Ancient artefacts stolen from Ethiopia's Tigray region being auctioned online as war rages on

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Damaged and destroyed artefacts litter a room in the Dessie Museum ransacked and destroyed during the 2021 TPLF occupation of Dessie on January 10, 2022 in Dessie, Ethiopia. Inaugurated in 1981, the Dessie Museum contained numerous artefacts and relics that represented over 500 years of Ethiopian history including items from the Battle of Adwa and other significant periods in Ethiopian history.  Whatever items were not destroyed by the TPLF were said to have been loaded onto vehicles and taken back to Tirgray.
Damaged and destroyed artefacts litter a room in the Dessie Museum ransacked and destroyed during the 2021 TPLF occupation of Dessie on January 10, 2022 in Dessie, Ethiopia. Inaugurated in 1981, the Dessie Museum contained numerous artefacts and relics that represented over 500 years of Ethiopian history including items from the Battle of Adwa and other significant periods in Ethiopian history. Whatever items were not destroyed by the TPLF were said to have been loaded onto vehicles and taken back to Tirgray.
Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images
  • Ethiopia's Tigray region says it wants to approach Unesco to stop the plunder of its literature, history, and philosophy.
  • Historical and cultural artefacts are being stolen from Tigray as the war in the region rages on.
  • Online auction floors have been taken down since they are part of the illicit trade in artefacts.

The government of the Tigray region in Ethiopia says it will approach the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to help stop the illicit trade in its historical artefacts and memorabilia.

Tigray is the fifth largest and northernmost province in Ethiopia. In November 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray. The war is still under way, and the Tigran government says it has led to the mass plunder and looting of its artefacts.

Read a statement from Tigray's External Office:

Today, a number of historic artefacts plundered from Tigray are shamelessly circulating in various countries.

Tigray has a rich footprint of ancient history. It is regarded as one of the earliest ancient world civilisations, the Aksumite Kingdom, which stretched from Tigray to the Middle East around the third and fourth century.

Reverential monuments like giant obelisks (also found in Egypt), tombs of various kings, musical notes and literature are found alongside the historical traditions of Tigray.

This history, according to the External Office, has found its way to online platforms such as eBay.

READ | 'Unprecedented' attacks hound Eritrean refugees in war-hit Ethiopia

"In recent days, the world has witnessed the degree of cultural and religious depredation perpetrated in Tigray, as some of those stolen historical artefacts have been put up on sale on online bidding platform eBay," the office said.

It said they were pulled down following lobbying by Tigrayans in the diaspora and "friends of Tigray". The artefacts include religious symbols like crosses and historic manuscripts.

The African Literature Association (ALA) has also added its voice to calls for an end to the plunder of Tigrayan endangered artefacts and historical literature. In a statement, it said the feuding parties were affecting the pride of Ethiopia as a rich area of study for archaeology and other disciplines.

The association said:

As part of a research community that has been involved for many years in the study of Ethiopian culture, we are saddened about the plight of the civilian population. And we are increasingly concerned by the effect of the conflict on the cultural heritage of Tigray. We appeal to all parties involved to pay serious attention to the issue.

The most notable assault on the region's monuments was when fighting happened near the church in Yeha, Al Nejashi Mosque, the Maryam Dengelat church, the Dabra Abbay monastery, the Dabra Dammo monastery, and the St Mary Cathedral in Aksum.

Aksum city, where the cathedral is situated, is on the Unesco World Heritage List, while Unesco is considering adding the Al Nejashi Mosque, established in the seventh century, to the list.

According to the Tigray government, it has established a commission that will work with Unesco's International Council of Museums, Interpol and the World Tourism Organisation.


The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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