Tigrayan Cultural Heritage Emergency

The current conflict in Ethiopia has resulted in the documented damage, destruction and theft of cultural heritage materials and buildings across Tigrai Regional State. At the same time, local communities have been harmed by invading forces, who inflicted widespread gender-based violence, extra-judicial killings and massacres, in some cases at Orthodox Churches and other places of worship where people were attending services. Not only does the cultural heritage of Tigrai require our immediate attention, but rural peoples are also in need of support as they transition back to a more stable life.

To address these concerns, the Eastern Tigrai Archaeological Project (ETAP) has developed two new projects: Restoring Religious Heritage in Eastern Tigrai: Initial Steps (RELIGHT) and Healing Maryam Dengelat (HEAL). The RELIGHT project seeks to document the damage and theft of manuscripts and other religious heritage objects and complete emergency conservation at 14 sacred sites in Eastern Tigrai. The team will also assess structural damage at four churches and make recommendations for long-term interventions. For the HEAL project, we seek donations to support the work of counselling professionals to assist local residents of Maryam Dengelat who have been traumatized by the conflict. For more information on both these projects, please continue reading below. 

Healing Maryam Dengelat (HEAL)

Inside Maryam Dengelat Church (photo from the Ethiopian observer)
Memorial service to commemorate the Maryam Dengelat Massacre, Jan 2021 (Image: Hagos Gebremariam)

The Orthodox Christian church of Maryam Dengelat in Eastern Tigrai, may date as early as the 6th century. Early on in the Ethiopian conflict, in late November of 2020, the area around the church was the scene of a massacre. To address potential psychological trauma of residents in this rural area, the HEAL project will work with local leaders to develop a program incorporating traditional spiritual healing with trauma and mental health counselling methods.  

Using the lens of Tigrayan culture to evaluate principles on trauma and mental health will ensure that the program fits the needs of the local population. The HEAL team will then train ten social service professionals in this newly developed program to provide an effective and sustainable local service to people who experienced the horrors of the conflict in Maryam Dengelat and other regions of Tigrai.

To realize the HEAL project, Simon Fraser University has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $15,000 CAD. Please help those who have been traumatized by the conflict by making a tax-deductible donation. 100% of your donation will go directly to assist the people of Maryam Dengelat.

HEAL Team Members:

Hagos Gebremariam, Lecturer Department of Sociology, Adigrat University, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Brenton Diaz, Registered Social Worker and Trauma Therapist, Toronto, Canada

Catherine D'Andrea, Project Coordinator, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada

Restoring Religious Heritage in Eastern Tigrai (RELIGHT)

The RELIGHT project involves a team of archaeologists, conservators and historians who are planning to work at 14 churches in Eastern Tigrai to repair and document the theft of cultural heritage. Funded by the ALIPH Foundation (International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones), our main objective is to support the Tigrai Culture and Tourism Bureau (TCTB) and engage their expertise to survey religious heritage sites, which have been intentionally targeted and damaged by invading forces. RELIGHT sites include rock hewn churches which are on the UNESCO tentative World Heritage list for nomination as "Sacred Landscapes of Tigrai". At each site, we will compare existing manuscripts and objects to those documented in TCTB and other databases to identify stolen items. RELIGHT team members will complete emergency conservation of artefacts and manuscripts and repairs on damaged buildings. We will develop recommendations for additional longer-term interventions. The RELIGHT project is taking a consultative approach, putting together Ethiopian and international cultural heritage professionals, priests, elders, and other religious heritage stakeholders, all of whom contribute different knowledge bases to find sustainable solutions for each church.

Shelling damage at one of the RELIGHT sites: Zalembessa Cherkos Church.
Shelling damage at one of the RELIGHT sites: Zalembessa Cherkos Church.

RELIGHT Team Members:

Dr. Catherine D’Andrea, Co-Director, SFU Archaeology

Hailay Teklay Weldegebrial, Co-Director, SFU Archaeology & TCTB Global Representative

Prof. Ruth Keller, Manuscript Conservator, Berlin Museum of Technology and Economics

Christie Pohl, Objects Conservator, Boston Museum of Fine Art, USA

Dr. Elizabeth Peterson, Director, SFU Museum of Archaeology

Nina Nedelykov, Nedelykov Moreira Architects, Berlin

Pedro Moreira, Nedelykov Moreira Architects, Berlin

Yonas Tadele, TCTB Building Restoration Expert

Mekonnen Hagos, TCTB Manuscript and Paining Expert

Ybrah Baraki, TCTB Database Manager

Semhal Woldetinsae, TCTB Tourism Expert

Goitom Ebuy, TCTB Conservator

Shannon Wood, SFU Archaeology

Laurie Nixon-Darcus, SFU Archaeology