Thousands of miles away from the war in
Ethiopia, the ethnic cracks have started to show in an Ethiopian church in
Ohio, in a lawsuit between trustees and clergy.

Also Read: Tigray, other groups form alliance against Ethiopian leader

The original trustees of the Holy Trinity
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Columbus have accused its clergy of
switching the language of services from Amharic, the national language of
Ethiopia, to Tigrinya, the language of the Tigray region. They say the clergy
is taking sides in a war between Tigray leaders and the Amhara, allied with the
Ethiopian government, with an estimated tens of thousands of dead.

The clergy in the church in Columbus, which
is home to about 40,000 Ethiopian-Americans, says Tigrinya was added on as a
language rather than replacing Amharic to better reach the congregation. Church
leaders say the changes weren’t political in nature.

Also Read: Peace efforts mark a year of conflict in Ethiopia

The tensions in the church reflect how the
war in Ethiopia has fuelled divides across the more than 3 million members of
the diaspora.

“The Ethiopian social fabric … has been
torn apart,” said Tewodros Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of
America, based in North Carolina.

Also Read: Ethiopia’s war marked by ‘extreme brutality’: UN report

war started due to a dispute over elections

The war started a little over a year ago
when a political dispute between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the
Tigray leaders erupted into violence after a dispute over elections. It has now
spiralled to the point where some Tigrayans are starving under a government
blockade and atrocities have been reported on all sides, with the worst and
most to date reported against Tigrayan civilians.

The conflict entered a new phase in late
December when the Tigray forces withdrew into the Tigray region after
approaching the capital, Addis Ababa, but are being pushed back by a
drone-supported military offensive.

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Deep disagreements about the nature and
even the facts of the conflict are splintering families, friends and
communities in the diaspora. Some consider themselves supporters of Tigray or
of its political leaders, who belong to a party called the Tigrayan People’s
Liberation Front, or TPLF. They argue that Tigrayans are being threatened with
genocide — profiled, persecuted and killed for their ethnicity.

Ordinary people are suffering 

Saba Desta, who works in health insurance
in New York, worries that ordinary people are being forgotten. Desta said she’s
tried to get her parents out of the northern city of Shire in Tigray, but her
father is ill and unable to leave without a nurse’s assistance.

Also Read: Ethiopian airstrikes in Tigray force UN humanitarian flight to turn back

“It’s been breaking me, reading the reports
of closing of hospitals and health centers, the restricted access to medicine,”
she said. “I can only believe that he’s OK, that he’s alive. I only have this
hope to bank on.”

Desta said five of her cousins, all
brothers, were shot to death in front of their elderly mother by the military
from neighbouring Eritrea, which has been in Tigray alongside Ethiopian
soldiers. Their mother died shortly after “from heartbreak,” she said.

“I’m so numb,”
she said. “I can’t even cry anymore.”                             

Also Read: ‘God have mercy’: Tigray residents describe life under siege

Other Ethiopians see this as a necessary
war against Tigray leaders, who once ruled Ethiopia and were accused of human
rights abuses while growing the country’s economy.

The former ruling coalition, dominated by
Tigray leaders representing 6% of the nation, appointed Abiy as prime minister
in 2018, a choice largely celebrated by Ethiopians across the globe as a step
towards peace and unity. Abiy transformed the federal coalition into a single
Prosperity Party, and Tigrayan leaders later withdrew. Many Ethiopians feel
that Tigray leaders are angry because Abiy leads with more than Tigray’s
interests in mind as he seeks to centralize power.