Here’s a look at the armed conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and forces of the previously dominant political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Tigray is one of 11 administrative regions in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country. Each region is mostly autonomous, with its own police force and militia. Regional governments are largely divided along entrenched ethnic lines. Long-standing tensions between regions have led to ethno-nationalist clashes there.
The TPLF, which ruled the country for more than three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018, has been designated a terrorist group by the current government.
After becoming prime minister, Abiy worked to dismantle the power of the TPLF. He announced the rearrangement of the ruling coalition that TPLF founded – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF), comprised of four parties – into a single, new Prosperity Party (PP), ostracizing the TPLF in the process.
Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for helping to end Ethiopia’s 20-year war with neighboring Eritrea.
Eritrean forces have since joined in the military campaign in Tigray on the side of the Ethiopian government.
All actors in the conflict have been accused of carrying out atrocities, but Eritrean forces have been linked to some of the most gruesome. In addition to perpetrating mass killings and rape, Eritrean soldiers have also been found blocking and looting food relief in multiple parts of Tigray. Eritrea’s government has denied any involvement in atrocities.
November 4, 2020 – After accusing the TPLF of attacking a federal army base outside Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle, Abiy orders a military offensive against TPLF in the northern Tigray region and promises that the conflict will be resolved quickly.
November 9, 2020 – According to Amnesty International, more than 600 civilians are killed in Tigray amid fighting between the local and federal governments. The killings occur in Mai-Kadra, a town in the region’s southwest.
November 26, 2020 – Abiy tweets Ethiopia has entered the “final phase” of a “law enforcement” military operation in northern Tigray after a 72-hour deadline to surrender expires.
February 26, 2021 – A CNN investigation brings to light a massacre which took place during a religious festival in the town of Dengelat late last year. Eyewitnesses told CNN that a group of Eritrean soldiers opened fire at church during a service, claiming the lives of priests, women, entire families and a group of more than 20 school children.
February 26, 2021 – An Amnesty International report finds that Eritrean forces killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum in November 2020 through indiscriminate shelling and shooting and extrajudicial killings, in what the human rights organization says could amount to a crime against humanity.
February 27, 2021 – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls for the withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian regional forces from the Tigray region, and an end to killings and human rights violations.
March 4, 2021 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet calls for an independent investigation into human rights violations that may amount to war crimes in Tigray, days after CNN’s exclusive report about the massacre in Dengelat.
March 10, 2021 – During a Congressional committee hearing, Blinken uses the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe human rights abuses he says are being carried out in western Tigray, calling the situation “unacceptable.”
June 2021 – A new United Nations report warns of famine in Ethiopia, as more than 350,000 people in the Tigray region are experiencing “catastrophic” levels of “acute food insecurity.”
June 21, 2021 – Abiy wins another five-year term in Ethiopia’s first multi-party election in 16 years. A month later, the election board confirms Abiy’s landslide win.
June 28, 2021 – The Ethiopian government declares an immediate and unilateral ceasefire after Tigrayan forces retake Mekelle.
August 10, 2021 – Amnesty International publishes a report detailing widespread rape and sexual violence carried out by members of the ENDF, the Eritrean Defense Forces and other aligned special forces and militia groups.
September 17, 2021 – The Biden administration sanctions Eritrea’s military and its sole political party People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) for involvement in the ongoing Tigray crisis. The administration also sanctions two individuals and two entities with ties to the groups.
October 6, 2021 – A CNN investigation finds that the Ethiopia’s government used Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s primary commercial airline, to shuttle weapons to and from neighboring Eritrea during the war.
November 2, 2021 – Ethiopia’s Attorney General Gedion Timotheos announces a state of emergency after Tigrayan forces claim to have gained territory in the key cities of Dessie and Kombolcha. The move comes two days after Abiy urges citizens to take up arms to defend themselves against TPLF.
November 22, 2021 – Abiy announces he personally will lead his country’s soldiers on the front lines of the war against advancing rebel fighters, “Starting tomorrow, I will head to the war front to lead the defense forces in person,” he writes in a statement on Twitter, urging citizens to “lead the country with a sacrifice” and join him.
January 10, 2022 – Biden speaks with Abiy, urging the leader to negotiate a ceasefire after 14 months of war.
March 24, 2022 – The Ethiopian government declares the cessation of hostilities, in order to allow food aid to reach Tigray. Tigrayan forces say they will respect the ceasefire as long as sufficient aid is delivered to the region “within [a] reasonable time.”
April 1, 2022 – Trucks carrying food aid enter Tigray for the first time since mid-December, according to a tweet from the UN World Food Program (WFP). The convoy carrying more than 500 metric tons of food and nutrition supplies is expected to reach Mekelle soon for “communities on edge of starvation.”
June 14, 2022 – The Ethiopian government forms a committee to negotiate with the TPLF, which will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
August 24, 2022 – Military hostilities between Ethiopian government forces and Tigrayan forces resume after a three month ceasefire.
September 11, 2022 – The TPLF says it’s ready to observe an immediate ceasefire and accept an African Union-led peace process to end a conflict with federal forces, “We are ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere.”
October 6, 2022 – According to Tigrayan forces, an air strike in Adi Diero kills more than 65 people and injures more than 70. Many of those killed are displaced people sheltering inside a school building.
November 2, 2022 – Ethiopia and TPLF agree to a “permanent cessation of hostilities,” following about a week of AU-led negotiations in Pretoria, South Africa. The truce marks a significant step towards peace between the warring parties which have been locked in conflict for two years.
March 15, 2023 – During a trip to Ethiopia, Blinken presses Abiy on accountability for atrocities committed by all parties throughout the conflict. In the week following the visit, Blinken announces the US government has formally determined that armed forces on all sides of the conflict have committed war crimes.
September 4, 2023 – An Amnesty International report alleges that the Eritrean Defense Forces committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in Tigray immediately before and after signing a ceasefire last year.