A seemingly endless line of cars marked with red and yellow balloons and flags made its way down Wisconsin Avenue on Feb. 27 in protest of the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Protesters honked their horns, leaned out of windows and sunroofs, carried signs and drove cars emblazoned with phrases like “Eritrean Troops Out,” “#defundtigraygenocide” and “STOP WAR ON TIGRAY.” Conflict in the Tigray region began in early November as tension between the federal government and the ruling faction in the region of Tigray turned into a military confrontation. The violence has led to over 1,000 deaths, according to Ethiopian state television.
For those who have relatives back home in the East African nation, an ongoing communication blackout caused by internet restrictions in the Tigray region has prevented contact with family members, according to Marta Nigse, a Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia representative of Stand With Tigray, an organization that helped organize the weekend’s events.
“Personally, my family lives in Western Tigray,” Nigse said. “We have not heard from my family for 119 days.”
The District is home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Africa. Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Shaw contain Ethiopian shops and restaurants. Silver Spring, Md., and Alexandria, Va., are also home to large Ethiopian communities.
The car procession was the culmination of a three-day protest, according to Nigse.
“We wanted to make sure the State Department has heard us, so Thursday was in front of the State Department,” Nigse said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
The caravan route began in Rock Creek Park and went through Georgetown and other D.C. neighborhoods with impressive turnout, according to Nigse.
The conflict has exacerbated tensions within the Ethiopian diaspora, with disagreement over the military’s airstrikes and blockades of essential supplies in Tigray, which began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the national military to open an offensive against the region’s ruling faction.
Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation and was recognized in particular for his handling of the border conflict with Eritrea, according to the Nobel Prize Organisation. However, the Norwegian Nobel Committee issued a rebuke of Abiy in November.
While Stand With Tigray’s website does not list Saturday’s protest, Ethiopian news website Aigaforum posted information about the three-day protests. The listing highlighted that the protests were meant to push the United States and international community to motivate the Ethiopian government to enact a variety of changes to promote peace and safety for the people of Tigray.
With most of the protesters’ mobilization taking place on social media, there is hope that the use of digital platforms can continue to spread awareness about the Tigray conflict, according to Nigse.
“Some of us are students, some of us are early in our careers, young immigrant Americans,” Nigse said. “We are asking the American public to know and help us amplify what is going on.”