Unearthed evidence maps Western Tigray conflict
Two recently discovered 19th century maps show Welkait as part of Tigray.
Western Tigray is important not only because of the multiple war crimes committed there since November 2020, but also because the Amhara region claims it as historical land of Amhara and annexed it unconstitutionally.
According to the Ethiopian constitution, regional boundaries are based on ethnolinguistic settlement patterns, not historical administrative arrangements. As a result, Western Tigray became part of Tigray as there was a predominance residents of Tigrigna mother tongue.
However, many Amhara nationalists have used Amhara’s alleged historical ownership over these areas as justification for annexation. While this “historical ownership” argument is irrelevant to the current federal arrangement, further examination of these claims from Amhara irredentists is warranted.
After all, Amhara irredentism was one of the driving forces behind the war against Tigray and the withdrawal from this fertile area of Tigray seems to have been part of the strategy of subjugating the region.
As proof, a supporter of the Ethiopian regime proudly declared in July 2021: “Let them go! The defeated Greater Tigray had to abandon the fertile regions it had stolen from the Amharas in the 1990s and had to retreat to its arid regions. heimat… Tigray no longer has modern agriculture and industry, the infrastructure is destroyed.
In a fascinating presentation April 13 in Berlin Horn of Africa Scientific Working GroupProfessor Wolbert Smidt has shown for the first time extracts from a map which contradicts the Gondarine account of the history of western Tigray.
In further detailed research, we uncovered several maps from the mid-19and Century in which Western Tigray is clearly mapped as part of the then Confederate arrangement of Tigray.
The purpose here is not to rule on land claim based on specific maps, but rather to demonstrate that CF Weiland (1841) and FH Handtke (1849) fit into a wide range of historical maps and documents that jointly reveal that territorial organization has varied enormously over time.
In other words, the Amhara nationalist narrative of western Tigray ancestral ownership is disconnected from the historical record. Either way, rather than relying on historic ownership debates, territorial disputes should reflect current realities.
In view of its greater accuracy, I have chosen to focus on Handtke’s map (1849), which was prepared by a German atlas printer in the mid-19and century.
Handtke’s map measures 39cm wide and 66cm high and is printed on paper glued to fabric. The scale is approximately 1:5,600,000; the relief is represented by short lines representing the aspect of the slope and a general impression of inclination (hatching).
The mapbased on early and mid 19and diplomatics of the century and other sources, was produced by lithographic printing, with manual coloring of the outlines, as has been done for many maps prepare at this moment.
The work was created in one of the few most solid cartographic publishing houses of the 19and century in Germany, led by Carl Flemming (1806-1878). Flemming was helped by the cartographer Friedrich Handtke (1815-1879), who work on almost every mapping assignment for the company.
Northeast Africa in 1849
The map shows that the geography of the Red Sea coast, Egypt and “Nubia” was fairly well known, as well as that of the northern and central highlands of Ethiopia. These have been mapped in relative detail for “Tigris”, “Amhara” and to the south with fuzzy boundaries for “Schoa”, as the mapmakers made reference to these areas.
Due to inaccessibility, the physical geography of the otherwise well-mapped northern highlands contains a major error: the Areqwa River, which flows directly into the Tekeze River, was erroneously mapped as parallel to Tekeze and intercepting other tributaries or tributaries such as the Giba and Weri’i Rivers (Fig. 1).
Further south, “Enarea”, “Dschimma” and “Kaffa” are positioned with little detail. A generic name “Habesch” is written diagonally across the highlands.
Maps of North East Africa from the 19and century provide extensive information on toponyms – which include place names, regional names, and the territorial extent of groups – as well as local ideas of boundaries and routes, overlapping political claims, and conflicts and interactions ethnic.
In other words, they were not just the work of visiting cartographers and scholars; they were the result of interaction with experienced local partners, experts in territorial knowledge and socio-political practices.
On Handtke’s map, Ras Ali’s “Amhara” largely corresponded to the current Amhara region, but with Wollo as a separate entity. The territorial organization of the “Tigris” included the Eritrean highlands (“Baharnagasch”) and the current Tigray region, including “Walkayt” and “Waldubba” in the west (Fig. 1).
It doesn’t have to be seen as a unified “country”. Rather, “Tiger” territory denoted a Confederate-style structure of largely independent provinces and principalities within an alliance that were pacified by Dejazmatch Wubie. Intermediate rivers that were impassable during the rainy season contributed provincial sovereignty within the larger structure.
In 1849, long before the scramble for Africa, Eritrea had not yet entered existence as a separate territory and therefore does not appear on Handtke’s map (1849). On this map, the lowlands west of “Habesh” were also poorly defined, with the appearance of names like “Schangalla”, “Kolla Mazaga” or “Dar El Berta”.
Before Weiland and Handtke, Rigobert Good had already mapped the less precise outlines of a Confederate “Tigray.”
These maps are part of several historical maps that have been omitted from Achamyeleh Tamiru’s work. review which was written to substantiate the claims of Amhara nationalists on Welkait. References to “Wälqayt in Tegré” by Richard Pankhurst (1990) have also been omitted.
These maps show how the argument that Welkait still belonged to provinces like Begemdir comprising Amharic speakers that today make up the Amhara region is not based on evidence, apart from a territorial reorganization in the early and mid-twentieth century.
Indeed, the Abyssinian emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie I divided the country into provinces, replacing territories that had once been ruled semi-autonomously.
As colonial powers did elsewhere, Haile Selassie cut into these existing territories and used this territorial reorganization as a way to reward his allies. The resulting provinces were built with the strength of local powers, regardless of their ethnic composition.
In contrast, the legitimacy of contemporary Tigray stems from the current federal structure created by the 1995 constitution. ethnolinguistic settlements were favored over historical maps.
Remarkably, all linguistic maps of the Ethiopian state maintain the current borders of the Tigray region. This is the case of the map of the languages of Ethiopia established by J. Spencer Trimingham, and reposted by Egbert Westphal in 1975 (Fig. 2).
The Trimingham and Westphal maps use the provincial boundaries as they were in the 1960s and early 1970s. The northernmost province, Eritrea, has since become an independent state. The Tigray region after 1994 encompasses the Tigrinya-speaking regions of Ethiopia.
Historical maps researched by Ethiomap research projectwith Smidt working on maps of the Ethiopian highlands and northern territories, further findings on the context of the 19th century maps are expected.
In summary, historical cartography demonstrates that claims of long-standing Amhara dominance over Welkait are false. If arguments about historical ownership are to take place, they must consider the full range of evidence. Also, the settlement of territorial disputes should above all reflect the ethnolinguistic situation both before 1991 and before 2020.
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This is the author’s point of view. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct obvious factual errors.
Main photo: “Tiger” as it was mapped in 1841 by Weiland.
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