Psychological scar of Dec. 13, 2003 Anyuak’s Massacre

By Omot Bawar, a survivor of Anyuaks Genocide
Oct. 22, 2006


First of all I would like to introduce myself. I am Omot Bawar, a survivor of Anyuak’s Genocide of Dec. 13, 2003, in Gambella, Western Ethiopia. Before I proceed, I would like to express the word “Highlander” means ethic Ethiopian from different parts of Ethiopia came to Gambella for office jobs, businesses and other duties.

The Massacre Psychological scar
Days come, days pass;
Year comes year goes;
All come all pass;
However scars remain forever.
The two big scars: one on my left thigh;
The other on my right back shoulder;
Both remain visible forever.
But the worse ever is the psychological scar of the 13th day of December 2003.

The purpose of this article is to remind those who might forget about this day which is seven weeks away for mourning. For me, it is an everyday nightmare, even vivid dream get worse and worse when this day gets closer.
It was in the early morning of December 13, 2003 that a van carrying eight Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government and United Nations refugee camp officials ambushed by an unidentified group near Gambella town, killing them all including a driver who was an Anyuak. There was no effort done to find out who killed the officers.  Instead, around 9:00am on the same day, the Ethiopian government’s defense forces brought the bodies into Gambella town, displayed the corpses in Gambella administrative compound and incited local Highlanders to their murderous violence by saying that Anyuaks had killed eight officials, and that the murders needed to be avenged by killing all Anyuak men. Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) troops ordered hundreds of “Highlanders" living in Gambella to go to their homes to fetch machetes, knives, spears and axes, and to join them in the slaughter. It was soon after, all “Highlanders” march the streets of Gambella town with single slogan “Zerea yea-anywakoch megedya ken noow’, means today is the Day of Killing Aynuaks”. Shortly after highlanders took the street, about 300 uniformed EPRDF soldiers marched into the town and start shooting.

While some solders shooting Anyuak men on the streets, some were knocking the doors with a list of Anyuaks to be killed. Door to door assigned soldiers knew whom to be killed first. They went only to the houses of educated, officials, leaders and student Anyuaks.

After they killed all listed Anyuaks, they started knocking on doors and pulled out all the men and the boys. The killing was well organized by EPRDF militaries. The militaries use guns while the Highlanders were using machetes, knives, spears and axes. It was a military tactic: the militaries would shoot, then have the Highlanders come and butcher these wounded Anyuaks. To hide the evidences of guns use, Highlanders instructed to mutilate the bullet wounds.

On the third day, Dec. 15, 2003, we were still hiding under the bed but we could see everything. There was a shooting everywhere. I could see the bullets came in and hit everything in the way. Unfortunately, I received phone call from one of my cousin living in Minnesota, U.S.A. At the first ring I pickup the phone, trying to avoid a second ring. At the time there were about twenty uniformed soldiers close to where four of us were hiding. While I was on the phone, they forcefully knocked the door and before we could even respond, suddenly the door burst open and ten of them rushed in. I was on the phone closer to the door. My last word to the caller was the soldiers got me, they got me, then one of the soldiers grave the phone and threw it on the floor. And then we were severely beaten and dragged out the room and all my properties were taken including my passport. After we were detained for two hours, the soldier with my passport separated me from my three cousins and he took me to his commander at station. When I was at the station I saw many Anyuaks girls were taken to isolated places pertained to be safe but were to be raped and physically interrogated. After the commander realized that I had U.S. passport, ironically a U.S. citizen, he ordered two soldiers to take me home safely.

When I got home, at 11:00 pm of Dec. 15, 2003, I received another call again from Minnesota, U.S.A. The first question was “Omot are you alive?” And I answered I am alive for now but I don’t know what will happen in next minutes. The caller said, “You will be OK! The U.S. marines are on the way to rescue you”. Actually the marines were about 200 km (124 miles) away from Gambella town, they were detained. It took two days for them to meet me.

On Dec. 17, 2003, around 9:00am, marine called me and said, “we are in Gambella town now, and we will meet you very soon”. At the time, it was physically a huge of relieve but I was psychologically depressed, because the killing was already escalated through out Gambella state. For the first time in five days, I walked out freely. With marines accompanied me, I visited all the places in the city where all Anyuak’s houses were burned down, but I haven’t got chance to visit the two big mass graves of 317 bodies. In other part of the town I found quantities of dead, many corpses being half-decomposed, and wounded people, who were soon to breathe their last. In other yards, I found quantities of sick and starving people whom no one was looking after. In the neighborhood close to highlanders and soldiers, houses were burnt to the ground; women were raped with seven or eight hundred homeless dying of starvation.

On Dec. 17, 2003, at 1:00 pm, the marines received a message that the killing was intensified in Pinyudo, a province 100 km (62 miles) from Gambella town. Shortly after, the marines called U.S embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to report the situation and then an emergency airplane was ordered. On the same day, U.S counselor arrived in Gambella to pick me up, leaving marines in Gambella. When the airplane took off from Gambella airport with U.S. counselor sat on my side, I was psychologically very exhausted thinking that EPRDF militaries really want to exterminate Anyuak tribe in Ethiopia. The EPRDF militaries broadened their attacks by dispatching many troop trucks and a helicopter gunship to Anyuak villages throughout Gambella state. It was very similar fraction of the horrible militaries strategies that was being carried out in all other parts of Gambella state. Anyuaks were shot dead with guns. They were beaten, tortured, abused and left to die. Educated male Anyuaks were targeted; hundreds were killed in cold blood; entire villages were burnt to the ground including schools, hospitals, churches, etc; women were raped; and thousands of young Anyuak males fled across the border into Sudan. 

What I saw with my own eyes in Gambella was only the last scene in the great tragedy of the extermination of the Anyuaks. It's something that just seems unreal. It's like a dream when I think about it. The highlanders were our neighbors for so long. It really hurts for me even to say it. They cut you just like a tree. A person you used to live with, they killed you like an animal. It's unbelievable.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Gambella is now in its third years of the massacre. Human Right Watch published a comprehensive report of the situation in 2005. According to its estimate, based on painstaking research, the death toll is at least 2000, economic losses among Anyuaks is eminently increased, and more than 1500 houses have been reduced to rubble. Of course, the death toll is necessarily underrated, since very large numbers of corpses were burnt to ashes after the killings or some of them were shot and died in the bushes. After this report in 2005, moreover, there have been many more flare-ups, more of destruction and killings. What is going on there, judging from the nature of selected targets of killing, is clearly a process of EPRDF Government ethnic cleansing strategies, an elimination of the cultural, economic and demographic presence of the Anyuaks.

More important than the statistics of loss, is the nature of massacre. EPDRF is trying to shroud its evil behind impenetrable concentration camps and gas chambers, however, the massacre was carried out in streets; it was thoroughly investigated by courageous fact-finding teams of Human Right Watch, Civil Rights Activists, International Agencies, and even by the Ethiopian state's own National Commission of Human Rights. Even after such exposure and condemnation, none of the accused political leaders in EPDRF Government is punished; even the massacre is still continuing and violence has become a daily event. 

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Indeed a page of history has to be turn, and our people have to take a long step towards collective effort to stop Anyuak’s dehumanization. It is not Anyuaks alone who need to fear the future, but other Gambellans even more Ethiopian as long as EPDRF hold Ethiopian government. It is not remotely an exaggeration to say that this is the worst crisis in its history that faces our country today: worse than any Ethiopian government, old or new, worse than colonization, worse than the terrible sundering apart of the land. The crisis involves more than the security of minorities, the integrity of the nation, or law and order. It involves the survival of basic human values in our land.

Ladies and gentlemen, December 13th, 2006 will mark the third-year anniversary of the massacre and perpetration of serious human rights crimes against the Anyuak people of the Gambella region of Ethiopia by their own government. We should not forget this day and it has to be a “Memorial Day of Human Right Violation against Anyuaks”. The longer we continue to mourn this day, the reminder we will be; and the active we shall tell the massacre to the World. Anyuaks, no one is going to introduce the case to the World for us, so we must stand up for ourselves. We have to inform our problem repeatedly to concerned communities. Last years was a massacre of Anyuaks; this year may be Nuer’s massacre like the one carried on them in 1992 by EPDRF government transitional militaries; or next year will be Majenger’s genocide as they were massacred in1999 by the EPDRF militaries too. We have not to forget the killing of Addis Ababa university students on streets as well as other individuals and parties members who oppose the bureaucratic administration of EPDRF through out Ethiopia, especially after may 15, 2005 Ethiopian election which opposition parties officially won the election but EPDRF rigged it. More than 150 opposition leaders, journalists and aid workers were rounded up during the protests and are currently on trial, accused of treason and attempted genocide.

The mission behind the EPDRF government is to get extermination of Gambellan ethnic as well as other Ethiopians who are asking their full democracy and citizenship right.  We all need to come together and tell to other Ethiopians and the whole world Communities, even to our enemies too, that we have a right to live in this our promise Land. It is our birthplace, just like the rest of other Ethiopians. As citizens of the world, we have to tell to western world that they have a responsibility not to turn a blind eye to the manmade suffering of Anyuaks, as has been done in Rwanda, Sudan and many other places. Even in these locations, the world has finally paid some attention, as the numbers affected are large.  With the Anyuaks, the numbers are far less, but yet are a significant portion of the total Anyuak population.

For all of you who contributed to pursue the solution of Anyuak’s massacre in Gambella, Ethiopia and those who spent their time thinking about the genocide, thank you for what you have done, what you have been doing and what you will do for Anyuaks survival in this world.

The author of this article is a survivor of Anyuaks Genocide in Gambella, Western Ethiopia; resides in the United States and can be reached at


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