumbling over each other into the open ditch suffocated and buried alive and died.
No one knows exactly how many people were killed with bullet and how many died by stampeding into the ditch but according to the primary report released by Oromo Federal Congress [OFC] put the total death close to 700.
After killing was over at Lake Hora more people were arrested and killed in the city.
Monument of Bilisummaa
Probably you saw or heard a statue built and believed to be dedicated to the victims of Irreecha Massacre and on September 2017 inaugurated by Obo Lema Megersa president of Oromia. The monument carried inscriptions “killed by accident”.
But something mysterious happened, the monument was taken down and demolished. Of course, the puzzling question remains. Why was it built? What was the purpose of building a monument? It is no longer clear why it was built and unbuilt. At first people thought that the statute was built to honor the victims of the massacre. Latter it was known to be built on purpose to lie and cover- up the true facts how people were killed. Obo Lema would know the preparation and operation by government military for war more than anyone else. It looks that he refuses to recognize use of life munition by the military and trying to blame the crowd for violence and death. We do not know where he stands? OPDO tried to convey conspiracy propaganda scheme that people were killed not by bullet but by stampeding into the open ditch. It is shame and insult to the families and relatives of those murdered telling that they died by accident.
Note that there are many, even Oromo who wishes the Anole Monument should have not been built. Why? They wanted to hide past crime, forgive and forget for the sake of unity in the country! Will hiding the truth and facts really unite us? It was Mao Zedong once said “the present is the past and the future, and the future are the present”
An eye witness whom I met and talked said “I was in the crowd on far corner of the tribunal/stage, I heard gun fire sound: ”Subsequent sinister efforts being used to mislead the public in order to cover up use of bullet in the massacre. In other words, massacre denial is a form of anti- Oromo, as much as it is a part of the cynical scheme denying all crime killings in Oromia. The government blanket amnesty to all crimes committed against the Oromo people is part of this sinister design. Viewed as a large historical context of 27 years of inhuman brutalities, EPRDF leaders past and present are lairs, always denying facts or spinning the truth.
The horror of the Hora, where 700 innocent worshipers praying, singing and carrying green grass and flower in their hands massacred is sheer cruelty and deviated from any human norms and was planned and executed by government forces. We Oromo specially the diaspora cannot seat and forget the 700 of our people brutally murdered and do nothing about it. It is now up to Oromo community diaspora to set up a committee and ensure that the Irreecha Massacre atrocities do not go unpunished.
My proposal would be to build a Monument of Bilisummaa in memory and honor of Irreecha Massacre on October 2, 2016. It can be built under auspicious and guidance of Oromo Community, Macha Tullama Association and Oromo Studies Association. We lay a piece of history to all murdered during Oromo struggle. I am asking individually your support and opinions
A memorial would be built to stand as a living memorial to convey the heinous mass murderer crime carried out by TPLF/ OPDO. A monument as a symbol for the 700 massacred and who sacrificed their lives to Oromo struggle. A monument attributed to prevailing Oromo struggle for freedom, justice and unity.
Although, Abiy took many constructive means to calm down the political tension in the country he took no action on human rights issues, especially in Oromia the crime against humanity. Thanks to the Qeerro sacrifice that fueled Lema and Abiy to rise to power. The so-called Team Lema of new government close its eyes to every massacre happening in Oromia. They don’t seem care for the death of Oromo at all. It is beyond comprehension and sad to watch and keep silent while millions got displaced and thousands die. Ethiopia is the only country where 700 unarmed and innocent people to murdered and government makes subsequent effort to mislead and cover up act of crime. It is a treason of betraying one`s own country to try to cover the truth. There should be a hidden agenda behind all crimes. You can`t give general immunity to the crime against humanity. The authorities in the government and military commanders, who were complicit and gave order for shooting need to stand for trial and face justice. We need to advocate and bring the Hora mass killing to UN Human Right Watch. It is a moral as well as legitimate duty that we as Oromo not to forget Irreecha Massacre.
Ultimately, my goal is not simply to write what happened on October 2, 2016 or revival in our heart the massacre and crime by government security forces but to build Irreecha Bilisummaa Monument in memory of the victims.
Here are the summery of actions which I ask all Oromo diaspora to consider:
- The Irreecha Massacre was one of the most horrific killing committed against unarmed innocent people and more than 700 people were slaughtered. There is no accident, but it was pre- planned and pre- meditated and coordinated by TPLF/OPDO tyrant regime. We want investigation and the culprit be brought to justice.
- Irreecha is our spiritual salvation, to be sure, but it is the salvation of our identity as Oromo, our heritage and the symbol of hope and rebirth of Gada culture. The Second of October is a day that lives in our collective memories for ever and should be observed and adopted as a National Memorial Day in honor and remembrance of all killed in the tragedy.
- Special thanks to the Oromo Community Washington DC. And Macha Tullemaa Organization, Irreecha anniversary has been organized and hosted every year.
- The third and most important action would be to build a monument to the victims of Irreecha Massacre. We need a national memorial a tribute to remembrance and honor those victims.
- The last phase of our task would be digging / excavating portion of the old ditch restoring to the original depth and form to make it accessible to visitors.
As a nation we cannot keep silent, we don’t seat and watch while our people killed by terror regime. Those of us who are living abroad as diaspora have to make small contribution, they say throw small stones into the construction of the monument. I just hope that we can somehow form groups wherever we live to support this noble idea. A monument as a symbol not only those massacred at Irreecha festival but the 5000 Qeerroo who sacrificed their lives for justice, freedom and Oromo identity. If you have any vision, ideas and plans to offer please do not hesitate to contact Oromo Communities in your area.
We are threatened by so many fronts. Our land is robbed, there is cultural suppression, constant assault on our religious belief, racial characterization and wide range of social media fake news. Irreecha Massacre was and all other killings everywhere in Oromia is long planned strategy to destroy Oromia.
I just hope and have faith that you will take time think to help and participate build “Irreecha Bilisummaa Monument”
Remember, “Freedom is taken, but never given”.
Let us unit
We are Oromo
By Worku Gadissa