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An Epistle of Love & Peace

My Fellow Ethiopian Brothers and Sisters Worldwide

New Year Meskerem 1, 2014

As we celebrate our Ethiopian New Year 2014, I appeal to all my Ethiopian brothers and sisters at home and abroad to turn away from hate, anger and fighting to embrace each other. I pray that the Almighty open our eyes to see that love is stronger than hate, that peace is far more important than fighting.

Let us all open our eyes, look at each other and ask ourselves, “Why is Ethiopia a strong ancient land?” In his book on the second Italo-Ethiopian war, Del Boca observes that the Italians won the war in 1935 by spying on the Ethiopians and making sure that the proud generals of the Amhara, Tigre, and Oromo did not cooperate and consolidate their forces. On the other hand, we all know that Ethiopia won the glorious Battle of Adwa through a strong unionof Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Afar, Gurage, Wolayta, Hadia, Kambata, and all other Ethiopian national forces. And as we all know, the ancient Kingdom of Israel was also divided and weakened because of brotherly hate and infighting.

My dear Brothers and Sisters: Do I love Ethiopia and all Ethiopian peoples no matter what language they speak? Do personal pride and conflicts contribute to our unity or demise? I ask our educated elites and leaders responsible for all our conflicts. Do they seem to have forgotten their Bible: those who say they love G-d they do not see but hate the brothers in front of their very eyes are deceiving themselves?

So, I write this message to pray to the Almighty to send a strong wind to blow hate and anger from our hearts and minds. Anger and hate not only tear us apart; they also can destroy the very fabric of our diverse and great nation of Ethiopia. Anger and hate kill the very person who harbors them, and they are now killing us and our Ethiopia.As we wash and cleanse ourselves from bodily dirt to welcome the New Year, let us also wash away from our hearts and minds the ugly dirt of brotherly and sisterly hate and anger that are now tearing us apart, causing us to use violence against each other.

The year of 2013 has indeed been a terrible time. What a family tragedy! The stories we hear today about the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable--our children and senior citizens--freeze the blood. The ugly rape of our women and the blatant neglect of the humanitarian needs of our poorest people pain us deeply. Are the Tigrays and Amharas not twin brothers? Are the Oromo not our elder Ethiopian brothers? Haven’t most Ethiopian ethno-linguistic groups intermarried and borne children together? How can we look in the eyes of those children and teach them love and respect? The French, Italians, and Germans live in peace together in Switzerland, a very successful country. So why can we also not live together in peace respecting each other?

My brothers and sisters, when we see what is happening in our beloved Ethiopia, who is not heartbroken? I can neither sleep well nor feel at ease. I cry like a lonely voice in the desert. My only comfort is that I have many wonderful Ethiopian friends who are loving. They work with me in the Peace & Development Center at home and abroad. Together with them I now humbly appeal to our leaders to turn away from anger, hate and violence to peace, love, and mutual respect at the dawn of our New Year. Our people desperately need food, medicine, and education for their children. What are we doing to meet these fundamental human needs for them when we foment ethnic hate on social media, and drag our people down to their death and destruction?

Ethiopia is a country of beautiful people, both physically and spiritually. I grew up among the gentle Oromo people until I was twelve years old. I travelled among the Amhara and Tigray people when I was doing my research on ancient Ge’ez language and literatures while studying at Harvard University. I interacted with the beautiful people of Kambata, Gurage, Hadya, Wolayta, Somalia, and Afar when I was the Director General of the National Ethiopian Literacy Campaign Organization. All the peoples of Ethiopia I came across on my travels were the same: gentle, loving, and humble. Unlike many of us modern educated elites, the peoples of the west, the north, the south, and the east were all humble, loving, and gentle. Wherever I went, I do not recall anyone asking me whether I was Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Gurage, Somali, or any other linguo-ethnic group. They asked whether I was thirsty, hungry, or tired. They hastened to offer me coffee, fruits, or a meal, and they always showed me love. That is why I love Ethiopia and why, after years living abroad, I still proudly carry an Ethiopian passport.

I beg you, my brothers and sisters, at the beginning of our New Year. Let us stop thinking that we have a monopoly on truth, that “I alone am right”. One of the interesting people I met when I first came to Princeton in 1980 was the great Albert Einstein’s personal secretary. She impressed upon me how Einstein was a self-effacing and humble person. That reminded me that the most unpretentious and unassuming professors I had at Harvard were the most famous ones, not the junior faculty! Even in our country the wisest are the humblest.Let us be humble like our people. Let us repent and turn away from hate to love, from mutual destruction to mutual respect and support.

I agree with those who say we need democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and economic development. But let us not hide behind such lofty ideas only to attack each other. There is a Jewish saying: “The world stands on three pillars: peace, love, and justice, but peace is the strongest pillar”. Without peace, our country will crumble. Yet, bringing peace is not going to be easy. It is we alone that can do so by respectfully and sympathetically dialoguing with each other. No amount of international diplomacy, although important and welcome, can save us and resolve our brotherly conflicts. As an ancient rabbi said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” As the saying goes, “The foolish fight. The wise are right: they talk”. Our good people are used to sitting in church or mosque yard or under the sycamore tree to talk to each other. Why can we not respect that ancient tradition and do the same and dialogue with each other?

So, in 2014 may the Almighty open our hearts and minds and wash the dirt of anger, hate and arrogance from our souls. May He implant in our hearts and minds the spirit of peace and reconciliation and mutual respect to heal our divisions. DIVIDED BY HATE AND VIOLENCE OVER OURDIFFERENCES, WE COLLAPSE AND FALL! UNITED AGAINST HATE AND VIOLENCE IN RESPECT FOR OUR DIVERSITY, WE STAND STRONG!

May peace and reconciliation and open-mindedness prevail among all our diverse peoples in 2014! MALKAM ADDIS AMAT!


*Ephraim Isaac is first Ethiopian to get a Bachelor of Divinity in 1963 from the Harvard Divinity School that honored him two years ago as one of its Distinguished Alumni; he is the first Ethiopian to receive a PhD in 1969 from Harvard University and become a founder and first professor of the famous Department of African and African American Studies that gives yearly the “Ephraim Isaac Prize for Excellence in African Studies”. Most importantly, he is one of the founders of the National Ethiopian Literacy Campaign Organization in the 1960’s that made about two million Ethiopians literates, and the ad hoc Peace Committee in 1989 that sponsored the 1991 Conference for Peaceful and Democratic Transition. He humbly works tirelessly for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia, founded the Coalition of Ethiopian Elders, and negotiated the release of thousands of prisoners from jail, 1993-2012. He has many national and international awards.

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