Interview with Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
September – October 2004 – Total: 35200 words
Interview with Professor Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
Part I Background and Motivation (posted 25/9/2004) – page 1
Part II Abyssinia (posted 2/10/2004) – page 12
Part III Oromo / Kush / Meroe (posted 9/10/2004) – page 26
Part IV The Future of Oromo/Kush and Abyssinia (posted 15/10/2004) – page 46
Interview with Professor Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
Part I. Background and Motivation
Professor Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis has been a prolific writer on Ethioindex’s Medrek forum. He has extremely rich knowledge of the history of the Middle East and Eastern and Northern Africa regions. He brought to light the often-confusing history of the Horn of Africa for the average public. Voice Finfinne is very pleased that Professor Megalommatis accepted its invitation to interview him on different issues.
Clearly, he is a learned fellow, as one writer described him on one of the internet discussion forums. Voice Finfinne has not done major editing to his answers, except for minor ones such as typo, for that would be, as he calls it, guaranteed misinformation. So we decided to publish his answers to our written interview questions ‘as is’ even though we may not necessarily agree on all issues. Our readers can reach him through us or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com.
This interview is divided into four parts. Part I focuses on some background and motivation of the discussions, Part II on Abyssinia, Part III on Meroe/Kush/Oromo and Part IV on the vision of the future of Oromo/Kush and Abyssinia/Semitic. Following is the first part of the interview. The remaining parts will be published weekly on Saturdays for the next three weeks.
What was designed as an in-depth interview has turned out to be a large booklet. We hope that it will generate multiparty interests for research and policy issues in East Africa.
Part I. Background and Motivation
Voice Finfinne (VF): Could you briefly tell us about yourself?
Professor Megalommatis (Prof): Thank you for your interest. It is an honor for me to be interviewed by Voice Finfinne, the website that bears the real name of the city that is usually but thoughtlessly called ‘Addis Ababa’. I am Greek citizen of Turkish origin; my father, my mother and my grandparents were all born in the Ottoman Empire. During my childhood, I became familiar with a trilingual phenomenon – Turkish at home, Greek in the streets, and French in school. I belong to a family that had Muslim and Christian members who did not have difficulty in changing their faith while preserving their deepest cultural personality intact – an uncle to my father, named Murad, fought against the British at Basra in 1916, but easily became Christian, and was renamed as Evdokimos when the family decided to move to Greece 14 years later! I belong to a family of merchants – my paternal grandfather was a big sugar merchant from Caesarea of Cappadocia, and later owner of a Brokerage and Securities company at the Athens Stock Exchange. I belong to two families, I mean paternal and maternal, whose members were familiar with extensive travels throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus area, and Central Asia at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th centuries. They were the first to describe to me, when a child at Athens – Greece, all the marvels of the Orient, the pyramids of Egypt, the zikkurat of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, the great palaces of Assurbanipal at Nineveh, nearby Mosul, the ruins of Persepolis, the great Phoenician temple of Baalbek, the majestic Islamic sites of Najaf – Iraq, Shiraz, Esfahan, Samarkand, Damascus, Jerusalem, and Cairo, the wilderness of Baluchistan, the magic coasts of the Red Sea, and of course what was home to them the majestic and bewitching cities of Anatolia, Caesarea, Castamone, Sebastea, Konya, Malatya, Urfa, Erzerum, Diyarbakir, and of course Istanbul. My mother’s family had a maritime vocation, moving from Izmir/Smyrna in the Western coast of Turkey to the Aegean Sea islands of Cassos and Carpathos, before settling at Athens. It was only normal consequence that before 10 I knew in three languages the real meaning of terms such as ‘Hieroglyphic’ and ‘Cuneiform’ scriptures. And it was only normal for me to accept that ‘borders’ mean nothing to anybody – except the rulers, of course – and that the best way for anyone to see things is to go to the other side of the ‘border’, and see things from there as well!
What came afterwards was … easy! A great love for Renaissance and Humanism in the high school, Plato more than Aristotle, of course, Classical studies at Athens, postgraduate studies at Paris with focus on Egyptology (mostly Akhenaten and the New Kingdom) and Assyriology (mostly the Sargonid Empire), then London, Brussels, and finally Germany for my thesis’ preparation. For many years, from 1983 to 1990, I combined journalism and archeological research and study in Middle Eastern countries (Syria, Israel, Iraq, Iran and Turkey) for about 8 months per year, and composition of my thesis in Germany for about 3 months per year. I was writing much for Greek, Turkish, and Iranian magazines, reviews and newspapers, but at the epicenter of a warfront report – written by me about let’s say the Val Fajr 9 Iranian operations against Iraq’s Suleymaniyah – there was always History! Through my texts, one could feel that Assarhaddon, Tiglatpileser III, Khusraw I, and the Kurdish epics are more significant to us than the vulgarity of Saddam Hussein and the Baath nationalists. I was the only Western journalist who wrote in favor of Iran during those days, and consequently the only Western archeologist who was allowed to move free in Iran! I moved extensively, wherever I wanted, even in archeological sites nearby Oshnaviyah and Piranshahr, just 2 or 3 km from the warfront! It was not a matter of bargaining. I was enthusiastic meeting for the first time in my life – when the notorious Soviet Union of Brejnev, Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev was still in place – that there were simple people ready to die for an ideal, for a faith; it was the pure rejection of the Western consumerism and of the Socialist materialism!
Whereas during the late 80’s I was versed in contributing many long entries to encyclopedias, in the early 90’s I turned towards scholarly writing, academic publications, and books. Whereas until my Ph. D. I was more versed into the Asiatic part of the Middle East (mostly Assyriology and Iranology), after that term I turned rather to the African part of the Middle East (mostly Egyptology). I lived in Egypt and the Sudan, and moved to Abyssinia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Yemen, becoming more familiar with the Red Sea world for the needs of a book on the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’.
In addition, I must tell you that I was a politically involved historian, sign that when I was student in Athens I had my communist, pro-Soviet, and socialist centrifugal ‘moment’. I believe, however, that History has been so badly manipulated by ignorant politicians, who like Apprentice Magicians turn often History against themselves, that it is an imperative task for Historians to address the general public, since the general public is always the main target and the principal recipient of the falsified versions of History promoted by politicians and governments. I did not hesitate, while living in Greece, to attack the Greek nationalist dogma that is a historical aberration and a paradoxical mixture of archeolatry and byzantinomania, to lambaste the racist character of the Greek political establishment that was at that moment hysterically anti-Turkish, anti-Macedonian, anti-Albanian, anti-Islamic, anti-European, and – last but not least – anti-Semitic!
I mobilized many Greeks, democratic and rationalistic people, against a neo-nazi monthly magazine named ‘Davlos’ that attempted an usurpation of earlier civilizations by diffusing the idiocy that the Greeks were behind all the great moments of History, and that this ‘truth’ was ‘buried’ by Jews!
I mobilized the World Muslim League for a most insulting and totally erroneous ‘manual’ of ‘Political History of the Islamic Area’ that was taught to the students of the Panteios University by a certain Constantine Patelos, who had never studied Islam before, and did not know a word of Arabic!
I mobilized the European Union and Jacques Delors personally to reject the Greek establishment’s hysteria against the excellent book of European History by Jean Baptiste Duroselle that was due to his refutation of the falsehood of the Greek national historical dogma.
I published in 1985 an article stating that Turkey was a more advanced democratic and western country than Greece since the Turkish constitution stipulated the separation of the religion from the state, whereas Greece still remains a religious state with a Constitution issued ‘at the name of the holy trinity’!
In 1990, I demanded that Greece recognize officially the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, publishing an article in Exormisi (18/4/90), the daily newspaper – organ of PASOK, the main opposition party (then and now). For all the aforementioned daring attitudes and stands I was very often threatened and insulted, but of course this does not bring any result, when a person who knows history faces opponents who attempt to alter History for their interests.
After publishing ten (10) books and dozens of scholarly articles, I worked during two years for the Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta – Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, participating in numerous congresses, colloquia and conferences, some of political context, namely the Western Thrace Turkish Association. You know, in that province of North-Eastern Greece, the Turkish majority lives under conditions of serious oppression, similar to those that characterize other minorities in Greece, the Macedonians, the Vlachians, the Arvanites, the Latins, the Gypsies, and the recently arrived Albanian emigrants. It is deplorable that the religious government of Greece does not permit the erection of a mosque at Athens, where more than 500000 Muslims live. As far as Northern Cyprus is concerned, it is needless to say that I was the only Greek living in that country, which was not recognized by the country that had issued my passport!
But, of course, academic research or political activism, the predicament was always there for me; sometimes I turned to the former, sometimes I turned to the latter! After 1997, academic reflection became even more attractive for me! Whereas in the past subjects from Political Ideology to Religious and Philosophical Concepts and Conflicts, and fields from Ancient Geography and Cosmography to the Development of Trade between Rome, India and China were of the utmost importance to me, over the past six – seven years I focused on critical subjects about the nature, the origin, the method and the possibilities of the Orientalism.
I have collected an enormous material in refutation of the Colonial model or school of History; I mean the Greco-Romano-Christiano-centric approach that minimizes the World History into a misinterpreted annex of European Studies. In this direction I go in parallel with the pertinent researches undertaken by Prof. Martin Bernal, the illustrious author of Black Athena.
On the other hand, focusing on the collapse of the Islamic Wisdom, Knowledge and Science, and studying the role played by the colonial powers, France and England, in diffusing among other nationalisms the Pan-Arabic nationalistic falsehood, and in inciting the obscurantism of uneducated sheikhs to drive them to even more unrealistic, extremist and self-damaging positions, I came to place several groundbreaking conclusions of Edouard Said within a larger, not simply literary and scholarly context, and to identify finally the basic problems that worsen the entire situation in the Middle East and Africa, endangering the life and the future of many peoples. As you understand, I preferred a time of reflection to an average academic career. The conformism and the conventionalism of the majority of present day scholars mean nothing to me. I am totally indifferent to such a perspective.
VF: You must have seen diverse worlds: Christian, Muslim, historian and political activist. Did you find these experiences as advantages or challenges?
Prof: I found them absolutely normal and average! They are the result of my elitist philosophical approach and of my universalistic culture that encapsulate everything in any Utopia – that of Tommaso Campanella, that of Thomas Moore, that of Voltaire, that of Cabet or that of the author of the Ancient Egyptian Narration of the Shipwrecked. When you study the division, you have the privilege to see the union, to perceive the entirety, and to be consequently lifted above and far from the level of division and partiality. But modesty is always an excellent advisor; I was never in Mandalay, I did not live in India, China and Tibet, I have not seen the Walls of the Great Zimbabwe, and la Puerta del Sol nearby the lake Titicaca in the Incas soil of Bolivia has escaped from my eyes…
VF: Your name became popular among some Ethiopian internet forum participants lately because of your writings on the history of the Horn of Africa and the Middle East regions. Many participants in the forum have tried to characterize you with different groups such as Islamic fundamentalism, member of Egyptian intelligence, member of Al Qa’eda, enemy of Ethiopia, hired by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). How do you define yourself as far as what you stand for goes?
Prof: I have no contact with all these numerous groups that are in conflict with one another! I expressed – not very much until now but enough I think – a resolute rejection of the Islamic fundamentalism and extremism. I consider this movement’s various branches have long been manipulated by colonial powers, France and England. I do not consider anyone belonging or accepting such groups, ideas, and strategies as a real Muslim. They are miserable victims that help in professionally and irreversibly denigrating Islam; you can call them anything from puppets to Satanists. Hatred, you know, is particular to Satan, according to all the religions of the world! If we go back to Ancient Egypt, we learn that the anger, the extremely negative expression, the hysteria in the discourse are all indications that the person in question has been ‘invaded’, possessed if you like, by Seth, the ancient Egyptian ‘Satan’. Now, when I hear some ‘sheikhs’ in delirium during their supposed ‘khutbah’, the Friday prayer sermon, my mind goes to Seth! I do not have anything in common with them!
Member of the Egyptian intelligence? This is a funny reproach, since I have always criticized strongly the present state of Egypt; what I have repeatedly published about Pan-Arabism, denouncing this falsehood as colonial tool of infiltration and destruction, contravenes the basic interests of present day Egypt! How can I work for a country the policies of which I strongly refute?
Enemy of Abyssinia? I was never! And why should I be? Enemy of the Ethiopia of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, i.e. the area of present day Northern and Eastern Sudan? Why? I loved, studied, and explored the area, as much as I loved Axumite Abyssinia. I passed exams on Gueze texts at Sorbonne with Maxime Rodinson. Why hate? Simply, I specified what is correct as a term for the national name of the country that has its capital in a city that they do not call after its original and true name, Finfinne, but they name ‘Addis Ababa’. The real name for that country is Abyssinia. Period.
Hired by the OLF? Well, this is also funny! First of all, there should not be an Oromo Liberation Front; the Oromo people have their own right to self-determination. As the majority in the existing country, Oromos must form the bulk of the army officers, the administration personnel, and the academia. Oromo language must be the official language of the country. Amharic is the language of a minority; it does not have the status of a national language. Second, I do not think that the OLF would seriously hire any scholar who never studied either Oromo language or any other modern Hamitic language, Berberic, Haussa, etc! Why for instance should the OLF hire an Egyptologist? It makes no sense. That is if the OLF, or any Liberation Front, hires a scholar whatsoever!
How do I define myself? Well, in this regard, I am what I have always been, namely a Historian, Orientalist, Egyptologist, who studied the Ancient History of the Red Sea and the Eastern coast of Africa, as well as the navigation and the trade from Egypt to India. An Egyptologist who explored in-depth Ancient Sudan, that is Ethiopia of the Ancient Greeks, someone who visited and carefully studied almost all the archeological sites of Northern and Eastern Sudan. An Egyptologist who reached Punt – Somalia, out of his love for the famous text ‘Expedition to Punt’ by Queen Hatshepsut!
VF: You have a very impressive knowledge of history in general and the history of the Middle East and Horn of Africa regions in particular. In your discussions, you seem to focus on historical identity than current reality. For example, you have indicated that several nations in the Arab League have non-Arab identity from history’s perspective, but identify themselves as Arabs. Some contemporary scholars argue in favor of judging people on their own merits. How can we bring together such differing views?
Prof: Well! Good question! We will never! We must go back to the origin of the two approaches; we will never bring together, we will never merge, we will never mix Voltaire with Rousseau! These two 18th c. philosophers are like oil and water! You opt for this or you choose that! This is all! Well, this is all, as far as the intellectual, philosophical and academic spheres are concerned. But when it comes to politics, the transplantation of the predicament means just wars, wars, and wars! Thousands, millions of dead and invalid people, just for the search of a chimera! I believe that with the maturity of the 20th c. we came to understand that if the Chinese think they are Chinese, and at the same time the Indians think they are Chinese too, then perhaps we should search a planet to settle on! It is not that tragic, but we simply cannot, the Mankind cannot afford another war for identity purposes, whenever the identity becomes the field of demagogic, irrelevant politicians manipulated by the merchants of the nations. That is why I believe that it is very serious and very responsible academic an attitude to dismantle forever the disastrous spectrum of the Pan-Arabism. At this moment, I prepare a long series of articles on the subject. Bear in mind that before it touches politics, it exercises a tremendous impact on the social development, and creates its own dynamics. A false identity means always a permanent underdevelopment. Furthermore, it is not an issue for disputes only! When an entire people identifies erroneously its past, let it be with a people that does not exist anymore, when a people attempts to acquire an undisputed identity that is not his, the door opens for ideological extremes, political myths and ideological inconsistencies that lead to very dangerous fields. You cannot identify yourself today with the ancient Sumerians – an unclaimed identity – and go unpunished! Side effects will lead to ideological extremes. There is no innocence in such a claim!
But after all, what are the leading countries of the world? The answer is simple: those where people who know best and more accurately their past. Self-knowledge is essential for a person, and consequently for a people.
VF: Some knowledge about historical identity of peoples you have brought out to the public is in a way redefining a significant portion of the world in terms of historical identity of the peoples. You have made some bold suggestions that, some argue, are politically motivated instead of writing historical accounts. Your views have broken the ‘sacrosanct’ stuff. One of the most interesting borders is in Africa. African countries’ borders were drawn by what Bono, the Irish Rock star, calls retreating colonialists. The Organization of African Unity declared these borders sacrosanct. In reality, that may be a lame excuse for its failure to face the challenge head on to redefine the borders according to the wishes of its peoples. Do you have similar views on these issues?
Prof: As I told you, since my childhood I have never considered the borders as something sacrosanct; if one studies Political Sciences and International Relations, one realizes that borders are the result of the current equation of power at any possible moment. If one studies History, one realizes that there is nothing ‘cheaper’ than a border; there is nothing to be more easily violated than a border. I do not imply that it should be so; I mean that it has been so, and it is hypocrisy to deny it. There are actually many peoples and numerous ethnic and linguistic groups that are held captive within borders of no legitimacy at all! There are some borders that express free will of free people thinking freely; it is only normal for a democratic person to respect this type of borders. The recent example of the Czech Republic and Slovakia is a radiating paradigm of good willingness and peace of mind. The earlier united country split because this expressed the desires of the two – slightly different – peoples. Do not think that Czechs and Slovaks are as different as Oromos and Amharas, by the way! Then, a few years later, the two peoples had another appointment with History! They joined European Union within which they are again united but not of their own; they met other 23 peoples! This type of border of course one has the duty and the pleasure to respect!
But how can you respect borders set up by retreating but permanently present colonials? I believe that after 300 years a historian will stress the point that the real colonialism did not end with the independence day of the African states, but it really started at that moment. The current level of impotent, ailing, plunged into anarchy states of Africa, where nothing left in place by the colonial powers, France and England, can change. This is the abysmal reality of the persisting, venomous colonial borders that for many people proved to be the embrace of inanity, pestilence, plague, starvation, extermination, and genocide.
I do not intend to stay longer on the pessimistic tribune; there is good reason for all to hope! In our global world, the interest of the perverted colonial state of France to keep the entire continent of Africa underdeveloped became a grave obstacle to the rising country’s policies; I mean it consists a real hindrance to the expansion of the American dream all over the world. Do you find a reason why Oromo should be less rich and less wealthy than Montana? I do not find any reason for that. Neither does any American.
Without Africa in shambles, France will be just another Poland in Europe! You know, just a little bit bigger and wealthier than present day Poland! But, no money for nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers, Clemenceau and the like, you know! Without the various subjugated peoples of the Pacific, France would not have been a global nuclear power arranging alliances to preserve the tyrannical and criminal regime of Chirac’s friend, Saddam Hussein.
There is a great hope for a deep, consistent, and permanent involvement of America in Africa. Several American scholars rejected the Europeano-centric, colonial dogma of History. They focused on the Afro-Asiatic origins of the Classical world, and more is to be expected from this direction. This reassessment of the Orientalism, the Classical Studies, and the Humanities in general finds its parallel in the multicultural practices of the free American society. If these societal practices are exported to Africa, along with a strong political support, new classes that must be formed, and with a resolute financial involvement in terms of either direct investment or outsourcing (why Brazil and Argentine are more preferable in this regard than Senegal, Morocco, and Oromo for US companies outsourcing?), the overall change will be the beginning of the end of the Colonial Darkness.
VF: Have you thought about being called intruder into the affairs of the so-called sovereign states?
Prof: In what sense? How? Shall we agree on letting states decide on anything, especially by violating historical data, and by altering History? Where would this lead? And what if a sovereign state is a tyrannical state, where the language of the majority is not accepted as the official language? What if the so-called sovereign state exercises a methodic ethnic cleansing? Were the European and American democratic intellectuals, who fought against Franco in the Civil War of Spain in the mid 30’s, simple ‘intruders’? Don’t you think that it is rather high time for all the historians and the specialists to denounce some states that are truly and perilously ‘intruders’ in the field of History?
As a conclusion, I call the present state of the so-called ‘Ethiopia’ an intruder into the domain of History; the real name of that country is ‘Abyssinia’, not ‘Ethiopia’. Abyssinia, Habashat, is the name of the Yemenite – not Arabic, don’t confuse – tribe that immigrated to Africa, and consists in the real ancestors of the present day Amhara and Tigray, who rule Abyssinia. Ethiopia is a completely different name, does not refer either to that Yemenite tribe and its descendants or to the surface of Abyssinia at all, it is the Ancient Greek name that describes the state, the nation and the country at the immediate southern border of Egypt, which is the present day Sudan. Usurping the name of Ethiopia makes of the Amhara/Tigray government of Abyssinia a real intruder within the domain of History. I totally deplore and denounce the event and the practice. Persistence in this regard proves automatically that there is a hidden agenda, and that the intruding regime intends to carry out dangerous policies that need to be based on an intended falsification of History and on a shameful, deliberate, usurpation of a historical national name that does not belong to them. I think it’s time for them just to renounce the use of that name, and to accept what specialists and historians certify, namely that the name Aithiopia (Ethiopia) can be used either by present day Sudan, or by the modern descendants of the Kushitic – Meroitic populations of the Ancient Ethiopia.
VF: Some participants on Ethioindex’s Medrek forum tried to belittle you instead of debating on your views and you were also responding back with some level of ferocity in a few instances. You have called some of the participants “objects”, “specimen” and “stuff” of your research. Some participants have suggested that you were going a little overboard for your caliber. Why did you choose to react that way?
Prof: I intended to show to them that they do not have the monopole of insult. I felt the need to let them understand that, when illiterate and ignorant people, speaking a very poor level of English, think it is possible for them to insult a specialist presenting the historical truth that they deny, it is only normal for them to wait the corresponding attitude. Arguments against arguments, and insults against insults! If they think that by insulting they impress others, they must be told that they are besotted and idiots. Well, this is just one point.
There is another dimension of pursuing the issue. Nothing is hidden in this world, you know! When someone speaks in public, one must be courageous enough to state name, identity, and background. If one thinks one can hide behind a forum nickname, and persistently insult in a hideous and absolutely barbaric way, one must be obligatorily driven to the conclusion that this is the worst possible thing to be done. The event exposes the average mentality, attitude, and behavior of the society and the country to which the vulgar person in question belongs. If more people wish to proceed so, the matter becomes even more serious and certainly representative. Such uncultured and uneducated people will regret their behavior, attitude and postings, when they are going to see extensive articles and quotations of their mails published in all the fora of the world, ridiculing and damaging the image of their country, culture, tribe, society. In the year 2004 people are civilized; if you are not, you lose, your country loses, and none else. I intend to go to this direction, and then keep my insulters properly informed about all that! All will be punished, since the image of their country for which they want to usurp another national name will be definitely tarnished, when people allover the world come to know these usurpers and insulters.
There is even a third point! Their reaction is certainly a matter of study! When a group from a certain people like the Amharas reacts massively in this psychotic way, a specialist gets a fabulous documentation for his/her mass psychology research. Psychology, Social Anthropology, History, History of Religions, Political Sciences, all these branches of modern scholarship interact in an interdisciplinary approach to the present day Amhara mass psychological – cultural identity. If their identity is so barbaric and so cannibalistic, all the people of the world have to know about the issue, isolate them, and make them impotent and incapable to harm others.
By depicting the abysmal barbarism of Nazism, you convince the world that Jews must be saved, and the Hitler government exterminated. By presenting Amhara ruling class cultural cannibalism, you convince the world that these dangerous people must be isolated in their districts, and limited to ruling themselves, not other peoples!
There is no hatred involved in this regard; their reactions, their mentality, their attitude, their obscurantism, and their lack of education and culture has awakened me! That is all! I did not have any preconceived approach. As you see, my insulters by their stupidity unveiled their dark inner self! I did not ask for it! They offered it!
VF: How did characterizing you by some participants on EthioIndex’s forum make you feel?
Prof: I understand your question focuses on the personal issue; well, you know, I am very phlegmatic! I am rather happy, when – as a scholar – I collect material, all sorts of material, documentation, bibliography; they offered me a lot indeed! I now know that the Antichrist medieval awe and darkness lives deep inside them! These are the people, who do the evil, but they do not understand it, and in addition they perceive all their opponents as the focus of evil! Not a single sign of self-criticism! It is a really frenetic mental deviation! They live in the year 2004 in their material bodies indeed, but their spiritual nucleus lives at the times of Justinian and Kaleb, or better at the times of the Christian reaction against the Islamic expansion! And because their ideological background is totally monophysitic, since they accepted that Jesus was godly only, they perceived Islam worse than all the rest; here I mean the Orthodox patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Nestorians, i.e. the Christian denomination that was closer to Islam, since they accepted that Jesus was human only! So, you see how much I like their hysteria! But when it comes to personal affairs, you must be sure that I am frozenly indifferent.
VF: Why did you choose to participate on an Internet discussion forum instead of writing on the traditional media, such as newspaper?
Prof: Interacting with the average mind in a venue, where debate is most desired, is a very vivid process. I do not like to issue statements, you know! I could have published this approach in a series of articles in a newspaper, magazine, scholarly review, but it would have only limited impact on the average people. Furthermore, the nucleus of my initial article – as well as of many others – was a subject that is well known and accepted among scholars. Not a single specialist would accept that the name of the country is Ethiopia, instead of Abyssinia! The usurpation of the name ‘Ethiopia’ was smartly submitted by colonial historians to the besotted monarchical ruling class of backward Abyssinia during the 20th c.; the same scholars, who submitted the idea as very profitable for the country, whereas it is disastrous, would never admit in public, when back in their homelands, such an irrelevant theory, well I mean aberration! On the other hand, and this is not to be forgotten, many Ethioindex Medrek forum participants thanked me for what they came to learn through my articles; many said that I revivified the website, which I do not believe, it may be an exaggeration, and many expressed a strong support against the uncultured Amhara chauvinists. I must tell you that I intend to keep publishing there a lot of articles.
Part II. Abyssinia
VF: Your article appeared in the Yemen Times before you started posting your comments on Ethioindex’s Medrek forum. Another commentator, Yahya al-Olfi, also wrote on the Yemen Times with the title “Yemeni Africans, the Untold Story”. In that article, the scholar listed the Amhara, Tigre and Afar peoples as Yemeni settlers in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopian history teaches that whereas the Amhara and Tigre are Semitic peoples, the Afar are Cushitic people, as are the Oromo, Sidama, Somali, and so on. Apparently, there is some conflict here. What is your view on this?
Prof: Well, I am responsible for what I say, not the approaches of other people, even colleagues within the same newspaper. First, I prefer the term ‘Yemenite’ to the term ’Yemeni’, and I have published in this regard. Second, we know that both, Amhara and Tigray, emanate from the environment of Axum, Axumite Abyssinia. The name itself of Abyssinia, Habasha, has been attested in Ancient Yemenite, ‘South Arabic’ as many Western scholars say, inscriptions as ‘Habashat’, the name of a tribe. So, certainly one can say that the Amhara/Tigray/Axumite Abyssinians originate from the ancient Yemenite, Semitic but not Arabic, cultural – linguistic milieu. Let me add at this point in this regard that I reject the term ‘South Arabic’ / ’Sudarabique’ for what concerns Pre-Islamic Yemen. The appropriate term is ‘Ancient Yemenite’.
The Afar people did not come from Yemen, or if you want, we have not a single indication in this regard. You say, let me quote you, ‘the Afar are Cushitic people, as are the Oromo, Sidama, Somali, and so on’. This is terminologically wrong. All the people you mention, Afar, Oromo, Sidama and Somali belong to the great Hamitic linguistic group that encompasses many subgroups, namely the Berbers of the Atlas area, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, who speak Tamazigh, a language that is written through use of an old scripture, the Haussa and Peul / Fulani of the Western African countries from Senegal to Nigeria, the Kushites of Eastern Africa. Oromos are Kushitic certainly, and there is vast Kushitic substratum in the area of Ancient Egypt and Sudan. As far as the Afar and the Somalis are concerned, I believe we can certainly classify them among the Hamitic peoples, but I am not sure they truly belong to the Kushitic subgroup. Of course, they are not Semitic; I disagree with this approach.
VF: You also wrote in the Yemen Times that “Habasha, Abyssinia, is a very beautiful name, and Abyssinians need not to think that they may shine to the Western eyes more impressively through use of the term Ethiopia.” Isn’t Habasha associated with half-caste? And if that is the case, why do you think the name Abyssinia is very beautiful?
Prof: Well, that sentence disturbed or at least intrigued many. It is a figure of speech that admittedly implies a lot of concepts, ideas, and approaches. Any name of a country, of a people, of an area is beautiful! One must be proud of one’s own national or ethnic name. Trying to hide behind a false name, usurping a national name that belongs to a completely different environment, are sick, problematic and finally disastrous policies. But you are right as well. Habasha was associated with a kind of caste, but this is normal, since the earlier homonymous group was an emigrant tribe that became the ruling class of the small Axumite kingdom at the northern confines of the present day Abyssinia and in the coast between Adulis and Avalites, which correspond to present day Massawa and Assab.
I say that the name is beautiful because I admit that, following various emigrations from Yemen to Axum, already in the pre-Christian periods of the Ancient Abyssinia, a significant civilization was developed in that part of Africa. After the christening of the country, an important monophysitic Christian cultural environment was developed there, and Abyssinia, along with the Copts of Egypt, who belonged to the Roman Empire, and the three Christian states of Sudan, Nobatia, Makkuria and Alodia, gave a distinct, African, dimension to the phenomenon of Christianity.
Of course, it would be pure naivety to search for innocence throughout History. All the ‘important’ states, countries, and peoples that developed civilization as we say, were oppressors of other peoples, and tribes, made unjust wars, committed crimes, and executed policies mostly characterized by discrimination, barbarism and criminality! Have no doubt about it! When we speak about World civilization, we use a very conventional term. But we must admit realities within that context.
Now, within any nation, all sorts of debates and reconsiderations or reassessments can happen. Any people can reconsider part of its past and, through an appropriate and well cultivated change, bring about a fresh, more human face. Germany did so after WW II. Admitting the commitment of a mistake, or understanding the limits and/or the inefficiencies of a certain national ‘face’ or ‘portrait’ is a great act that testifies to the strength of the national dynamics, to the force of renovation within the people in question, and so on!
If the development of the education, the economic growth, the diffusion of democratic political practices, and the intellectual endeavors are great within a country, then certainly the political – academic – intellectual establishment of the country will take the appropriate decisions in this regard. If a country has expanded up to the point of including neighboring peoples, annexing other lands, and enlarging the original surface, and at the same time this country reaches the aforementioned level of development, the country’s political establishment will be driven to the correct conclusions and the appropriate decisions. Many languages will have to be considered as official, political rights must be extended to all, cultural divergences must be incorporated into a larger context, the ‘face’ of the country must change in a way to be always representative, and even the name must change. France mobilized its resources in order to unify first another five countries, and later even more, but France would have completely failed from the beginning, if the French had insisted in keeping the name France instead for Europe.
In our world, representation and equity, equal right to everybody, have the same importance as freedom. Either you adopt this mentality, adapt to the new global environment, and cope with the rest, who also undergo many changes, or you die.
What I meant in the case of Abyssinia was precisely this:
– either be frank enough to admit that you rule the country tyrannically for the interest of the Amhara tribe, and then be happy with naming your country ‘Abyssinia’, since the Abyssinian minority dictatorially imposes its language and culture, religion and behavioral system as the predominant elements and characteristics of the country,
– or, if you want to call it ‘Ethiopia’, make the name correspond to the contents, accept the Oromo language as the only official language of the country, and stop preventing through undemocratic measures the Oromo people from controlling the political life of the country and the executive power, since they are the real majority.
In other words, only when the real representative of the name ‘Ethiopia’ will exercise power in that country, the country should be called like that. Amhara tyrannical and archaic rule and ‘Ethiopia’ as the name of the country is an oxymoron that perpetuates the dysfunctional character of a country that leads the world in misery, pestilence, poverty, starvation, plague, and death! I do not believe that the majority of the unhappy citizens of that country deserve such an ignominious destiny.
VF: You have written in one of your articles on the Yemen Times that Yemen’s history goes back to pre-Islamic and pre-Christian times. How important are pre-Christian and pre-Islamic histories to you? In some ways, isn’t the world going back to the pre-Christian and pre-Islamic times in terms of the search for the root identity, their olive trees, as your writings suggest? Some people argue that six thousand years of Judeo-Christian-Islam history ended in 1969 by the landing of man on the moon. What is your opinion?
Prof: For the countries, the peoples, the ethnic groups that have a part of History that antedates their Christian/Islamic Ages, automatically that part becomes the most authentic, the most genuine, the most determinant, the most preponderant part of their entire History. You may ask me now why this is like this. I will tell you and I will examine with you several examples.
The reason behind this statement of mine is not that my field is Ancient History. In reality what happened in the Antiquity, from Sumer to Rome, en passant by Egypt, Phoenicia, Anatolia/Turkey, Iran, India, Yemen, Sudan, Greece, NW Africa, Eastern Africa, is that the local civilization in every case developed characteristics that were very genuine and very particular to every people. During those days, there was certainly an influence, an impact of one people, culture, civilization, on another. But, at the same time, there was also a very strong character of proper and adequate incorporation of the various new elements that were coming from outside. This is due to the fact that nature was an important ingredient of the composition of the civilization to a great extent. We cannot imagine Mesopotamia without vast surface between and around the twin rivers of Euphrates and Tigris. But Egypt is very different; it is narrower and longer. Anatolia and Iran mean mountainous plateau and cold winter. Greece means view of a few islands from the continental coast, or from an island. How many coastal places do you know in Greece from where you cannot see an island at all, and your view is lost in the horizon? Very few! But from the coast of Lebanon your view is lost in the western horizon! So, these environments made the Greeks different than the Phoenicians, the Egyptians different than the Assyrians. The more we study the topography of two ancient civilizations, the more we identify reasons for further variety, and differentiation.
Hesiod truly copied the Assyrian/Babylonian epic of the Creation (‘Enuma Elish in Assyrian/Babylonian means ‘when high’ and the epic starts by these two words) in his Theogonia (Genesis of Gods) but, if you read Theogonia, you recreate an Ancient Greek environment, not Mesopotamia; this means adequate incorporation of a foreign element, adaptation. During those times, the basic perception of the world was mythical, and the mythical expression respects the natural environment much more than the rational expression.
When at the times of the Late Antiquity we reach at the level of systematization of religions, cults and ideologies into rational/mythical systems of thought, the so-called Gnosticisms, then we achieve that a concept, an idea, an ideology can be diffused in another country and among other people without adequate incorporation into the new environment. In such case it remains as projection of the original environment. Christianity emanated from the environment of Gnosticisms. Islam presents striking similarities with a Gnostic system, Hermetism. Accordingly, Christianity and Islam brought the natural environment of the deserts of Judea and Arabia to Europe, India, everywhere they were spread out.
Through all this, you can understand what is authentic as character for a Turk today is the Hittite/Anatolian behavioral system, for an Iranian it is his/her Achaemenid – Sassanid past, for a Greek it is Ancient Greece, and for an Egyptian the Pharaonic periods.
The Judeo-Christian-Islamic past does not go beyond 1200 BCE, covering therefore just 3000 years. What do we know of Abraham? A few pages of text, be it Coranic, Evangelic, or Old Testamentary. This line represents a very wrong schematization of the Oriental History. Without the Assyrian Babylonian Ut Napishtim, there would never have been the Biblical – Coranic Noah. There is so much of Ancient Egyptian monotheism and aniconic ideology in the Bible and in the Coran that no one can interpret today the three aforementioned religions properly without Egyptology, to give you just one example. Without Akhenaten’s religion there would never have been a certain Moses – Musa.
Without the concept of Etana – Messiah of the Assyrian/Babylonian sources, and without the identification of Assurbanipal of Assyria (669 – 625) with the Messiah – Mahdi, as a first appearance heralding a second, ultimate one, there would never be so many Messiahs, Christs, and Mahdis…
What is the longer and more original text about the fight between the Messiah and the Anti-Christ at the End of Time? Certainly it is the lengthy Hieroglyphic composition of the temple of Horus (the Egyptian Messiah) at Edfu, Upper Egypt. The book of the Revelation is short, abridged… In addition, this book of the New Testament almost copies word-by-word expressions of the Hittite Book of Revelation that described the Ultimate Fight, Tasmisu against Ullikummi. The ‘Beast rising from the Sea’ is the first reference within the World Literature to the Hittite Anti-Christ, Ullikummi, 1400 years before John is bestowed with the keys to the originality of the secret Hittite thought to which modern decipherment offered us access again! Ullikummi antedates his latest copy, i.e. Masih Dajjal, the Islamic Anti-Christ by 2000 years. That is not ‘yesterday’, you know.
Even more, in Egyptian and Assyrian/Babylonian sources of theological contents we have more literature on a more … difficult subject that Judaic, Christian and Islamic philosophy and theology tried not to tackle: What was God doing before the Creation? How was it then?
Landing on the moon did not have any consequence and did not change anything in this regard. It was already known as possible to Lucian, and more recently to Jules Verne. Man on the moon is depicted on a Phoenician relief…
VF: When you started writing about Abyssinia, a careful reading of your comments suggests that you were in a way advising Abyssinian political establishment in a positive way to face the truth and chart a better course for the future. It seems many participants from Abyssinian side chose not to listen well and you ended up being viewed as their adversary. Do you agree with this assessment?
Prof: Yes, that is plain truth! I have no problem with any state in the world. I reject totalitarian regimes, but before expressing an advice, I do not start arguing. These participants you refer to may live very tragic circumstances in their spiritual world, and if things continue like this in Abyssinia, they will face even worse situations at the level of social participation and national politics.
VF: As a follow up to the previous question, you remind me about the Habasha person with his Gabi in North America during the summer (Gabi is similar to a scarf, which is made of cotton and much wider that covers the whole body above the knee). If one helps him to put it down, he resists or his best relatives tend to put it back on him, as a reflection of culture, not realizing how uncomfortable his dress is in this climate of rationality. It seems you tried to take off the Gabi from them by bringing out the truth, but there was stiff resistance in the way of insulting than in the way of genuinely debating on your ideas. Did you have similar observation?
Prof: Absolutely! The matter is not that simple however! I attempted to do so on several occasions and within various contexts: Greece, Turkey, Islam, Europe, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, and Abyssinia! It is a persistent case! You may ask me why I proceed so, of course! Anticipating the question, I will answer right away! Large part of the world is currently under colonial domination, exploitation and manipulation, without any chance of disentanglement, innovation, and reassessment of the past and the present, without any truly free, unbiased, choice for the future. The colonial rule lies on large part on a perverted manipulation and subtle maneuver through which the ‘third world’, the domain of the engulfed and exploited masses of Latin America, Africa and most of Asia, sticks to its traditions, while trying to mix part of them with a badly understood and perceived modernity. This is precisely the trickery. Through the western disciplines of Humanities the colonial rulers are easily maneuvering the situation without the colonized masses and governments, academia and intellectuals understanding!
In reality a tradition emanates from an entire cultural environment to which this tradition consists in an indispensable, organically linked, part. But this entire cultural environment as a living expression of living human beings changes, undergoes various reassessments, can reach a universal peak in its rise, or can get disintegrated totally and irreversibly; this last situation means that the civilization in question ceases to exist. A civilization can also undergo a long lasting decay. When the decay is there, the various elements of the ‘entire cultural environment’ cease to have a real meaning, becoming therefore meaningless acts and/or beliefs without any real value. This is the Physics of the Civilizations. Nothing can revivify a disintegrated, meaningless, act or belief in such a case; it is a clinically dead element.
Now, if a foreign power manipulates the administration of a people in decay in a way to lead the unfortunate decadent people to stick to the dead element, any sort of traditional act or belief, it is guaranteed that the people in question – or the intellectual class of this people, or at least some of that class’ members/elements – loses completely the last chance of distancing from the marshes of cultural stagnation and decadence, and of reassessing/reconsidering the entire situation. By sticking to the dead element, the people in question cannot revivify either the element itself or the original ‘entire cultural environment’. Simply, these people are stuck more and more to the marshes of decadence, becoming therefore a pathetic imitator of foreign elements, cultures, behavioral systems, civilizations. The situation becomes worse when the thought surfaces among the decadent and the besotted – through the foreign cultural and educational interference – that a successful marriage of their own culture with the colonial expanding culture can be carried out! The ensuing barbarism consists basically in an obnoxious and uncontrolled mixture of 1) a collapsing culture of which none among the people it expresses has a mastership, understanding and real assessment, and 2) an expanding, and yet not truly understood, foreign, colonial culture that is used as a means of domination by the colonial country over the decadent people.
In such a situation, the tradition we started speaking about, the dead element that originates from an earlier ‘entire cultural environment’ that does not exist anymore, must be deleted, eradicated and forgotten. From these people one must remove the Gabi you are talking about, from Muslims the hedjab (veil) and the useless prayer must be uprooted, so that all the decadent peoples and cultures be forced either to ultimate original thought and reassessment of their situation (as well as of the world affairs) or to final death.
VF: Some Amharic metaphors and common names tell something unique about the Amhara people’s culture. For example, one metaphor in Amharic goes sewun mamun qabro newu, which roughly means trusting a person is after burying him/her. Some common names are Gizachew, which means rule them, Getachew, their master, and so on. Do the metaphor and names suggest to you a culture of suspicion and fear?
Prof: Abyssinian – Amhara – culture is the expression of the Semitic people that dwells in the limited, marginal, mountainous area of Gondar around Lake Tana. The Christian Abyssinian kingdom of Axum pursued expansionist policies in the very beginning, invaded Ethiopia, that is present day Sudan, in 370 CE and destroyed its capital Meroe, where still today one finds many dozens of pyramids and mortuary temples for the ‘Qore’ and the ‘Kandake”, the Ethiopian kings and Queens. Later and within the context of an alliance with the Eastern Roman Empire, Axumite Abyssinia attacked Yemen and attempted to find a way for its ally at Constantinople to contravene the Sassanid Iranian control of the Eastern trade (with India, Eastern Africa, and China). Of course, the Iranian supremacy was such that the Sassanids kicked the Abyssinians out of Yemen, i.e. the Abyssinians’ original land to which they had returned as invaders, and annexed Yemen, strangling therefore the Eastern Roman Empire with heavy taxes and customs. Soon after that came the Islamic explosion. Not only Axum lost all its chances to come back to Yemen, but the Eritrean coast was permanently cut off, and the Abyssinian state was isolated from its derailed ally at Constantinople that had lost all its provinces in Africa and all its Asiatic possessions at the east of Taurus mountains (that separate Anatolia, present day Turkey, from Syria) and the upper flow of Euphrates.
To address the situation, the also isolated Christian kingdoms of the Sudan, Nobatia, at the North with capital at Faras near Wadi Halfa, and Makkuria at the center with capital at Old Dongola, 600 km in the south of Faras, merged. They were able to survive without many contacts with the Caliphate that controlled Egypt – first, in the 7th c., not further than Assiut in the south, and without any control of the Red Sea; the Saharan roads of trade with the Western Africa world around river Niger permitted unified Nobatia /Makkuria to stand until the 12th century. Contrarily to the Sudanese Christian state, Axum collapsed, since the vicinity of the coast, the Islamic supremacy in the coast, and the lack of connection with other parts of Africa predestined it to be doomed for many long centuries. The transfer of the capital at Gondar, and the medieval rise of the Abyssinian kingdom came after a long period of decay. Even then the feeling of having lost to Islam, and of having been defeated and isolated, as the Western legend of the ‘kingdom of Priest John’ lets us surmise, created a cultural, behavioral system that has nothing to do with imperial behavior, abundance, knowledge, science, exploration, expansion, research, culture, wealthy life, spectacles, grandeur of art and of royal manners, and all the ensuing majestic environment. Axum and Gondar Abyssinia was focused on a mere survival, a hard effort to preserve as a hysterical opposition to Islam the monophysitic perception of Christianity that was rejected by Constantinople and Rome with the same vigor by which also Nestorianism (the diametrically opposed to Monophysitism Christian theology) was denounced. I say ‘hysterical opposition’ because I understand that to anything in this world one can expect always a ‘positive’ or ‘constructive’ opposition. But this was not the case in this regard.
To go straight to the heart of your question I understand that the conversion of numerous Abyssinians into Islam brought a long period of obscurantism and backward situation in the country. Most probably the outright majority of the intellectuals and artists, erudite scholars and learned wise men adhered to Islam early. It is quite indicative that, when the illustrious Caliph Maamun contacted kings throughout the world in the second half of the 8th century, in his particular effort to collect manuscripts and parchmins, and to make of Abbasid Baghdad the universal epicenter of the learned world, he did not contact anyone in Abyssinia. There was nothing important left there…You understand that, by saying this, I do not imply that Gueze literature is insignificant, but I assert that the most representative specimens had already been taken away from Axum by the Abyssinian intellectuals who were converted to Islam.
There was no domain of knowledge left in the tiny state of Abyssinia after the rise of Islam. What were left there were a limited political continuity, and an insistence on religious traditions that had been shaken by the explosion of Islam, and by the conversion of many Abyssinians to the faith that challenged Christianity. From these basic characteristics emanate the suspicion and the fear you ask about.
VF: Abyssinians have intermingled with Africans, perhaps with Oromos more than with any other people. Few Amharas may have no trace of Oromo or other African people. Even the Amhara rulers including the 16th century emperors in Gondar are rumored to have Oromo trace. If you talk to an Oromo farmer in Macha, western part of Oromo country, he tells you that after seven generations, Godgam, a province of Amhara state, becomes Oromo. Some theory goes that the Amhara people were formed from Oromo and Tigre armies of the ruling class in the late 13th century as a result of the former’s rebellion to the latter. This story goes that the Amharic language was created to confuse the ruling class in this rebellion. In the early 1990’s, some Amhara scholars including Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Organization, argued that there are no people called Amhara. In fact, some people believe that many Amharas are Kush’s children. Some genetic evidence (see Figures 1 and 2) also puts certain genetic trait frequency of the Amhara people close to that of the Oromo, and interestingly, both similar to the Greeks. We can also compare the number of Amhara and Tigre people, which is estimated to be about 32% of Ethiopia’s population, with that of Yemen. Ethiopia’s current population is roughly about 70 million, which puts the Amhara and Tigre peoples’ number at roughly 22 million. On the other hand, according to a July 2004 estimate, the total population of Yemen is about 20 million. If we assume that most of Yemen’s citizens are Yemeni and that the growth rates on both sides of the Red Sea have been comparable since the migration, it seems that one out of two people from Yemen migrated to Africa. That seems to be unlikely since migrants are generally much lower in number than the people left behind. So, doesn’t it appear that the people who are called Amhara are more Oromo or African than they are Yemeni?
Correspondence analysis showing a global view of the relationship between Mediterranean and sub-Saharan and Black African populations according to HLA allele frequencies in three dimensions (bidimensional representation). HLA-DRB1 allele frequencies data (adapted from Arnaiz-Villena, 2000, HLA genes in Macedonians and the sub-Saharan origin of the Greeks).
Correspondence analysis showing a global view of the relationship among West Mediterranean (green), East Mediterraneans (orange), Greeks and sub-Saharan populations (red) and Blacks (gray) according to HLA allele frequencies in three dimensions (bidimensional representation). HLA-DR and DQ (low-resolution) allele frequencies data (adapted from Arnaiz-Villena, 2000, HLA genes in Macedonians and the sub-Saharan origin of the Greeks).
Prof: No, I totally disagree with the last point, but you asked me many things altogether. There is no proof for an artificial construction of the Amharic language. Both, Tigrinya and Amharinya emanate from Gueze but with several differences due to diverse intermingling, and to the isolation phenomenon. You know Portuguese and Spanish, and Tigrinya and Amharic are equidistant from one another, and yet before 1000 years there was neither Portuguese and Spanish in the Iberian Peninsula nor Tigrinya and Amharic in the Abyssinian plateau. There was certainly an intermingling with other people, Afar, Oromo, etc. But we have so little information about that and we cannot deduce concrete, imperative conclusions.
Prof. Woldemariam may have democratic sensitivity and be a Human Rights activist, which is to his credit certainly, but he is a fully accredited member of the Amhara ruling class. As such, he expresses – through his papers and contributions – the Amhara political, cultural, ideological and financial interests.
To say that Amhara and Tigray peoples are Kushitic, so therefore Hamitic and not Semitic, is an aberration. There is no case to convince any serious specialized scholar in the world by saying this. What happened to these supposedly Kushitic peoples and they speak suddenly today totally Semitic languages as Amharic and Tigrinya? Who semitized them linguistically and later … disappeared? None, of course! I must add that it would be even worse error to say that Axumite Abyssinians and Gueze speaking people were Kushitic as well!
All this testifies to Amhara paranoia and incredible fear of losing the political – financial – ideological control over a country that apparently is not theirs, and a vast area of which they have been 150-year occupying tyrants. It is a provocative alteration of history that we have all to denounce as a colonial scheme. The entire problem is the existence and the tyrannical control Amhara people exercise outside the province of Amhara; yet, that province is their realm, there they must stay. To perpetuate their illegal and colonial control of the Oromo country they entered into the colonial scheme that I will describe to you briefly.
A) The name ‘Ethiopia’ represents an older, greater, more enlightening, more appealing, more meaningful to Westerners, and better documented past than the name ‘Abyssinia’.
B) The real rightful users of such a name are the oppressed Kushitic peoples of Abyssinia, the Oromo, the Sidama and others.
C) So, ‘we’ will eradicate the name of Abyssinia, and we will diffuse the theory that Amhara are Ethiopians as well, renaming the country as ‘Ethiopia’.
I want to stress in the most categorical way here that I do not claim that they had the originality of this thought! This colonial perversion belongs exclusively to French, English and Italian historians, in their efforts to address demands of their colonial diplomats and politicians. But the Amhara people’s uncultured and uneducated political class fell victim to such a trap!
This led them to hate themselves and their own identity, the Abyssinian identity from which they – by themselves – have been stripped off! A terrible case of a self-inflicted disaster! The result was more than 100 years of Abyssinian misery, poverty, tyranny, pestilence, starvation, and death. The Oromos were not fooled by this ludicrous argumentation! Because the Amhara rulers are besotted enough to think that it is possible to press a button and become Chinese, or Kushitic, this does not imply that they have the right to rule a country of which they do not represent more than a sectarian 20%! It is as provocatively idiotic as it would be for 1 million Mongolians to announce “we are Chinese; let us rule 1 billion Chinese now”!
There is an essential question one may advance at this point; why did the invading Abyssinians of the 19thcentury not try to expand Amhara culture, Abyssinian culture, among the people they invaded? Well, they attempted it through the imposition of Amharic as the only official language in the country, but they failed and they realized their failure. This phenomenon is due to the fact that Oromo culture and Sidama culture are superior to Amhara, and I employ this term on this occasion in the sense of ‘alive’. You must not limit it among these peoples only, since Afar and Ogadeni are equally concerned. It has to do with what we discussed earlier. Amhara – Abyssinian – Axumite culture is dead; what one may see among them is the permanence of some dead stereotypic elements of the Abyssinian culture that are the crumbs of Axum. In the case of Oromo, the traditional pastoral system that was formed after this Kushitic people settled in the pasturelands of the Oromo country survived to far greater extent.
The Amhara Abyssinia must truly be a hell of fanaticism, barbarism, fear and hatred. They seem to forget that the entire country shifts to Islam, and they do not know how to react. You can change a national name, shift from Abyssinia to Ethiopia, but you cannot pursue such tactics with regard to religion.
I want to discuss another point of your question. You attempted to make an equation, i.e. 20 million Amhara and Tigray people originating from Yemen vs. 20 million Yemenites, and then ask how they represent the same number of population since the former were just a small tribe that left Yemen at a time it did not constitute even 5% of the Ancient Yemenite population. Well, things that happen in History are very different from Mathematics.
I could say that why Tunisians, who are the descendants of Carthaginians, who in their turn left their city, the famous Tyr of Phoenicia, being just a tiny part of its population, outnumber the present day Lebanese, who are descendants of almost all the Ancient Phoenician cities – states, not just of Tyr (present day Sur). One can repeat endlessly this concept in many numerous cases.
What makes the difference is the various trajectories followed by two different peoples. You know, at the eve of WW I Germany had 88 million people and France 44 million people. Why now, only 90 years later, Germans are just 82 m and French are 60 m people? The answer is easy: ‘different trajectory’. Greece had the same population as Yemen in 1960, but now Yemen has almost double the Greek population!
You cannot therefore compare the isolated in the Abyssinian inland Amhara and Tigray with the exposed Yemenites, famous seafarers on the shoulders of whom lies all the legendary Islamic maritime tradition from trade to tale. From the Eastern coast of Africa to India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Indonesia and China, plus the entire Red Sea area when we are talking ‘Islamic thalassocracy’, a phenomenon that lasted many centuries, we mean mainly Yemenites, and to lesser extent – and in later periods – Persians. In the same way, in the Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Alexandrian Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and Greeks converted to Islam (rather known as Turks, since very few Muslim Turks arrived in the 5th Islamic century to the area of Anatolia, present day Turkey that is the Asiatic part of the Eastern Roman Empire, and it is mostly the local Greek speaking population that adhered gradually to Islam) affirmed the Islamic maritime superiority for more than 1000 years. You cannot ask similar questions, when you have migrations of all sorts. Spaniards are just 40 million people but how many millions of Latin Americans are the descendants of Spaniards, who left Spain and settled in the ‘New World’! Yemenites are present in significant numbers in Abbasid Baghdad, Iran, Arabia, the Indian coast, and Eastern Africa; even in China there was an ‘Arabic district’ in several historical harbors, and when we say ‘Arabic’ in this case, we mean exclusively ‘Yemenite’, since Arabs never had maritime tradition.
VF: The previous question was referring to some sections of Amharas only. Certainly there are Amharas that are Semitic. And the fact that Tigres are Semitic is not in dispute. As far as the numbers go, in some ways, we are talking about what happened in recent tumultuous times versus what may have happened since the Abyssinians started migrating to East Africa. Another point we need to explain is the fact that Amharinya is more recently developed language compared to Tigrinya and since the number of Amharas is at least twice as much as Tigres in both Ethiopia and Eritrea combined, isn’t it intuitive that Tigre Abyssinians would be naturally larger in number than Amhara Abyssinians?
Prof: Tigres are Semitic as well. They look closer to the Axum times Gueze. They lived separately from Amharas for centuries, were not included in the Gondar kingdom, and this signifies a different trajectory. Tigres were more exposed to Islam, so I do not understand why it is strange that Amhara outnumber them. Again different population growth does not give the key to important historical issues and to linguistic matters. The grammatical structure in both cases is absolutely Semitic, irrespective of the various degrees of ethnic and tribal intermingling.
VF: Abyssinians wrongly refer to other peoples in Ethiopia as Habashas. After your comments, it was evident that some Habasha participants declared “from now on I am an Ethiopian”, thus distancing themselves from Habasha. Even many Oromos are not conscious about the exact meaning of Habasha and refer to themselves as such. Obviously, the culture of believing in mythology than reality is far too common in Abyssinia. In this sense, the peoples in Ethiopia under the influence of Abyssinian ruling class may have been living in their Dark Age, and when they face the truth, they show the tendency for some change. Did you feel that this era may be the beginning of the Kushitic and Abyssinian peoples’ Renaissance in the Horn of Africa region? And if yes, do you feel that your comments are making a contribution towards that?
Prof: It is an aberration if Amhara and Tigray Abyssinians call other peoples living in Abyssinia ‘Abyssinians’ or ‘Habasha’. The only modern Habasha, as continuation of the Semitic Yemenite tribe Habashat the name of which we find in Ancient Yemenite epigraphic documentation of the second half of the first millennium BCE, are the Amharinya and Tigrinya speaking people of Abyssinia and Eritrea. The Oromo people must mobilize their resources to search about their link with the great Kushitic past, the great Ethiopian state at the area of the present day Sudan, to retrace the connection with the area of their origin, and to identify the Oromo National Heritage in a pertinent way. They must also seek their link and connection with some people among those living in the neighboring Sudan. Efforts, endeavors and various issues must not be isolated one from another, and must be left only within the frame of collapsing Abyssinia. Great perspectives for culture, education, and politics must be engaged everywhere Oromo communities live. For too long, Darkness prevailed in the entire area from Sudan to Mozambique; there were indigenous and there were colonial reasons to it. Now, light must prevail, human rights must prevail, Democracy must prevail, and a conceptually rich search for the African Past and the African Identity must be engaged. Many scholars from Africa, from America, and from the non colonial world may be ready to help in this regard. An authentically Kushitic new Oromo generation of intellectuals must be formed to address many issues, from the needs of the Oromo nation at all levels of an auto-determined administration to the African rejection of the colonial inspiration bogus-historical dogma of Greco-Romano-centrism. I feel most honored to contribute to this direction of developments.
Part III. Oromo/Kush/Meroe
VF: Your wealth of knowledge about Meroe is impressive. How did you become interested in Meroe?
Prof: Since my childhood, I have been fascinated with stories of my grandfathers about monuments and antiquities they had seen while traveling at the very beginning of the 20th century in Mesopotamia, Persia, Syria, and Egypt. It was already sure that after the primary and the secondary education, I would study in the university Cuneiform Assyrian – Babylonian, and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. All this came true, when in October 1978 I moved to Paris for post graduate studies, since there was – and still there is – nothing related to these fields in Athens where I graduated.
My French professor of Egyptology was Jean Leclant, who has been the Permanent Secretary of the French Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, the sublime academic position in Humanities in France, since 1984. He had already a very particular interest for Ancient Sudan, the so-called Meroitic Studies, since Meroe was the name of one of the capitals of Ancient Ethiopia, i.e. the present day Sudan. Subject of his doctoral dissertation were the monuments of the ‘Ethiopian’, 25th dynasty of Egypt, you know all these rulers who succeeded Piankhi at Napata (present day Karima in Sudan) and then with the support of the Theban Amun priesthood at Deba – Thebes (present day Luqsor in Egypt), I mean Shabaka, Shabataka, Taharqa, the most famous one, and the unfortunate Tanutamon, who was kicked out of Egypt by the Assyrian Emperor Assurbanipal at the third Assyrian invasion of Egypt (666 BCE). It is impressive that for approximately 100 years the twin capitals of their state (Thebes and Napata) were at a distance of 1250 km from one another and the only means of communications were either fluvial navigation or crossing the desert!
Furthermore, Leclant was repeatedly involved in excavations in Northern Sudan, at Sulb (Soleb as he is pleased to alter the name in French), at Sadinga (that he calls Sedeinga), and at Napata (Karima), the Ancient Kushitic capital, nearby the renowned Djebel Barkal. Of course, he did not find the huge golden statue of Amun of Napata, the Sudanese counterpart of Amun of Thebes, that was said to be fixed in the huge western precipice of the Mount (Djebel) Barkal, and to perpetually shine to faraway distant desert travelers, since Sudan is a very flat country, and although Mount Barkal is 150 meters high, it can be noticed from great distance in the Bayuda desert!
I took a course on Meroitic decipherment with Leclant at the famous Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Veme section, Sciences Religieuses. We had first one hour on Isiac cults spread throughout the Roman Empire, and then one hour on Meroitic. It was a nice ‘periplus’, a circumnavigation in the Antiquity. I was feeling like the famous geographer Strabo who participated in the Roman expedition in the buffer zones between Roman Egypt and Meroitic Ethiopia that were called Dodekaschoinos (12 schoinoi long) and Triakontaschoinos (30 schoinoi long), and both started at Syene (present day Aswan in Egypt) and extended to the south. In the first buffer zone, Dodekaschoinos, there was a Roman – Meroitic condominium, since the two states wished to set up a neutral zone of common cooperation against nomadic desert peoples. The coronation of the Roman – Meroitic Entente Cordiale was the continuation of the common works carried out by Arkamani of Meroe and Cleopatra 7th of Egypt. The Roman invader and emperor, Octavian Augustus, understood very well that continuation of imperial (Pharaonic in this case) tradition matters a lot in that part of the world!
This was an initial attraction and familiarization with what lies in the south of Egypt. I had my permanent magnets: the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’, a 24 page text of which I made a 300 page book later on, Strabo, Heliodorus’ ‘Aithiopica’, Herodotus, the Annals of Assurbanipal, Hatshepsut’s Expedition to Punt, Cosmas Indicopleustes, all about people of the ‘North’, Assyria, Egypt, Anatolia, Syria, Rome moving to the South. It is true that in the 80’s, I focused more on Assyriology and since the early 90’s I shifted to Egyptology. In this case, my first trips to Egypt (especially Upper Egypt) and the Sudan impressed me very much, and I must say Sudan more than Egypt! Visiting throughout vast areas deprived of any telephony and electricity infrastructure, and studying in Sudan the archaeological sites my professor was excavating, when I was a newly born child, the middle and late 50s, exploring the pyramids of Nuri, El Kurru and Djebel Barkal (dating back to the Kushitic period 850 – 450 BCE), as well as those of Bagrawiyah (dating to the later, more genuinely Sudanese, Meroitic period 450 BCE – 370 CE), with the books (or photocopies of them) of Arkell, Shinnie, and Lazlo Torok as main travel companions, was a most fascinating moment of my life.
For the first time I found myself so close to the Antiquity I was exploring and penetrating. So many thousands of stars in the sky, the feeling of the Firmament, when you are at a distance of 700 km from the nearest electric source of light in the night, when you look around and you do not find a single object (belonging to the modern technological world) that would be ‘unknown’ to the Qore of Ancient Sudan and to the Pharaohs of Egypt, the feeling of living, of seeing the past, the funeral procedures of a Qore at Meroe, when walking among the numerous pyramids at Bagrawiyah completely alone overnight, all these experiences are the best moments of my life…
In the vast Butana desert land of present day Sudan, Naqa is to be found at a distance of approximately 40 km from the Nile in the south-east of Shendi. The remains of four Meroitic temples are there, and one of them testifies to common architectural taste with the Romans; modern Western scholars call it ‘Roman kiosk’ but it was quite Meroitic and African indeed! The entire area was green in the Antiquity, and in the vicinity of Naqa, at Mussawarat at Sufra,there was a specific enclosure for elephants’ training and familiarization with military. Meroe was exporting elephants to Ptolemaic Egypt, and since the view of elephants among the opposite army was quite scary, the Ptolemies used them in their fights against Seleucid Antioch, the bigger among the states to which the monarchy of Alexander split. Elephants were transported to Ptolemais Theron (Ptolemais of the Hunting – present day Suakin) and from there loaded on ships sailing to Egypt.
The Kushitic pyramids at Nuri nearby Marawi, opposite Karima, can be seen from the top of Djebel Barkal, the holy mountain of Amun of Napata. Along with the pyramids of Karima (next to the mountain Barkal) and those of El Kurru (at 5 km distances in the south-west of Karima), they form the earlier unit of pyramidal mortuary architecture in Sudan covering the period 800 – 500 BCE. It seems that the strange direction of the Nile’s flow intrigued people in the Antiquity as much as it does nowadays! Contrarily to what happens during most of the Nile flow, from Abu Hamed to Debba the river takes the direction from north-east to south-west, and in this way the western coast becomes … eastern coast. So, people get confused about the correct place of burying the dead, and building tombs, mortuary temples, and pyramids. The theoretically correct place is of course the west coast of the Nile that was thought by Egyptians and Kushites to be the entrance of the Nether world. But for the aforementioned part of the Nile’s trajectory the west coast looks as if it is in the east! It seems that the ancient Kushites followed first a very empirical and phenomenological approach, building the first pyramids in El Kurru, which is on the eastern coast that becomes of course western coast, if you consider the points of the rising and the setting sun. The practice soon expanded in areas closer to the Kushitic capital, Napata itself (pyramids at Djebel Barkal). Later, prevailed among the local priesthood theoretical considerations that the land continuation and the Nile flow itself are more important criteria than the appearance of the sunrise and the sunset. So, they stopped building on the wrong side (the ‘western’ that is in truth the ‘eastern’ coast) and they started building on the eastern coast (Nuri) that looks like that but it is not!
VF: Some words and names such as Naga, Basa, Naqa that are associated with Meroe have meanings in Oromo language. Another Oromo word, Kiya, is given to the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton. Some documentation about her suggests that “the name itself is cause for much debate. It appears to be a ‘pet’ form, rather than a full name…. In inscriptions, she is given the titles of “The Favorite”, and the “greatly beloved”…. This name also has a meaning in Oromo language, and very strikingly, with very similar sentiment as described. Kiya means my or mine, as in my lady. Naga means peace, health, among others. Basa could mean pay price, get them out or mount. Naqa means take the cattle to water at a river or refers to making drinks such as traditional beer. Might these seemingly Oromo names or vocabularies be just a coincidence or are they suggesting anything in relation to your statement that Oromos may have lived at Meroe? Do you think such traces may be a potential area of future research for you and other social science scholars?
Prof: Linguistic evidence and comparative studies between Ancient Egyptian, Meroitic and Oromo are an important step to be undertaken. At this moment, it would be necessary to describe the situation. Later phases of Egyptian Hieroglyphic, Demotic or Coptic are not going to help much in this regard, because strong Semitic (Phoenician, Aramaic, Jewish), Greek and Latin influences have been exercised over the Egyptian language already since the 1st millennium BCE! So, to find the most authentic Kushitic forms of the Egyptian language we must go back to the New Kingdom (2nd half of the 2nd millennium), or even better to Middle Kingdom (beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE) which is the period of the Classical Egyptian that is taught through the famous method of the ‘Egyptian Grammar’ of Sir Alan Gardiner.
The worst difficulty in our effort comes from the fact that there are not many bilingual texts (Egyptian/Meroitic, Greek/Meroitic, or Latin/Meroitic) to help us advance decisively our decipherment of Meroitic, the language of the ancient Ethiopians, the Kushitic people of Sudan, for a period of use of hieroglyphic and cursive scriptures for approximately 800 years (450 BCE – 370 CE). But certainly the already deciphered part that contains vast Onomastica must become the object of a vast linguistic comparative study, Meroitic – Oromo.
Furthermore, the bulk of the saved Makkurian texts must be also taken into consideration, studied, and used in this comparative linguistic approach. The Makkurian language and scripture testifies to the linguistic development of the Meroitic during the Christian periods of Sudanese History; it covers a period going from the beginning of the 5th century CE until the 12th century CE. Certainly this period dates after the great Kushitic Emigration from the land of Ancient Ethiopia to present day Oromo country, but certainly a Makkurian – Oromo linguistic approach would help establishing closer parallels. Now, it must be said that Makkurian was written in Greek characters, since cursive and hieroglyphic Meroitic writings have been abandoned following the Axumite Abyssinian invasion by king Ezana, and the destruction of Meroe. From the time of the last Makkurian inscriptions until the aurora of the modern Oromo history the distance is just 400 years.
Archeological survey would also help in clarifying the path of the emigration (probably alongside the Blue Nile, until it turns to the North within present day Abyssinia), as well as earlier Oromo settlements going back to 1500 CE. History of Religion is another field that plays an important role in this regard, especially when it comes to symbol interpretation, cosmological concepts, and approaches to the world of Divine. Many significant conclusions will come out of a parallel study here.
You understand that such an academic background research necessitates great part of interest from the young Oromo generation, needs funds, takes a great deal of field research, and theoretical method. It would, of course, be the ultimate corroboration of the historical interpretational scheme that extends the Oromo History back to the 3rd millennium BCE. Tremendous educational and literary work would follow this first step, but this first step is something huge, it would take the vital resources of many people for whom it would become basic ‘purpose in life’. I would certainly feel most flattered to participate, especially since I emitted first this historical interpretational diagram.
VF: Oromos have rich cultures such as the Gada, Guddifacha and Guma systems. Some scientists such as Dr. Marco Bassi of Bologna University in Italy agree that the Gada system is one of the most structured and democratic institutions in the world. Guddifacha is similar to adoption. Guma can be roughly stated as the price paid in kind for capital crime. One of the most interesting aspects of Guma is its ability to bypass capital punishment for capital crime. In the US, people are still debating whether capital punishment is the right way to address capital crime. Some people suggest that the Guma approach is better than the approach of capital punishment. Some have the opinion that these three Oromo values are flickers of old civilization still striving to survive. These are the systems that bypassed the system of slavery. Are you familiar with any of these three systems? What is your opinion on the thesis that these are flickers of old civilization?
Prof: Well, social anthropology is not my domain, contrarily to the excellent Italian colleague you mention. I remember his pertinent study on La Carestia in Ethiopia, in Afriche e Orienti 1/2001. I view similar cases under the viewpoint of a historian. In the Antiquity, there was not a single country that was ruled by democratic rules and methods. This is the basic statement. But, of course, there are exceptions and conditions to all that. First, and quite contrarily to this ‘basic statement’ for the Antiquity, the rise of sophisticated urban structure at the dawn of civilization takes place in a rather democratic environment. When religion did not mean something deeply cultic and absolutely separate from power, we had a king, a high priest and the elder of the city; this is Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, in present day Iraq. Of course, it was not yet a big country. The aforementioned situation concerned separately Eridu, Ur, Larsa, Uruk, Lagash, and the other early Sumerian cities-states. Then, the opposition and polarization king vs. priest brought about the royal form of state, and at the same time shaped ‘religion as an establishment, as an administrative form of hierarchy. But this early situation concerns Sumer, not Egypt! Elam, Sumer’s neighbor and rival seems concerned as well, but more centralized authority seems to rise early at Susa. When the rise comes later to other parts of the world, Canaan, Anatolia, Greece, Iran, Rome, there you have royal – monarchical states, and the closer the link with the earlier heroic tribe, the stronger the centralizing royal power appears.
Democracy does not appear first in Greece, as the debased colonial historiography stipulated in their racist effort to alter World History to their profit, but in Elam. Pathetic statesmen like Valery Giscard d’ Estaing, the former French President, should know that! It is in Elam around 1850 BCE, when the forefathers of the Indo-European Greeks were still structured in semi-barbaric and possibly cannibalistic societies, that we attest the system of the elected Sukkalmahhu, the Elamite mayors’ council that rules Elam in present day SE Iraq and SW Iran without the existence of a king. The Elamite democratic system of a republican state lasted some 500 years, much more than the Athenian case for which too much of ecstasy has been deployed by modern European ignorant and falsifying ‘intellectuals’ and politicians.
Then comes the Phoenician connection. This is what concerns us most; not because it consists in the real origin of the democratic system among the Athenians – we must not forget that most of the other Ancient Greek states were ruled by kings – but because it has to do with eventual changes of rule and of administrative structure among the Kushites. Here, I want to stress the point that I refer not to eventual Semitic – Phoenician influences on the Kushitic Ethiopians of Sudan, the plausible ancestors of the modern Oromo, but to potential parallels. The Phoenicians were all ruled by kings, whose power extended up to the limits of their small cities-states, Tyr, Byblus, Arwad, Sidon, etc. But their limited land capabilities pushed to extensive seafaring; they became the greatest navigators of the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, whereas they were not irrelevant of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, they became the first real colonizers. They colonized the Libyan coast, the Aegean Sea. Here, I am not referring to Cyprus, since they were always there and Cyprus is virtually Phoenician. They were present at the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. Then, at 800 BCE they established Kart Hadasht, Carthage, the New City as its name means in Phoenician, at the area of present day Tunis. That city took the Phoenician ideals further on to the Tyrrhenian Sea, Sicily, Sardinia, the North-Western African coast in the Mediterranean, the Iberian coasts either in the Mediterranean or in the Atlantic, and the Atlantic coasts of Northwestern Africa.
But what is the concept of becoming a colon? How close can the contact with the metropolis and its administrative structure be kept? What does a king mean for 3000 colons who erect a new city 3000 km away? You understand that if Uruguay was able to become independent from Spain, the same could occur and actually did occur to Carthage that became independent from Tyr, and further on to Carthaginian colonies that in turn became independent from Carthage. You cannot control so far away areas, and modern successful exceptions are few; Canada, Australia, New Zealand became all independent states. Only French Polynesia remains as the exemplary relics of the colonial times in the Pacific still subjugated by France. They do not import Coca Cola from nearby New Zealand but from France, and it costs an entire fortune!
So, you understand the point, that when 400 people leave together and go to settle in a faraway place, there are few chances that one among them becomes a king! Most probably there applies the basic democratic attitude, since all feel weak in the faraway place, and prefer to take decisions in equilibrium of responsibility. This is the very practical beginning of the republican and democratic systems.
I want therefore to transfer the ancient colonies’ model to the emigrating peoples’ concept. It is only normal that in case you have a settled population that leaves its place of origin and escapes foreign domination, you have a certain beginning of democratic community; the king may have lost his credibility or the entire royal family decapitated. More than that, the emigrating people’s social structures differ tremendously from those of a settled society. What palace, what temples, what castles and fortresses, what public buildings can emigrating people aspire to have? A straw hut does not perform the role of a palace very convincingly, you know! Even worse, if the previous majestic palace has left a stamp on the memory of the first generation of emigration. So, ultimately all leads to a change towards a democratic rule.
It is very different for the genuinely nomadic peoples, among whom the leader is a chieftain able to kill a wild animal and rise to that low level concept of ‘prince’. You have it everywhere; then when the nomadic people are obliged to move across great distance, the old chieftain becomes the heroic ancestor ready to be at times deified. If all this leads to a final settlement in another country, the chieftain may have the chance to turn to a civilized king! Timur Leng and the Huns were like that. Such a structure never leads to a democratic society because the ‘primus’ has no ‘pares’, his likes, so it can never turn out to be even a ‘primus inter pares’ (first among the equal ones) system!
I would conclude that precisely this situation bears witness to the entire theory of the Meroitic past of the Oromo. And it is not very common in Africa. The earliest long text reference to a non Egyptian, African, society and state we have dates back to the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. It is the famous text of Queen Hatshepsut ‘Expedition to Punt’. Punt was a very small country at the area of the northern coast of Somalia and the Bab al Mandeb straits. But there were a king and a queen, no democratic affinities…
VF: When you talk about kings, queens, princes and princess, you are talking about figures that Oromos have no vocabulary for, let alone historical figures. Isn’t it possible to have a social system trajectory that lacks the king and queen culture?
Prof: After the first generations of emigration, the Meroitic Qore and Kandake, kings and queens, have been forgotten. Quite interesting and somehow convincing is the fact that for the Meroites, who did not emigrate but remained in the area of Ancient Ethiopia, we do not find a notion of strong Christian king in Alodia, Makkuria, and Nobatia. We attest a less monarchical and more priestly society, as the Christian priests had the upper hand there too.
VF: You have suggested that the Oromo people may have moved south from Meroe. We have read in the past where the Oromos ‘came’ from. There were stories that Oromos came from Asia, Madagascar, water, and that they have Caucasian trace. Your suggestion is from a place closer to home; may be you are closing in on Oromo home. Scholars on Ethiopia have been teaching that Oromos migrated from south to north and even some Oromo scholars have fallen for such theory. All the theories do not seem to be in agreement at all and there is the opinion that says interest makes the same people move south from the north and north from the south. How do you explain this?
Prof: No, I disagree. I did not say the Meroites migrated to the south to settle in present day Oromo country and become the present day Oromo people! I said that there has long been attested a very scarce population in the Nile valley south of the second cataract (around modern Wadi Halfa) during the period that follows the Abyssinian invasion. Many sites – even those in parts that were certainly not attacked by Ezana of Axumite Abyssinia – have been abandoned, and if we find a continuity, this is with few people and with low level material culture. The missing population is very plausible that moved away, rejecting the Christianization evangelized by Ezana, and went towards a destination that would offer survival far from Abyssinia, and in a rather similar green environment of cultivated lands and pasturelands. They could not cross the jungle that was extended until far more in the north than the areas it reaches nowadays, so they followed the Blue Nile valley and, after a certain point, instead of advancing up to the river’s source and the area of Lake Tana, they advanced further towards the present day Oromo country. It happens that this led them to the south. South, north and the other cardinal points mean nothing by themselves. I do not want to enter into a perennial discussion about the origins of the civilization, north, east, south, west and the like; I believe this is counterproductive. What counts is the environment, the natural setup and the possibilities it offers to the emigrants. Whether this is in the north or the south this matters not.
In the case of the eternal enigma of the Meroitic studies, namely the question about the whereabouts of the fleeing Meroites, since the valley of the Nile from the area of Wadi Halfa down to Shendi and Khartoum seems to have suddenly emptied, there are important parameters that should be taken into consideration. They could not leave the valley and go to find shelter in the desert! They would not have the means of survival; they did not have anything in common with the then existing nomads of the desert, and they could not apply to themselves such an unfamiliar life organization and social system. That is why the modern Beja and Hadendawa cannot originate from the ancient Meroites, although they are also Kushitic in origin. Neither could they cross the jungle, since that was impossible even for strong armies in the antiquity. So there is no way they find their descendents among the Nuer of the Sudanese extreme south. Furthermore, there are other issues to be taken into consideration. The social structures, the beliefs, the anthropological data, the movements from place to place, and so on. Someone who studied carefully the geography of Sudan and Abyssinia cannot end up indicating the Nuer or the Dinka as descendents of the Meroites.
Now, I want to advise again the extremist positions about the Oromo coming from the south. The only way for this to be plausible would be that Oromo belonged to the Bantu family that constitutes the bulk of Sub-Saharan peoples. We know this is not the case. We know that in the Antiquity, Bantu were further pressed to the south of the continent, and that they moved towards northern areas in either Western of Eastern Africa. Furthermore, we have an approximately good basis on the History of Eastern Africa. Especially from the Ptolemaic times down to the Colonial expansion, we have Ancient Greek, Latin, Yemenite, Medieval Greek texts, and of course for Islamic periods we have Arabic and Farsi texts. Nowhere do we find a plausible interpretation of a movement of populations or an emigration of populations that led to the establishment of the Oromo at the Abyssinian south. The number of the population matters to some extent too. The great number of Oromo testifies to a long past. Finally, I would be reluctant to retrace the Oromo past back to Somalia, or Azania as people were calling the area of the Eastern Somali coast in the Late Antiquity. And I do not discuss the Madagascar option or fiction! A complete change of environment and social habits is not easy; it almost never happens, except within micro-systems. But in those cases it leaves traces that we can find. Among inland villagers of the Moluccas islands of Indonesia we attest to popular nuptial songs referring to arriving ships for the collection of spices; this proves that these villagers were living a coastal life before the arrival of the Dutch, who pushed the indigenous population towards the inland in order to control trade and customs. But it is a micro-system, not the coast of Azania and the south of Abyssinia, which would imply a complete de-figuration.
To end this answer I should say that present day Abyssinian Amhara ‘academia’ are taking politically motivated positions that deprive them from any serious appearance in their argumentation. The level of the dogmatic, rotten, and obscurantist Amhara-patronized universities of Abyssinia is worse than that of the universities in Sudan and Egypt. All Eastern Africa is academically doomed.
VF: The Borana branch of the Oromo people who live in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya still practice non-withered Oromo culture. In the areas where Oromos became in contact with Abyssinians or foreign missionaries, their cultures have been weakened. Doesn’t this counterweigh the notion that Oromos may have moved south from Meroe because of Abyssinian influence?
Prof: No! I did not say either that the Meroites moved away from their homeland ‘because of Abyssinian influence’; What I said is that they left their land in order to escape forced Christianization that would be the result of king Ezana’s victory over Meroe, and destruction of the capital city of Ethiopia. Since that Axumite Abyssinian king usurped the name of Ethiopia in order to offer himself the basics of a royal propaganda justifying the christening of Abyssinia, it was obvious to the subjugated Ethiopians, the Meroites, that they would be forced to Christianity. The foreign invader had found in the famous Biblical excerpt about Kush (‘Ethiopia’ in the Greek translation of the 70 Elder of Alexandria) a supposed prophecy about accepting Christian faith. This is all irrelevant of course, but you understand that what mattered to the Ethiopians at that time was to reject a faith that had already been imposed with nefarious impact in Egypt, which was part of the Roman Empire and at the same time very well known to the Meroites of Ancient Ethiopia. We actually know that acceptance of Christianity by illiterate, uneducated, fanatic, low social level masses in Rome, in Egypt, in Greece, in Anatolia, in Syria, in Judea and elsewhere throughout the Roman Empire meant the rise of religious fanaticism, intolerance, barbarism and obscurantism, and actually led to the destruction of thousands of temples, sanctuaries, libraries, scientific laboratories (of those days), observatories, museums, palaces, theaters and all sorts of centers of culture, education, knowledge and erudition.
The rise of Christianity brought about an unprecedented racial discrimination and an ulcerous Anti-Semitism; for three hundred years of Christian rule over Aelia Capitolina – Jerusalem not a single Jew was allowed to enter that city! It is only normal that the highly civilized Ethiopians of the Ancient Sudan, who were still building pyramids at Meroe, present day Bagrawiyah in Sudan, wished to escape the obscurantist and barbaric rule of the Abyssinian king Ezana. What they may also have known, but has not survived in any sort of documentation until today, is the setup and the circumstances of the christening of Axumite Abyssinia. Perhaps that was also an alarming waning for them.
As you know, we have the famous story about the Syrian monks Edesius and Frumentius, Keddous Faramanatos, who traveled, accompanied their uncle Metropius, to Abyssinia, and when their ship stopped at one of the harbors of the Red Sea, supposedly Adulis, nearby the present day Eritrean city of Massawa, people of the neighborhood massacred the whole crew, with the exception of those who were taken as slaves to the King of Axum. By then, they were young boys, but they managed to gain the favor of the king, who made them free citizens of his country. After the death of the last pre-Christian king of Axumite Abyssinia, the widow queen convinced them to remain at the court and look after the education of the young prince Erazanes. This was done and especially Frumentius used his influence to spread his Christian beliefs and ideas. They built the first Christian churches to address the needs of the Christian merchants who were coming to Axum. Following the young prince’s accession to the throne, Frumentius became even more eager to convert Abyssinia to Christianity, and ultimately moved to Alexandria, and requested Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, to send a bishop and priests to Abyssinia. St. Athanasius considered Frumentius as the most suitable person and consecrated him as bishop of Abyssinia. Then, Frumentius returned to Abyssinia, built up the first cathedral of Axum, baptized King Aeizanas, around 340 – 345 CE, and spread Christianity throughout Abyssinia. All this is a nice Christian legend, a myth that we cannot accept at face value, since we have no other non-Christian documentation left, and we are not able to crosscheck sources for a better understanding.
It may well have been a more brutal and excruciating reality, with palatial plots, patricide, conspiracy, bloodshed across the country, with the involvement of foreign merchants and sailors of Christian faith. All this may well have been known to the Meroites of Ethiopia as an evil and atrocious act, and they may have wished to avoid such disastrous adventures, by abandoning their country and moving to quasi-uninhabited areas that would permit them to preserve the basics of life, arable land, cultivation, pastoral life, with less trade and stressed isolation – we must admit.
We have good reasons to believe that the Christianization of Abyssinia involved a lot of blood and even terrible fights among theological fractions and ideological groups. Just before the attack against Ethiopia and the destruction of Meroe (370 CE), the Roman Emperor Constantius addressed a letter to King Aeizanas and to his brother Saizanas that dates back to 365 CE. Now, we are certainly on historical ground, distancing ourselves from the otherwise pleasant Christian myth of a peaceful christening for Abyssinia. In that letter, Constantius demanded Ezana to substitute the Arian bishop Theophilus for Frumentius (Athanasius, “Apol. ad Constantium” in Patrologia Graeca, vol. XXV, 631). Now, if we only transplant at the area of the Axumite Abyssinia the virulent and venomous fights and polarizations between Arians and their opponents within Christianity, as we know them in Egypt, in Rome and elsewhere, we realize that terrible fratricide fights took place in Axum as well, at the eve of Ezana’s attack against Meroitic Ethiopia. It is even plausible that a Roman letter asked this in the hope of consolidating the situation in the south of Egypt. In the middle of the 4th century CE Christian power in Egypt resided mostly in the north, in Lower Egypt, and non-Christian Egyptians were prevailing in Upper Egypt, Thebes (Luqsor), Syene (Aswan) and further on to the Dodekaschoinos and the Triakontaschoinos buffer zone areas. Nubians and desert nomads like the Blemmyes were making the Christian Roman rule even more unsure and unstable at that point. All anti-Christian elements could find an excellent shelter in Ethiopia, the vast area of the present day North of Sudan. So, the Romans had to eliminate the Meroitic kingdom of Ethiopia that was not Christianized. Busy with their inner problems, and with the wars with the Sassanid Empire of Iran, the other superpower of those days, they may have demanded Ezana to do the job. If this was the case, again the Meroites knew that they had to move away, if they were to avoid forced christening.
On the other hand, going back to your question, in modern times, missionaries arrived up to changing the overall environment to some extent. They faced unprecedented fanaticism, and met massacre at the hands of the Amhara Abyssinians. This happened to Dominicans who traveled to Abyssinia even before the Crusades, since for several centuries Rome was completely cut off from Abyssinia, after the early explosion of Islam. The same happened later when Basilides mounted to the throne in 1632. Opposing the practices of the earlier king Socinios, who had rejected Monophysitism and sought rapprochement with Rome, Basilides closed the country to all missionaries, after he killed all those whom he found present there! This policy continued through Theodoros and Johannes IV.
Missionaries did not face so hard times among the Oromo people. The example of Father William Massaia, an Italian Capuchin, formerly tutor to King Umberto is quite indicative. He was lucky enough to be assigned to the Oromo land and to awful Gondar, where in the middle of the 18th century – at the times of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and the Encyclopedists – three missionaries were stoned to death in a public square! What a place!
Mgr. Massaia landed at Massawa in the disguise of a merchant, and was constantly under the espionage of the mercenaries of the Abouna-Salama and Theodoros, and was at times attacked by a frenzied crowd, but he contrived to escape. He left Abyssinia, arrived in Europe, visited France and England, where he met with Napoleon III and Queen Victoria. Having received from them important help in his work, he returned to his mission, in September 1853. On his arrival, he compiled an early Oromo dictionary, translated the Bible, converted a prince of Lagamara, vaccinated a hundred people daily during smallpox epidemic, and finally achieved a great work leaving 10,000 Catholic Christians in the country.
You are right when you say that Oromos exposed to missionaries lose in originality; neither Christianity nor Islam were the original Weltanshauung of the Oromo. Cultural westernization comes along with the missionaries as well; of course, this does not necessarily imply extreme modernization, but many Europeans and Americans would reject today several ‘acquisitions’ of the modern western world. What you say is probably true for anybody, anywhere on this planet that underwent a global metamorphosis.
VF: It seems that the major issue with this migration connotation appears to be the question of “who was there first?” In one of your replies to one of the participants on this issue on Ethioindex forum, you wrote: “… you want to check whether among the present day peoples of Abyssinia there is one who spent more time there, and was present there longer! I am afraid this is not going to be answered convincingly and decisively. Even more this would mean nothing; it is rather a childish approach to History. Presence does not imply contribution to shaping History; more recently arrived peoples, who achieved more significant accomplishments, are certainly more important than ‘older and less active’ ones! Then, I realize that the case of the Afar should be discussed in another mail, since they are the true top longevity candidates in Abyssinia. In the area of the present day Abyssinian South and West, there were insignificant tribal societies”.
You also wrote in another thread
“… Semitic were the original inhabitants of the area, particularly the Ancient Yemenites, whose presence in Yemen has been attested since the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium BCE. There were not a single Kushite there before them! Even not for a pick nick.”
These statements seem to be too simplistic and biased since a) the definition of shaping history is not clear (one can argue about Hitler’s shape of history) and b) our current “lack of evidence” about the peoples who lived in East Africa before the Yemeni arrived doesn’t suggest or preclude the absolute lack of evidence.
Prof: Well, to some extent you misinterpret my text. I say precisely that ‘who was there first’ is not the major issue! The Afar people seem to have been longer in the area of present day Abyssinia but the Abyssinian ancestors of Amhara and Tigray (who arrived in gradual successive waves during the 1st millennium BCE) seem to have developed a higher level of culture and civilization. Oromos seem to have come on this very soil long after the Abyssinians arrived and settled around Axum and Yeha. The Oromos had an even greater and longer past elsewhere, in their ancestors’ fatherland, the area of Meroitic Ethiopia, at the north of present day Sudan. This is not a unique case, it happens very often in the World History. A historian’s comment would be ‘sic transit gloria mundi’.
On the other hand, you refer to a very different point of my contributions. Speaking about the area of Yemen, I said that there was never a trace of Kushitic peoples found there. You know, we have vast archeological evidence from Yemen dating back to the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. Nothing, absolutely nothing that would indicate presence of Kushitic peoples! It may look simple or simplistic to you but it is not wrong. History at times is very simple; look for instance, we can calmly say that there has been absolutely no evidence of Chinese presence in Britain during the Antiquity! You see how simple it is? Sometimes, we are correctly sure about something, whereas sometimes we are full of contradictory evidence, and we cannot draw a single conclusion! You must understand, as far as the past of the Hamitic and the Kushitic peoples is concerned, that they have never shown a strong inclination to seafaring, contrarily to both, Semites and Indo-Europeans.
Look, at the Northwestern confines of the African continent, there were Hamitic Berbers among the Carthaginians. But they were not involved in the Carthaginian thalassocracy. Try to compare Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians to the Egyptians, as far as seafaring is concerned. We now know that Assyrians and Babylonians reached the Eastern coast of Africa even before the Egyptians! Sargon of Assyria invaded Cyprus long before the Ptolemies, thanks to their Macedonian origin and the subsequent involvement in the Aegean and the Mediterranean worlds did so! Assyrians controlled Dilmun, the island of Bahrein, Meluhha and Makkan, the eastern coast of the Arabic peninsula. The Egyptians hired Phoenicians, Semites, to circumnavigate the African continent!
You cannot compare the involvement of Meroe and of Axum into the Red Sea commerce and navigation! Kushitic Meroe was focusing on the Nile, the desert, the savannah! Ptolemais Theron (present day Suakin, 50 km at the south of Port Sudan) was founded and then controlled by first the Ptolemies of Egypt, and then the Romans! Contrarily, further to the south of Meroe and Ptolemais Theron, Adulis did not escape the control of Axum! The famous and very rich in information text of the Periplus of the Red Sea that dates back to the years of Nero (around 70 – 75 CE) is very clear and explicit on these issues. Meroe did not control the coast, whereas Axum did.
Even more so, Sabaean and Himyarite Yemenites were controlling all the eastern coast of present day Somalia, as well as the coast of Kenya and Tanzania down to Dar es Salam (Rhapta according to the text of the Periplus of the Red Sea)! Hadramawt Yemenites were controlling Soqotra island (‘Dioscouridou nesos’ in Greek) and were very active in the navigation and the trade throughout the Indian Ocean and the western coast of India. Of course, Yemenites and Axumite Abyssinians are Semites, whereas Meroites are Kushites.
So, ‘not a single Kushite there’ refers to Yemen, not Eastern Africa. And never forget that whereas archaeological evidence is scarce in parts of Eastern Africa, it is not so in Yemen, as far as the 1stmillennium BCE and the 1st millennium CE are concerned.
VF: I am afraid there was a misunderstanding in the previous question regarding ‘not a single Kushite there’ reference. It seemed that you were implying that no Kushites lived on the land the Yemenites immigrated to in East Africa prior to their immigration. I apologize.
Prof: I understand; no, I was referring to Yemen only.
VF: As you well know, the Kushitic peoples live in East Africa region stretching from Egypt to Kenya (see Figure below). Oromos are also the largest in number, over 30 million by conservative estimates. We do not read any migration of the other Kushitic peoples including the Afar and the Somali peoples. On the other hand, as indicated earlier, the current population of Yemen is about 20 million. If we do not hear about the migration of the other Kushitic peoples and if the Yemeni people lived across the Red Sea since recorded history with their own civilization, why wouldn’t the Oromo, who are about one and a half times larger in number than Yemen’s population, live on the African side over a large swath of land with their own civilization?
This map is adopted from Voices of the World, Millennium Edition, published by the National Geographic in 2000. Note to the readers: it is not clear whether Oromo (one of the Kushitic peoples) on the map refers to the area numbered 3 or 4, but the correct one should be 3, which is clearly indicated under the Afro-Asiatic (language group) legend.
Prof: I think I already answered this question; as continental African peoples, the Hamitic peoples of Northern, Northwestern, and Eastern Africa have no vocation for seafaring. Consequently, the inland attracts them more. They may reach near the coast, but what matters to them is the inland, the vast continental landmass of fertile valleys, mountains, deserts, savannas, rivers, lakes, and plateaus. This is not strange, and it is certainly not unique! Take ancient Phoenicia, present day Syrian and Lebanese coasts, in the 1st half of the 1st millennium BCE. In the coast, you had Semitic Phoenicians, who were attracted by affairs and milieus, spectra and marvels thousands of miles away! Their thought was in the Aegean Sea, in Libya, in Spain, in the Atlantic. And 40 km inland, you had the Semitic Aramaeans, whose concern where their cultivations, their pastures, their trade, Euphrates river and the rest of the Syrian – Mesopotamian world!
The first person known by his name in History to have sailed from the area of the ‘known world’ (the Mediterranean) down to present day Sierra Leone African coast is Hanno the King of Carthaginians, whose forefathers originated from the famous Phoenician city of Tyr. And the first person known by his name in History to have voyaged from the area of the ‘known world’ (the Mediterranean) up to China is Maes Tatianus, a Syrian Aramaean of the Roman imperial times. His origin may have been just a few kilometers from the Mediterranean coasts.
Among Indo-Europeans, we have similar cases. Could we compare Russians to British? The issue is very old whatsoever! Within the context of Ancient Greece, one could not compare the ‘continental’ Thebans to the ‘maritime’ Athenians.
Hamites and Kushites seem to have been of limited maritime experience, interest, and aspiration. Wherever you find references to Hamitic and Kushitic peoples living on African coasts, you find either very limited maritime exploits or foreign leadership.
More precisely, I will focus on Azania, based on the Periplus of the Red Sea. When the text refers to the entire area going from the Cape Guardafui (the Horn of Africa) to the southernmost East African coastal confines known, the author names Tabai, Opone, Apocopa, Aigialos, Sarapion pastureland, Nicon pastureland, the Pyralaon Islands and Dioryhos (‘straits’), Menouthias and Rhapta, the furthermost port of call in the south, the last place known, which is identified with the Dar es Salam area.
Political geography was among the author’s top qualifications. After his references to Roman Egypt, Meroe and Axumite Abyssinia, the author, proceeding to the south, names seventeen toponyms but only two political entities. From the point where the control of the Abyssinian king Zoscales ends (Avalites harbour at the area of present day Eritrean port of Assab) starts ‘the Other Berberia’, which corresponds to the Northern Somalia up to the Horn of Africa. In this regard, it is useful to bear in mind that ‘Berberia’ is called by the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea the area in the south of Berenice (end of the Egyptian Red Sea coast), and in the north of Adulis (beginning of the Axumitic Red Sea coast), which corresponds to the area around Ptolemais Theron, today’s Sudanese Red Sea coast. All toponyms from Malao to Cape Aromaton (Cape of Perfumes), as the author calls the Horn of Africa, belong to ‘the Other Berberia’. One should also stress in this regard that Berberia as toponym should not be confused with the adjective ‘barbaric’.
Beyond Akroterion Aromaton (Horn of Africa), from Tabai and Opone down to Rhapta, the entire land is called ‘Azania’. The appellation encompasses today’s eastern coast of Somalia, as well as the coast of Kenya and Tanzania. Azania is the oldest name used collectively for this entire area (approx. 3000 km long!) and the only collective appellation throughout history for this part of the world. Of course, one may refer to the Ancient Egyptian term ‘Punt’, target-area of the homonymous pharaonic expedition undertaken by Nehesi, the admiral to Pharaoh Hatshepsout. But that term signified a small kingdom the extent of which we cannot perceive accurately through the hieroglyphic text of the Deir al Bahari mortuary temple of Hatshepsout (Thebes – West, Luqsor). The term Punt, however, presents similarities to the later Ancient Greek term ‘Opone’, since –t and –e are respectively Egyptian and Greek endings of feminine names and/or toponyms. And Opone was just a port of call!
What makes a striking impression is the explicit reference of the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea to the fact that the entire vast area of Azania, according to an ancient law, belonged to the (Yemenite) ruler (‘tyrannos’) of Mofar, and that the earliest state formation that was developed here was due to Yemenites of the Mofar and Muza region. Because of this, the text of the Periplus states the rights accorded to the merchants of Muza by the Yemenite king (‘Basileus’). More than just political control and commercial presence, the text (precisely in paragraph 16) testifies to high level Yemenite colonial practices: “Furthermore, they (Yemenites from Muza and Mofar) send here (Azania, East Africa coast) merchant fleet manned by Yemenite captains and sailors, who thanks to their mixed marriages with indigenous women, as well as to their familiarization with the entire area, know very well the local dialect and the traditions”. In addition, the text offers valuable information about the trade exchanged between Yemen and its African colony, Azania. Yemenites were exporting military artifacts and other crafts to the African coast of Azania, and they were also sending wheat and wine as gifts to the local tribal leaders (paragraph 17) in a diplomatic effort to keep their colonial rule stabilized and unchallenged.
We truly do not know whether the Azanians were Kushitic or Bantu people; we rather tend to consider them as Kushitic. But the reference is clear; they were colonized by the skilful Yemenite navigators.
VF: When we carefully think about Abyssinians and Kushitic peoples, we are talking about very different peoples with very different backgrounds, each with qualitatively different old civilizations. There are some opinions that Oromo culture, generally community- and Logos-based, is in clash with Abyssinian culture, generally dictatorial and Mythos-based. What is your comment on this?
Prof: You are right in using the term ‘qualitatively different civilizations’. It applies to earlier stages as well! I mean before the introduction of Islam and Christianity, Meroe and Axum were very different.
We do not know much about Amanikhatashan the Meroitic counterpart of Negus (king) Zoskales of Axum for whom we have some details within the text of the Periplus of the Red Sea. And we do not know much, even not the name of the Abyssinian Axumite counterpart of the great Qore Shorkaror of Meroe, who lived earlier, at the last years of Jesus’ historical presence. We know that Zoskales had learnt Greek, and we are sure that there were Greek artists at the Ethiopian court of Meroe, probably disembarking at Prolemais Theron/Suakin. We attest the presence of Iranian artists at Meroe thanks to a relief at Djebel Qeili (about 150 km east of Khartoum), a kind of a drawing on a granite outcrop in the middle of the desert, that attributes strong solar insignia to the Supreme Meroitic god, a Mithraic version of Amun congratulating and supporting the Qore in the aftermath of a victory that is depicted in a typically Iranian way. We find Indian influences and this is also normal due to the development of maritime and commercial contacts.
However, all these elements show similarities that lie on a substrate of significant differences. In the aforementioned relief, Shokraror is depicted as wearing a quiver and carrying a bow, arrows, a spear and sword. He is shown, at the aftermath of a battle, victorious over his enemies. He stands on a row of four bound prisoners. He holds seven more by a leash that he is handing to the god. Other enemy figures are shown in rows like they are lying dead on a field of battle or being thrown off a cliff. The god hands the king a clump of dhurra (millet, a grain). The millet probably symbolizes good crop harvests. This is something you would never find in pre-Christian or Christian Abyssinia. It shows a deep involvement in a pastoral and peaceful style of life that was not interrupted by the fight that had taken place!
The differences between Semites and Hamites/Kushites are very striking, yet the subject has not been thoroughly studied. Hamitic rule never took the absolute monarchical aspect the concept of kingdom had among the Semites. You can never compare Khefren to Naram Sin, Senwosre II to Shamshi Adad I, Ramses III to Tiglathpileser I, Taharqa and Nechao to Assurbanipal and Nabukadnezzar. There have been great Hamitic military leaders in Egypt and in Ethiopia, but their power was never as compact as it happened among Semitic kings and emperors. Semitic discipline reminds us German order at times! More specifically among the Meroitic Ethiopians the role of the Queen, the ‘Kandake’ was highly stressed! From Accadians to Yemenites and from Aramaeans to Hebrews, we have only some exceptions within the context of 2700 years of pre-Christian Semitic History. We are about to reach a level of understanding of the Ancient Egyptian History, according to which the ancient temples were not only holy places, universities and research centers, but they also represented a kind of social and ideological – political institutions parallel to Modern History’s political parties and associations. This was reflected in Ancient Ethiopia as well. Among Semites it was not like this.
VF: You attach immense value to the name of any country for education and deeper self-consciousness of that country’s people. This may very well be true in view of contemporary Abyssinian culture where leaving one’s country voluntarily has become a fashion instead of shame. Oromo scholars have argued in the past about the correct name for Oromo country. Two competing names are Oromia and Biyya Oromo. In Oromo language, Biyya means country. Oromia seems to be a synthesis between Oromo and ia as in Arabia or Romania. It seems Biyya Oromo may be more meaningful for educating Oromo children and instill in them deeper understanding of what a country means whereas Oromia can be a simplistic name for the outside world. Do you have some thoughts on that?
Prof: I believe nothing has more value for the Oromo people than the minds and the hearts of the next Oromo generations. Genuine national feeling, self-respect, national dignity, sense of historicity, and deep political commitment necessitate an authentic name that illustrates best the image of a great culture and of a most evaluated Fatherland. The foreigners cannot be a matter of concern at this point. Tourism follows cultural development in every country; a nation that adopts Tourism Marketing as its top value is a faceless place. The financial success is a parody of achievement. In the case of Oromo struggling for national auto-determination, Biyya Oromo sounds the most original choice.
Part IV. The Future of Oromo/Kush and Abyssinia
VF: You have put forward two solutions for Ethiopia that seem to conflict with each other. In one instance, you seem to suggest two states: Kushitic/Oromo/Ethiopian and Semitic/Amhara/Abyssinian states. In another instance, you seem to suggest that the present day Ethiopia should adopt the name Abyssinia from Oromo to Tigray. If the present day Ethiopia changes its name to Abyssinia, should everyone else be called by the name that represents only the minority, the Habashas? Isn’t the inclusion of Oromos in Abyssinia a mistake?
Prof: You refer to my article Kushitic Oromo Ethiopia and Semitic Amhara Abyssinia! There I stressed that it is historically erroneous and politically misleading for the Amhara – Tigray ruled country to change its real name, Abyssinia, and pretend to be called by a name like Ethiopia that is totally irrelevant to these two peoples, who descend from the ancient Axumite Abyssinians, who in turn are the offspring of one Ancient Yemenite (so please, do not confuse, they are non-Arabic) tribe that we first attested on Ancient Yemenite epigraphic documentation. We know of course that for the needs of his royal propaganda the invader of Ethiopia, which is present day Sudan, king Ezana of Axumite Abyssinia called himself ‘King of Ethiopia’, and he truly ruled the southern part of Ethiopia, all that area of the Butana desert of Sudan that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were calling Insula Meroe, island Meroe, since surrounded by Atbara, the United Nile, the Blue Nile and lake Tana. The Abyssinian control did not reach Ptolemais Theron, present day Suakin, the Ptolemaic and later Roman colony at the Sudanese Red Sea coast; it did not reach either the flow of the Blue Nile or even lake Tana itself, although the lake was not far from the Axumite borders. Last but not least, Ezana’s control did not reach further in the north, the old Kushitic capital of Napata (present day Karima), let alone Meroitic territories further in the north, Dongola, Kerma and the 3rd and 2nd cataracts’ area. A few successors to Ezana may have kept their control on that part of Ethiopia, but after the end of the 5th century and the rise of the three Christian states in Sudan, Nobatia, Makkuria, and Alodia, the Axumite kingdom of Abyssinia did not control any area on the present day soil of Sudan, or if you want, did not control any area belonging to the ancient Meroitic kingdom of Ethiopia. Consequently, they had – already by that time – lost any legitimacy to the name of ‘Ethiopia’; we know of course that the kings of Axum kept using it among their royal titles but this propaganda was related to the Christianization of their state. The use of the name ‘Ethiopia’ they were making was of Biblical dimensions, since according to their erroneous and falsified interpretations the christening of Abyssinia was prophesized long ago by means of the Biblical verse stating that Kush (and ‘Ethiopia’ in the Greek translation undertaken by the 70 Jewish Elders who translated the text in the royal facilities granted to them by Pharaoh Ptolemy II at Pharos Island, Alexandria) will extend its hand to the Lord.
Of course, all this is just medieval non-sense! You cannot make ‘use’ of a verse stating that another country will accept a faith, and pretend that this verse refers to you because you accepted that faith, whereas the other country did not! Either you invade it or not, you prove nothing! Whereas it is evident that there were political reasons, an ideological – theological dimension cannot be denied to that attack of Ezana. But it is a childish attempt to vindicate the Biblical prophecy for Axum. For both the Old Testament and the New Testament, Axumite Abyssinia just does not exist! The Biblical verse refers to Ethiopia, that is Sudan, and can refer to the formation of the three Christian states of Sudan, or to the later acceptance of Islam by the Kushite Ethiopians, or to something that has not happened; all these possible interpretations are of course for those who do not accept what is historically correct that the verse refers to its own historical environment, and to developments much earlier than the Christianization or the Islamization of Ethiopia.
As you know, the term has always been – throughout the Abyssinian Dark Ages – a shadowy reference to the deeds of Ezana and to the Abyssinian interpretation of the Biblical verse. But from the beginning of the Modern Colonial times, the tiny kingdom of Abyssinia that was limited in its small Amhara territory because of the Islamic Ottoman control of the Red Sea coasts became the object of Western academic Orientalist research and, in parallel, the stake of the colonial involvement and manipulation. Abyssinia could be useful – if properly manipulated – to two visions of colonial Africa that were fighting against one another, and at the same time they were cooperating in kicking the Ottoman Empire out of its vast possessions in the continent (no less than 7 million square kilometer of African soil belonged to the Ottoman Empire at the eve of Napoleon’s disembarking at Abukir – Alexandria), and in preventing other powers, mostly Germany and Italy, from getting sizable portions of the African cake!
The two visions were the horizontal and the vertical ones, or if you want the alignment with the parallels or the placement on the meridian’s way. The former expresses the French approach that Africa (or most of it) can be unified under Colonial rule through an expansion from the West to the East, from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan, and from Congo to Somalia. The opposite, British, way insisted in proving that the easiest colonial control of Africa can be assured by means of a South to North axis. Finally, the British were successful in controlling an uninterrupted territory from South Africa to Alexandria. And the French, who failed to reach uninterruptedly from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea coast or to the Eastern African coast (Djibouti and Madagascar have no land connection with the other French African dominions in Africa), were successful in controlling the major part of Africa. But the two colonial axes’ conflict was terrible. The British had to do all they could to stop French short of reaching the Eastern African coast. It was a very long project and fight; it lasted an entire century. The French were slowly advancing from the West, and they had the upper hand in Egypt. Facing an 1870 defeated France (by the Prussian army), England had still difficulties to prevail over the French in Egypt before 1882. What you see in today’s Darfur is the continuation of problems ensuing from the serious Fashoda event (19/9/1898) between the French Major J.B. Marchand and the British Lord Kitchener that brought France and England to the brink of war, just six years before they managed to set up the Entente Cordiale.
Envisioning expansion and anticipating developments, the British contacted the Abyssinian kingdom in the middle of the 19th century and attempted to convince the powerless, underdeveloped, uneducated, and isolated ruling class of Abyssinia about the importance of expansion, exploits and neighboring lands’ annexation that would permit – supposedly – the refractory court of the obscurantist kingdom to obtain power. At that moment everything was at stake, and one could not know what would come next. For the British it would be far better that the small kingdom expanded towards the south of present day Abyssinia at a moment they had not yet achieved the establishment of their ‘meridian’ axis, and they were worried because of French successes. The French could have reached – from Congo and Central Africa – the South of Sudan and from there the south of present day Abyssinia. At a later stage they would be able to vanquish the inexperienced soldiers of the old fashioned African monarchy, reducing the British vertical vision to ashes. Abyssinian expansion to the Oromo and the Ogaden lands was the work of subtle British diplomacy.
There was another trap for the 19th and the 20th century Abyssinian kings, and then fell even more easily there. French and other European scholars were visiting all these parts of Africa either as missionaries and political agents or as pioneers and decipherers. Not much time had passed until they were able to read Gueze manuscripts and to understand them better than the ignorant and uneducated monks of Abyssinia whose readings in Gueze literature were limited, derisory and contemptible. Even today the situation did not turn better! The authoritative Catholic Encyclopedia states the following about them (entry Abyssinia): ‘The oldest translation of the Bible into Ethiopian dates from the fourth century, having been made in Gheez. Pell, Platt, and Dillman have edited some of the manuscripts in London and Leipzig, but the majority remain untouched, in convents of Abyssinian monks. The present clergy are buried in a state of deplorable ignorance. Little is required of secular priests beyond the ability to read and to recite the Nicene creed, and a knowledge of the most necessary liturgical rites. The monks in their numerous convents receive an education somewhat more complete, and occasionally there are found among them men versed in sacred hermeneutics, who can recite by heart the entire Bible’.
The second trap concerns precisely the introduction by the Abyssinian authorities of the name of ‘Ethiopia’, and this has to do a lot with the French ideological and cultural plans for the entire Middle East. French, Italian, and other scholars convinced the various successive ‘Negus’ and political rulers to obliterate the name of Abyssinia and to introduce the name of Ethiopia. This would serve a multifold colonial purpose that the ignorant and naïve political class of Abyssinia could never imagine.
First of all, it would engulf Abyssinia deep into the marshes of stagnation and underdevelopment on permanent basis because lack of authenticity and cultural – national confusion is a very seminal issue. Never a country with confused identity can access important understanding, historical – political knowledge, real emancipation. This trickery would keep Abyssinia permanently as a devoted member of the Third World; truly speaking, it made of it a member of the Fourth World, i.e. the abode of starvation, pestilence and contamination. It ensured that never Abyssinian intellectuals would attempt to reassess their Axum and Gondar past through modern viewpoints in order to setup a new, genuinely modern and humanist, but also authentically Axumite Abyssinian vision of the World.
Abyssinian pretensions to the name of Ethiopia would in addition have an impact on part of the Middle East that concerned France – and consequently England, Germany, Russia, and later the USA – much more than marginal and peripheral Gondar! I refer to the area of the Arabic speaking peoples, from Morocco to Iraq, a vast area that was met with the very negative developments the French and British colonialism provoked. To extirpate illegally all these lands from their legitimate and wholeheartedly accepted ruler, the Sultan and Caliph of the Ottoman Empire, France diffused gradually a nationalist idea that was completely rejected by the local people initially: the Pan-Arabism. This falsehood was a fabricated bogus version of History that would make of the Arabic speaking peoples a nation, and would bestow upon them unbelievably exaggerated promises for wealth, development and power. By forming the elite, the French created a dynamics that was stimulated by agents, who were diffusing unprecedented hatred and confusion about the non Arabic identity of the Arabic speaking Muslims. To drive the Arabic speaking populations to advanced levels of ignorance, and be therefore able to manipulate them at will against their own interests, and their own countries, which were under the Ottoman Empire, France needed to keep them far from any serious consideration, study, and research, let alone reassessment and comprehensive use of their pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past.
Look the difference in the French colonial interference: whereas in Greece, all the intellectuals, academia, politicians and even average men were keen to learn – if they did not know – Ancient Greek, and delve into what was said to be their own past, in Egypt the first Egyptian to study, learn and be able to read Egyptian Hieroglyphics appeared no less than 100 years after the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics by Champollion! Ever since, the situation turned even worse with the Greek secondary schools offering – obligatory to all – courses of Ancient Greek, and the Egyptian miserable intellectual and academic bogus-elite daring not to introduce – even for one year – the study of Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the Egyptian Secondary education, although there are people who studied Egyptology in the University of Cairo, and they could teach.
Similar ignorance about the pre-Islamic and the pre-Christian past reigns elsewhere: in Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, etc. Why this is necessary for the colonial plans of France and England you can see relatively easily. Greece was to become part of Europe, whereas Egypt should be kept at a low level country from where colonial powers would only extract materials. Development is necessary in Europe, not in the colonized periphery. Of course, the promoting power of the Islamic radicalism, fanaticism, extremism has been France, and Europe in general. By doing their best to keep the populations of the Arabic speaking countries far from their own past (Phoenician, Aramaic, Babylonian, Egyptian, Meroitic-Ethiopian, Carthaginian and Berberic) at a moment Islam was already misinterpreted, misunderstood and ultimately lost, France and England pushed these countries to Islamic terrorism. Of course, it should be viewed as a very big plan, not something to be carried out in a year or a decade. They even intended to use Islamic terrorism against America; they already did so three years ago. In a way it is colonial France that prepared the minds and the hands of these suicide pilots of September 11th. The Anti-Americanism that Europe still generates, when intermingling with the dark ignorance and the hysteric hatred that have been well prepared for 200 years, can create an uncontainable explosive material that the Mankind will need many decades to overcome.
Then you understand that Sudan as a new country, with a past of just 48 years of independence, should not be left with any chance to be attracted by its Antiquities that were partly stolen by the bogus-academia of France, Prussia, England and other countries. The robbery of Lepsius, who transported in the 1840s colossal statues from Karima to Berlin must be denounced, and the majestic Kushitic monuments must return back to Napata, the capital of Taharqa.
Look now, for Egypt the colonial powers started their perverted work early. For the rest (from Morocco to Iraq), they had the time to advance the bogus-theory of Pan-Arabism, terribly oppressing and tyrannizing the non Arabic-speaking minorities, Berbers (in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania), Copts and Nubians (in Egypt) and Aramaeans (in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates), who are the absolute ethnic (but not linguistic) majority of all these countries. On the other hand, Sudan was so clearly unrelated to anything Arabic that the colonial powers would have extreme difficulty to divert the natural interest towards one’s past. That is why they kept Egyptians there to diffuse confusion and ignorance, along with the vulgar amalgam of Arabic nationalism and Islamic religious fanaticism, and that is why they did not wish to have the name ‘Ethiopia’ accessible for the Sudanese! It would create a dangerous challenge to the disastrous colonial plan of pulling Sudan to the backward and disastrous falsehood of Pan-Arabism.
At the end, the use of the name ‘Ethiopia’ by Abyssinia would create the oxymoron of the Abyssinians imposing their minority culture in the country they tyrannize, and at the same time imposing as theirs the name of a large part of the oppressed people, the Oromo and the Sidama. This can create only a disaster. That is why I put them in front of the real mirror of history stating what belongs to whom! And they were hysterically panicked because they know I am very correct, and they have not much time left.
VF: You are blaming Islamic extremism on colonial powers. Don’t you think that the religion’s disciple’s misinterpretation in teaching about Islam is more to blame?
Prof: I fully accept the reality of the negative developments within Islam itself. It is crystal clear that if these earlier developments had not taken place, and if the Western Colonial powers had not found, met and observed the forefathers of the present day Islamic terrorists, French and English agents, academia, intelligence and diplomats would not have got the opportunity to manipulate them further, to manage them in this disastrous way that they are not able even to detect and realize. It is certain that within Islam a gradual superposition of always more perverse, more deformed and more devious theoretical systems created a lethal environment for Lights, Philosophy, Great Ideas, Art Concepts, Knowledge and Wisdom. The greatness of the Islamic civilization was truly targeted by perverted and malignant false theoreticians and philosophers, who had totally misunderstood its nature.
Whatever was shaped a School of Interpretation around Ibn Hanbal was vicious alteration of the Spirit of Islam. On this was superimposed an even worse development, the introspective system of Ibn Taimiya, a reaction against the experience of the Crusaders. During those times no one perceived Ibn Taimiya as a threat because he was insignificant, and his theories could influence the minds of the low level, uneducated, illiterate and marginal people. But the system advanced and expanded a lot in the next three to four centuries to the prejudice of the Erudite, the Learned, and the Wise scholars of Islam who lost gradually their contact with the besotted and fanaticized masses that were guided by the Satanic sheikhs – followers of the perverted and barbaric system of Ibn Taimiya. When the Sultans and the Shahs realized that there was a problem, the locusts were already allover the place. The point of no return had already been crossed when the fanatic, ignorant and Satanic sheikhs, threatening with massive support they had gathered, obliged the Sultan to close down the observatory of Istanbul, as well as all centers of knowledge, research and creative thought. The Closing down of the Ottoman State Observatory in 1579 is the date of the real end of Islamic Civilization and of Islam itself. Following that date barbarism replaced civilization throughout Islam, and the last structures of civilization had ended approximately 100 years before the arrival of Napoleon. The Islamic World was out of competition with the West, and foreseeable future. So, you understand that the main aspect of the problem is this, I absolutely recognize that.
The same barbaric and Satanic sheikhs rule many Islamic countries today. This is either seen, as in Iran, or hidden, as in Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They want to expand their bestial antihuman system allover the world; this is what they believe when they say that Islam will be accepted throughout the planet at the end! Have no doubt that this barbarism is not Islam, and be sure that the concept of Islam prevailing allover the world had completely different meaning for great philosophers like Nezami, Ferdowsi, Tabari, Makrizi, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldoun and Mohyieldin Ibn al Arabi.
VF: You have suggested that Ethiopia is not a proper name for Abyssinians but could be used by Oromos. It is true that the name has Greek origin. In that sense, it is as foreign to Oromos as it is to the Abyssinians. If you are suggesting that the Abyssinians should not use it, why do you suggest it to the Oromos?
Prof: I did not suggest that the Abyssinians do not use it because it is a name of foreign etymology, but because it never designated them or their ancestors. I can tell you that only one participant really understood what I was saying; my initial approach was not the result or the expression of a prejudice against Amhara Abyssinians. I wished only to place them in front of history’s mirror! In simple words all my interventions were a way for me to warn the Abyssinian dictators and say the following to them in public:
– You cannot impose Abyssinian culture, education, social behavioral system, political tyranny and bogus historical dogma, and yet wish to be called ‘Ethiopians’.
– Either you have the courage to admit in public that you want Abyssinian culture, education, social behavioral system, political tyranny and bogus historical dogma imposed, and then you must have the courage of your opinion, and call all the country with a name that expresses you and only you, as dictators ruling against the will of ¾ of the country’s population,
– Or get out of Finfinne that you falsely call Addis Ababa, let the Oromos, the Afars, the Sidamas and the Ogadenis live in peace and stop tyrannizing the country that has long been plunged in pestilence, starvation, and misery because of your criminal and uneducated rulers, the likes of Zauditu.
The Oromos are a very different case; people Kushitic par excellence, the largest linguistic group of the Hamitic family of African languages, a plausible descendant of the people of Ancient Meroe, the strongest candidate to a conscious continuation of African culture and language that covers a span of 4300 years of documented history, the forthcoming Biyya Oromo can certainly be New Meroe, then the name, certainly not Kushitic but Greek in origin, can be selected because of its great historicity, and because of the Western familiarity with this term.
This is the destiny of perverted dictatorial establishments like the Abyssinian one; they are going to lose the territories that they had illegally attacked and occupied, and at the same time they are going to be deprived from the name that they had illegitimately usurped.
VF: It appears that your major point in suggesting to Abyssinians to drop the use of Ethiopia is future economic interest. The following statements were excerpted from your comments on Ethioindex. “Since Arabic is spoken in Eritrea and to a lesser extent in Abyssinia, a base for outsourcing in Mekele combining the two countries (that should not be in war) would radiate to both Eastern Africa and the Arabic speaking world; it would then cover a much larger area. Think! Wake up! Get rid of the nightmare of the ‘Unknown Ethiopia’.” “… a mythical identity shaped around a name that is foreign to Gueze and to all the modern languages of Abyssinia from Oromo to Tigray.” “… setting up a large Horn of Africa Countries Union encompassing (from North to South) Sudan, Abyssinia, Eritrea, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, and eventually Oman.” Would you elaborate on that?
Prof: No, it is not as you point out in the very beginning! The major point is not economic interest, it is social – cultural – political interest; without a clear perception of one’s identity, with much left in mystery, with much existing under oppression, with much being in conflict, the real social forces that can lead to economic development cannot be released; they are held captive of the mischief, the biased concepts, the historical falsifications, the ideological aberrations. You see all that in the dreadful face of present day Abyssinia, a country that devours its children.
On the other hand, I did speak on the ‘Unknown Ethiopia’. There is not a single person in Abyssinia, either of Semitic origin, among the Amhara and the Tigray groups, or of Kushitic origin, among the Oromos, the Sidamas, and others to have studied, absorbed, assimilated and to have identified him/herself with the past of ‘Ethiopia’, with the Greek and Roman textual sources about Ethiopia, with the Egyptian Hieroglyphic references to Ancient Kush/Ethiopia /Sudan with the archeological and epigraphic documentation, the monuments and the antiquities of Sudan. Of course, for the Semitic usurpers of the name of ‘Ethiopia’, for the quasi-illiterate Debteras of Abyssinia, it has no sense; they are absolutely alien to any element of Ethiopian civilization. The Kushitic Oromo people have not yet focused on their past, have not yet attempted a real itinerary of cultural historical identity. So, to all the peoples of present day Abyssinia, those who are related to and those who are unrelated to Ethiopia, Ethiopia remains an absolutely unknown entity.
Analyzing my text, I must tell you that I said that Ancient Ethiopian, ‘Meroitic’ is unrelated to Oromo, because although it is plausible for modern researchers to establish a link between the two languages under condition we advance in deciphering the first, this has not yet been academically undertaken, and much less concluded. I may have my suggestions, I may advance my theory, but I want to be always impartial.
Yes, I spoke ultimately about a Horn of Africa Union! But this was not the first time! Earlier this year, I published an article in the Yemen Times where I presented in a summarized form the historical presence, roots, and commitment in Eastern Africa. I suggested that Yemen quit the abominable and hilarious Arab League, an organization that attempts to impose a bogus-historical dogma, that is the existence of ‘Arab’ peoples in all its state-members, and in this way the latter reach always extreme levels of tyrannical oppression, as attested in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Assad’s Syria, in Mubarak’s Egypt, and in the most repugnant and repulsively tyrannical state in the World History, Saudi Arabia. I proposed Yemen to follow another path, a short way to Democracy, Human Rights, Multiculturalism, and Historical Authenticity. This can be found in a multipartite Horn of Africa Union where Sudan, Eritrea, Abyssinia, Somalia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and even Madagascar and Oman participate. Well, either precisely these states, if they are apt to establish the democratic structures needed or the states that may derive from the aforementioned. You know there is a great logic behind this multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious Union I call for. It is not only the historical past of Yemen that had colonized for a long period the Eastern Coast of Africa, from the Horn area itself down to Dar es Salam in present day Tanzania.
A correct understanding of the dynamics of the global world we are currently living in leads anyone to realize that only big state-units are going to survive and play a significant role in the future. A 60 or 80 million people country is not important anymore; I do not refer to Turkey and to Pakistan, but to France and Germany! If Europe does not advance according to the interests of the Franco-German axis, the two countries will abandon the Union, implementing a full fusion. For underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, Bangla Desh or Indonesia, 130 or 220 million people do not create a real market that could guarantee growth and development. If this is the situation, geographic location matters a lot!
‘Accumulating’ 160 million people in a small corner of India, and ‘unfolding’ them around a strategic area are two different situations. On the other hand, 220 million people scattered on a multitude of islands, like the Indonesian Archipelago, cannot be easily interconnected, and then communications become either slow or expensive!
The geographic location matters not only in itself but in its relationship with other landmasses and/or countries. Indonesia is the natural passage from Australia to China. This does not imply a great system of communication, since Australia may be rich but is a small 20 million people country. In addition, Indonesia is to be found at the edge of dense navigation channel, namely the Malacca Straits. On the other side of Sumatra Island, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand complete a picture. Perhaps there too, a Union between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the French Indochina countries, plus Philippines and Burma could be envisaged, but the disparities are of colossal dimensions. It is not sure at all that the leading regional financial tiger Singapore and the economically developed and advanced Malaysia and Thailand would be willing to create a commercial, economic, cultural and – even more so – political Union with poor and backward countries like Indonesia, Philippines, and Myanmar that are exposed to various religious radicalisms and extremisms (Islamic, Christian and/or Buddhist).
The geographic location of the Horn of Africa countries is very privileged indeed. From Sudan to Mozambique and from the borders of Central Africa and Congo to Oman and the Straits of Ormuz, a vast landmass and an immense sea space control a great part of the global communications and network connections. All the communications of Europe, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean worlds with Eastern Africa, India, South-East Asia, and China, and vice-versa pass from here. All the communications between the South African countries with the Middle East and Eastern Europe and vice versa also pass through there. The area is by nature the open window of the entire African continent to India. It can become the exclusive passageway between India and Europe. Furthermore, this geomorphic unit is the gateway of China to Africa that is not only a target market but the best place for the future need of China to outsource in a way to dominate the global industrial scenery. This is something we have not yet seen! Outsourcing has become a concern or a practice for America, Europe and Japan. The overheated economy of China will soon face the need for outsourcing. The Horn of Africa area is the best place for industries targeting Africa, Middle East, Europe and Russia. Odessa and Novorossiysk, for instance, are closer to Port Sudan than to Shanghai!
The combination of the geomorphic particularities, the linguistic variety, the cultural propinquity, and the common stagnant socio-economic situation, as well as the mutual desire for progress and development, change, freedom and democracy, plus the bulk of 250 million people, consist in the ingredients of a success story that the various invited peoples must express their worst self to make it impossible to come!
VF: In the list of countries in the previous question, you didn’t include either Oromia or Ethiopia. Why?
Prof: As I told you either these countries or those deriving form these!
VF: One of the most subconscious decisions of our time in the Horn of Africa region may be the process of separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia. On both sides of the border, the Tigre and the Afar peoples live. It doesn’t seem like natural separation, especially when you look at the Voices of the World map in Part III of this interview. What is striking is that Abyssinians live on both sides of the border in small pockets. Politically, they are active with young and inexperienced rebels who became leaders of their respective countries. These leaders and their intellectual supporters seem politically less conscious than a far less educated Oromo rebel leader who told the Government of Somalia, when that government asked the rebel leader to cede a part of Oromo country to Somalia, that one can not expect a person to live by cutting him at the waist. Abyssinian politicians were the major decision makers in the separation of Abyssinians of Eritrea from Abyssinians of Ethiopia. The Kushitic peoples, while excluded from the major decision making process, occupy the economic resource base of both countries. In Ethiopia, Oromos occupy a large swath of agriculturally fertile land whereas in Eritrea, the Afar people occupy the Red Sea coast. What is your observation?
Prof: You call it subconscious decision! Whose? If you name the perpetrators, you will open the Pandora’s box! Your argumentation is very true indeed! Eritrea is not an ethnic, monolithic, country. Tigrinya and Arabic are the official languages. There are Afars, and several other cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic groups. It looks like a multiculturalism laboratory! A hybrid state! It looks strange if you still live with the obsession of nation – state in the year 2004! Do not misinterpret me in this regard! I do not say that this is not the norm, and I do not say this is not good! On the contrary, it makes sense, and it is very good indeed! But it is not the only way for a state to come to existence! Of course, it is still easier – theoretically – for oppressed nations to come to independence; but not necessarily! Tiny – 5 million people – Eritrea became independent earlier and more easily than 30 million people Oromo! Perhaps there has been an invisible hand! A small state that has balanced relations with Libya and Israel in the Red Sea coast opposite to Saudi Arabia, this is not a common Middle Eastern story! You remember perhaps now better my sentence addressed to the paranoid totalitarian Amhara group of Ethioindex ‘strengths are pulled and not to your favour’! If Eritrea was easy to come to surface, then one must be sure that Biyya Oromo will be a reality shortly! I do not imply here that it would be the exclusive result of foreign involvement, but one could not deny or disregard this potentiality these days of globalization. Two factors, first the lack of Democracy and the violation of Human Rights, and second the incarceration of the country’s vital resources that would generate the most explosive boom of economic growth, would lead to the proper adhesion of the Oromo land into the global economy, call for immediate intervention into the jail called Abyssinia, a prison house of nations and nationalities.
These uneducated groups cannot understand that ruling a country in this malignant, malevolent and malefic way of theirs is not permissible anymore. As if to make a parody of a Latin poet, I would say metaphorically ‘Zauditu died, Hitler died, and Meles is gravely ill’!
The truth is that the friction between colonial, state-run France and globalizing, liberal America creates tectonic dimension events in Africa and allover the world. Nothing is going to be as it is! And in such an environment, what matters most is a people’s mobilization for its ultimate independence and self-determination, and the leaders’ shrewd mind and bold decisions.
VF: Some Eritrean scholars argue that Axum was never Abyssinian. They have said that the people of Eritrea weren’t Ethiopian or Abyssinian before their creation as a colony. What do you say to that?
Prof: Anyone can say anything! What were the people of Adulis in the Antiquity? Mexicans? Did they fall from the moon? This is particularly grave falsification of History! We have plenty of proofs about what the people of the Eritrean coast have been throughout the Ages! We have textual documentation, epigraphic evidence, and archeological monuments. What are the hawalti, the famous stelas, found on Eritrean soil? They are not quite similar to those of Axum? Is there a great difference among the inhabitants of Hawalti Melazo, and those of Axum and Yeha? What is the language of the Christian manuscripts that are kept until now in the monasteries of Eritrea? Slavic, Armenian or Tibetan? Are all these documents not written in Gueze? What may be the dialectal difference between Gueze in the coast and Gueze in Axum? The famous text of the 1st century CE ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’, written by an Egyptian Alexandrian merchant and captain, leaves no doubt that the famous harbor – port of call Adulis (nearby Massawa in today’s Eritrea) was part of the kingdom of Zoscales, who was ruling from Axum, his capital. Several centuries later, the Monumentum Adulitanum, as mentioned within the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, recreates the same environment about the Abyssinian people centered between Adulis and Axum. The Lake Tana area was out of the confines of the Christian kingdom that only later expanded over there.
The holy enclosure at Axum, and the famous hawalti monuments with the mysterious decoration; some advanced the theory that the decorative motifs make of the hawalti ‘miniatures’ of the Ancient Yemenite ‘sky-scrappers’ the multistory houses that have been preserved until today as a typical characteristic of urban architecture in Yemen.
How could they possibly be different, since they all originated from Ancient Yemen? Those living in the Red Sea coast between Adulis and Avalites (present day harbor Assab), and those living in the inland, in Coloe (as the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ mentions) or in Axum, they were all descendants of the Yemenite tribal state Habashat, whose inhabitants crossed Bab al Mandeb in many repeated waves.
What else may one say? After the explosion of Islam the inhabitants of the inland were isolated, whereas the coast dwellers intermingled with ‘Arabs’? This is wrong, because the term is biased! These ‘Arabs’ are just Yemenites, because Yemenites are very different from the Arabs in terms of ethnic origin (a distinct ethnic group, of course Semitic, but Hebrews are Semitic as well without being ‘Arabs’), language, and scripture, as well as culture and religion. The Arabs of Hedjaz went out of Arabia, but they were involved rather in land expansion, since they did not have any maritime inclination at all, quite contrarily to the Ancient Yemenites, who were experienced navigators throughout the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea. Of course, the Yemenites accepted Islam during the visit of Ali, the first imam, while the Prophet Muhammad was still alive, and they accepted Arabic as Islam’s holy language, but they did not change their non-Arabic racial and ethnic identity.
So, what is the difference between Yemenites, who moved to Axum in the year 200 BCE, and Yemenites who moved to Adulis in the year 800 CE? There is no difference at all!
Beyond that point, one must certainly accept that the isolated in the inland for centuries Abyssinians have certainly intermingled with various Kushitic populations to some extent; but there were Kushitic populations in the coast as well. So, practically speaking there was no difference, except a stronger presence of Islam and of the Arabic language in the coast. Eritrea, as a new country, cannot be justified with arguments based in Ancient and Islamic history; it can be justified in terms of Modern History, and of the free willingness of free people to set up a multicultural state entity. Free elections are needed in this regard, and I do not see in Eritrea not only free elections, but even a free Internet forum! I understand the existence of emergency, but there are limits…
If the Eritrean government believes that obeying orders emanating from groups and societies behind the political scenes is the safe way to rule a country, I believe that they had the experience of more than 10 (ten) years independence in which they did not prove their capacity to undergo structural changes and seek real development; they only proved that they entered in wars with several neighboring countries and they lost time, money and energy. They have got to change their way in the future.
VF: Interestingly, there are two camps within the Kushitic and the Abyssinian groups. Abyssinians in Eritrea and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads with each other for some time now. Some group of Oromos are viewed by the Abyssinian groups in Eritrea as a partner in their struggle whereas some Oromo groups in Ethiopia work with Abyssinian groups. Such arrangement seems to be naturally unhealthy. When Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia, it further divided the Afar people into three countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti). Almost all Oromo political groups were indifferent on this issue. One would expect that as a more closely related people to the Afar people than the Abyssinians, the Oromo would feel sympathetic more towards the Afar people than the Abyssinians. What is your opinion on this?
Prof: All that you say concerns the past, and proves that the Oromo leadership is not well experienced in the tactics of diplomacy, foreign policy, and international relations. This is not strange and this is not unique; other oppressed peoples’ leadership finds itself engulfed in worse situation, or happens to be the object of undetected manipulations. All this also testifies to a certain lack of political conscience among the average Oromo people, which again is not strange! When you are focusing on daily issues, and you are mostly concerned with oppression at the cultural and the social levels, you do not have time to consider alliances. But I would of course understand that the only target for the Oromo leadership and the Oromo people is the replacement of the Abyssinian regime in Finfinne – Addis Ababa.
VF: As you well know, Oromos are the majority in the present day Ethiopia. Sooner or later, they are going to get their full freedom. This can be viewed within two contexts. Full freedom on their land in a country called Ethiopia or total independence from a country called Abyssinia or Ethiopia. Oromo scholars are still debating on which course may be a better one for the future of the Oromo people. Some argue that Oromos should behave as the head of the family of nations in the Horn of Africa region and spearhead bringing stability and development in the region instead of overly focusing on the Oromo people’s political right only. If Abyssinians can exercise full freedom on their land in a country called Ethiopia, do you think it is a viable and more practical option for a federation or confederation arrangement?
Prof: When the independent Oromos will be determined to call their new, free, country ‘Ethiopia’, the Abyssinians will not have the possibility to call their area ‘Ethiopia’ too! There isn’t a situation with Austria no 1 and Austria no 2! They will call their area ‘Abyssinia’, ‘Amhara’, ‘Axum’ or anything else. For what may follow an independence of the Oromo, I can tell you that it will be a real earthquake, a badly needed earthquake that will damage the intruders’ interests only, and beyond that term all options are open. Sidamas, Ogadenis, the rest of the south, and eventually the Afars will be free. Possibly there will be two different states one around Axum and Mekele, and another around Gondar, for the Tigray and the Amhara. It is necessary that all the various peoples of the area enjoy their full freedom and independence first, that they better study and delve into their past second. Self-knowledge is essential, and yet so many peoples of the Horn of Africa area have been prevented from that! Well, this was the main target of the colonial criminals. So, a free life, a freedom of movement and of thought, of expression and of cult, and a Union will come later.
Look what happened in Europe! Because they separated first, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were able to meet again and become one country along with many others this time, within Europe. Modern European History proves that free consultation, free deliberations, free negotiations of free, independent, democratic peoples, citizens and leaders is the only way to a possible multicultural Europe. It is not Hitler who united Europe by imposing Germans in a totalitarian way. Oromos must disentangle from the Amhara racist curse, prove that they can arrange their affairs far better when alone, free, and independent, and then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Finfinne will consider options towards greater Eastern African designs.
VF: In one of your debates, you have suggested that Oromos will be the regional superpower and dictate the future of the Horn of Africa region. You have said that “Strengths are pulled in the Horn of Africa area, and not to your favor!”, apparently referring to Abyssinia. You have also stated that they are managed and maneuvered without their choosing. Oromo scholars do not see Oromos going beyond achieving freedom for the Oromo people. In fact, they seriously argue that Oromos should not repeat the practice we have seen in Abyssinian politics. What picture are you looking at? In other words, how and why can what you stated be possible?
Prof: Let me state that any country, small or large, new or old, can become a regional locomotive for the development and the progress; this was the meaning of my words. I did not mean it in the sense of large population, and actually if we go beyond the unavoidable splitting of both, Sudan and Abyssinia, there are still large countries in the area, having larger population than what a newly independent Oromo country is supposed to represent. Tanzania is already home to 37 million people, Kenya represents already 32 million people, big countries, you know! But what is their GDP? Their per capita GDP? Their fixed line, mobile line, Internet penetration? You understand that there are several other parameters: education, number of students, universities, foreign direct investment, balance of payments, exports/imports, economy growth, industry growth and so on. A country never becomes a leader just because of representing a large, or even the largest, population. If this were the case, we would all be ruled by China and India! But as you see these countries are not as important as the US, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia! France led the anti-US front before the Iraq war, not China! On the international scene, Italy is more important than India! Just a few days ago, when its interests were threatened in Sudan, China did not dare to veto! So, when it comes to parameters like the aforementioned, what matters is the shrewd and sharp thought, the anticipation of things to come, the conceptually rich mind, the in-depth knowledge of the issues, and consequently the introduction of highly advanced plans and viable projects of great perspective. Until now, all have plunged into the marshes of underdevelopment for various reasons, as far as Eastern Africa is concerned. It is to be hoped that a new force, a new state, with a youthful approach to politics, introduce a wide range of new concepts and ideas that the rest will have to follow and catch up with.
That the leaders of the Oromo self-determination effort do not see so far I can, of course, understand; they have to focus on present day issues, and prepare the mobilization against the tyrannical Abyssinian oppression in the present day Ethiopia itself. Fighting for freedom of expression, and freedom of vote, facing the brutal methods the Amhara/Tigray tyrannical regime attempts to employ against the oppressed masses of Oromos, Sidamas, Afars, Ogadenis and others, this is the task of the day. It is correct what you say and what Oromo liberation leaders argue, namely ‘that Oromos should not repeat the practice we have seen in Abyssinian politics’. No one wants to see another cemetery of peoples in Eastern Africa. When I said that a new Oromo country could become a regional superpower, I was speaking in terms of a locomotive of development, of a multipartite, multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic way to common progress and peace.
How this will be achieved? Certainly through education, culture and political mobilization. The formation of a young class of specialists and technocrats able to run a modern country, not an archaic dysfunctional replica of today’s Abyssinia, the preservation and the cultivation of the Oromo culture and the study of the Kushitic – Oromo past, always interconnected with modern, fresh approaches to and concepts of the Humanities, and the general political mobilization that will enhance the sensitivity in terms of the African solidarity, against the only African colonial regime – that of the Abyssinian tyrants – and against the Western democratic involvement, these are the aspects of the triptych of the Oromo liberation and ultimate independence.
Of course, one must expect a great Western interest, but one must rely on one’s own forces, effort, and commitment. You are right to notice my reference to foreign involvement against Abyssinia. This archaic structure of state must not be permitted to exist; it consists in such a flagrant rejection of the concept of the human progress towards Humanism and Democracy that it cannot be allowed to develop its Christian Monophysitic religious extremism anymore. No one wants a Monophysitic – heretic – Christian Khomeini rule from Gondar, Axum or Addis Ababa in order to propagate the forthcoming fight between his ‘Jesus’ and a supposed Anti-Christ. More and more people in the correct positions in America understand that religious fanaticism is a problem, whether it comes from Saudi Arabia or from Abyssinia. It is always criminal whether Ossama bin Laden mobilizes ignorant people to kill Westerners or Abyssinian Debteras drum up ignorant, starving people to attack Christian Catholic or Protestant monks in Abyssinia. Obscurantism runs high, and thousands of valuable Gueze manuscripts – totally incomprehensible to the quasi-illiterate Monophysitic monks of Abyssinia – are out of reach for any serious Western scholar because of the Amhara Debteras’ fear that the Western scholars will unveil negative points of the Axumite/Gondar medieval rulers!
VF: It seems that your interest is to make Abyssinians, in particular, and the Horn of Africa region, in general, face east toward the Middle East and Indo-China instead of inside out or west toward Africa and the West. You seem to attach future economic interest to this view. From history’s perspective, there is certainly less reason for the Kushites to face the Middle East and beyond than for the Abyssinians. Politically, it appears that the Middle East is still characterized by mythology than reality. It is a region that still preaches in only one language. In this sense, the Middle East may be in its Dark Age and trailing behind Africa. If the Abyssinians were to face toward the Middle East, doesn’t that cause some friction among the group that would prefer to face the Middle East versus the group that would prefer to look inside out or face toward Africa and the West?
Prof: First, historically speaking, the Kushites always expressed an interest for the Middle East and the Mediterranean World. Egypt had a lot of interests in the Aegean, in Cyprus and in Palestine. Ethiopian Meroe was in continuous contact with the Roman world, a statue’s head of Octavian Augustus was found at Meroe itself (present day Bagrawiyah in Sudan), embassies were constantly exchanged, stylistic architectural influences seem apparent either in the imperial baths at Meroe or at the so-called ‘Roman kiosk’ temple of Naqa, just to mention a few indications, and then in the Atlas North-Eastern African region, Hamitic Berbers intermingled with Carthaginians. Later on, the contacts between the Kushitic Christian state of Makkuria, the middle of the three Christian Sudanese kingdoms, had certainly strong contacts with the Greek Patriarchate at Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, since it introduced both Greek language as holy, religious language, and Makkurian language (a later form of Meroitic), written in Greek characters, as administrative language. All this testifies to great exposure to and exchange with the Middle East and the Mediterranean world.
Although this is the case, I did not actually call for a shift of interest of the Horn of Africa countries towards the Middle East, instead of another direction, let it be the rest of Africa. And actually I do not believe such a perspective; there is so much to be done in the Horn of Africa area, such infrastructure that is missing, that all the interest must be directed introspectively in the predefined Horn of Africa Countries Union area. For every local people and tribe it will be an extroverted attitude and interest extended up to the borders of the vast union that has the size of Brazil (around 8.2 million square kilometer), and for all together it will be an introverted interest expressed within the entire area! Major projects can be undertaken at the level of construction, communications, industrial development, education, tourism, services and so on. So the interest should focus on this regional development. By lowering up to annihilating taxes among the member states, one will create an initial tendency that could be accentuated by big projects in construction and education that will have great countries of the world involved here. The area must act as a center of radiation, and this is not going to happen by means of reference to other areas, be they the Middle East, India or Europe.
You say that the Middle East still preaches in one language, and that is wrong of course. Well, your statement is correct only partly. Turkey is the center of the Middle East, Iran is the second most important Middle Eastern country, Pakistan is also Middle East, and Israel is finally there since 1948! You cannot advance anymore the trash colonial theory of French academia and diplomats, namely the erroneous approach that equates the Middle East with the Arabic-speaking countries! The four most important powers of the Middle East are not Arabic speaking! It makes therefore no sense to speak about Arabic-speaking countries as representative of the Middle East. If you want to refer to the tyrannical imposition of Arabic language throughout the so-called Arabic speaking countries, something that results from the 2-century long colonial brainwash campaign named ‘Arab nationalism’, of course I agree that it is very negative, it brings only disastrous results, and it cannot be taken as a model. But the Middle East is not the realm of the Arabic ideology debased and tyrannical regimes. They are only part of the Middle East! Turkey can certainly be taken as a model in many aspects by the Horn of Africa countries. Can you imagine that in all the Arabic speaking countries, the realm of the so-called ‘Arab world’, fewer books are annually translated from all the languages of the world into Arabic than in Greece from all the languages into Greek. And yet, tiny 10 million people Greece is a very mediocre European country! Comparison with Turkey would also be disastrously prejudicial to the so-called ‘Arabs’! How do you expect me to suggest something like that, since I repeatedly published articles demanding the stipulation of Aramaic as national language in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, the introduction of Coptic in the schools throughout Egypt, and the imposition of several official languages in Sudan? I equally published articles in favor of the preservation of Soqotri and Mehri, successive forms of Ancient Yemenite languages, in Yemen…
Neither in Abyssinia nor in Sudan should there be a friction among Africano-centrists and Middleasterno-centrists! Both, Sudan and Abyssinia, as well as all the possible countries that may come to free and independent life after the potential splitting of these two old colonial schemes, plus all the other countries of the Horn of Africa Union, as well as Yemen, Oman, Mozambique, and Madagascar, are – and must feel they are – an entirely different area, a vast middle zone between Africa, Asia, India, the Middle East and the rest of the world. This will bring them closer to each other, and closer to success.
VF: In line with the previous question, one of the serious confusions many people have is the failure to make distinction between a name that identifies a person’s roots and a name that may identify that person with his/her faith. For instance, you could have been named Erol, a name that describes your Turkish identity and follow your faith. What is your opinion on this?
Prof: Erol is a name that identifies the linguistic identity of a person, showing automatically that the name bearer is a Turk. Since most of the Turks accepted Islam, it means that the person in question is a Muslim. But it is not a usual Muslim name like Ali, Hassan, Hussein, Muhammad, Abdullah or Nasraddin! As far as I am concerned, I belong to the happy few who have chosen their own religion, and their own name. I was born Christian, and baptized Cosmas, a name meaning in Greek ‘the person that belongs to the World’. Cosmas was an excellent travel companion for 37 years, and let me discover a great Aramaic Nestorian monk, merchant, traveler, erudite and theoretician, the famous 6th century author of a ‘Christian Topography’, Cosmas Indicopleustes, the ‘Indian navigator’ as his surname suggests. His Christian Topography is valuable for the history of many countries of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean from Egypt and Eritrea to Yemen and Sri Lanka. After a certain moment, my historical studies led me to a complete rejection of Christianity, in the same approach with that of the famous French scholar Robert Ambelain, whose renowned ‘Heavy secrets of Golgotha’ has become a point of reference. I renounced Christianity, and since the mention of the religion was obligatory on the Greek citizens identity cards, I became for many years a Greek citizen ‘with no religion’; needless to add that I was never atheist. Later on, when I was 37 years old, I accepted Islam officially – although I had already been a real Muslim believer for about two years – and then I selected my current two names that, of course, mean a lot to me. ‘Cosmas’ had accomplished a long circumnavigation, and it was an excellent vehicle! It kept being somewhat representative, you know! In a way, I have always belonged to the cosmos! But all this is a personal affair, and I never tried to show myself as an example for others. Two things are sure: first, Islam was a great civilization; and second, I feel identical with the most fundamental philosophical, theoretical, artistic and literary, cosmological and esoteric approaches of Islam. But as I said, this is important to me, and only to me. The universal spheres of Mohyieldin Ibn al Arabi are a decorous beauty that I do not want to miss! Do not think that Islam is hedjab, five prayers per day, prohibition of alcohol and premarital sex, and zakat! The rigorous stereotypes of fanatic, uncultured and quasi-illiterate sheikhs do not express the real Islam at all. They represent the decadence and the deformation I referred to earlier.
Within the text of the Christian Topography, we find a map of the ‘Oikoumene’ (the inhabited world) as designed by Cosmas Indicopleustes. The Nile is named Gihon, quite biblically, the Mediterranean is called ‘Roman Gulf’, the Red Sea (as ‘Arabic Gulf’) and the Persian Gulf are depicted as of the same size. Around the three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe, flows the Ocean of Soft Waters, and at the extreme East (right) is located the Eden, the Paradise. According to the Cosmas Indicopleustes’ theory, the surface of the earth is not round (as it was believed, when the geocentric system prevailed, and the earth was not viewed as a sphere), but an oblong rectangular. Following this approach, Cosmas Indicopleustes developed the theory that the Universe is not a Sphere (as believed earlier by all the people of the world), but a polyhedron with a hemi-cylindrical upper part – precise copy of the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant.
VF: In Ethiopia, some people say when we encounter some adversaries from afar, we fight them together. When we do not have them, we fight each other. The resistance movement during Italy’s occupation of present day Ethiopia from 1935 to 1941 is a case in point. Obviously, some of your views were not welcome on Ethioindex forum and some participants considered your views as an adversary’s views. In your debate on that forum, did you at any point sense this?
Prof: You are right for the past, things happened as you certainly know very well, and as you say. But perhaps one could come up with a strong criticism about that attitude, when expressed by the Oromo political leadership that missed eventually an opportunity to reach independence, and get rid of the Abyssinian group’s tyranny, as performed under the rule of Haile Selassie. But the situation is not reproduced today! I am glad to report that to the hysterical and paranoiac reactions of the uneducated, uncultured and ignorant Abyssinian participants on the forum, the support, the repeated thanks, the apologies for the participants’ barbarism, the enthusiastic backing, and the overwhelming encouragement expressed from the part of representatives of the oppressed and tyrannized Oromos, Sidamas, Ogadenis, Afars and others drove me to the conclusion that I had to keep writing and diffusing knowledge, which is a need for these people, and a mission for me, while being very much hated by the insulting, pathetic, ill-mannered Abyssinian participants!
After the Medrek forum moderators have been attacked by this ill-mannered participants for allowing oppressed Oromos and others express their opinion and their rightful indignation against the criminal, dictatorial, and alien Abyssinian regime, the moderators reacted in a way that I found at least very strange and unjustifiable. They offered positions of moderator to many participants, of course of all origins, Oromo, Tigray, Amhara, and they accorded them the possibility to delete articles and threads at will! Of course, an opposite moderator would have the possibility to re-publish the deleted – rather hidden – text! But this issue raised two problems. First, there would be a technical problem, you would see your article hidden, contact a ‘friendly’ moderator, and ask him to unhide it! This is not practical, and this is not serious for adults.
Even worse, there is a great ethical problem that not a single serious and unbiased person in the world would accept. By appointing ignorant and ill-mannered people – and these were exclusively Amhara besotted insulters – as moderators, you offer them the possibility to delete a serious in-depth historical analysis, and universally accepted academic conclusions that are not allowed in dictatorial, backward, and obscurantist Abyssinia, because if they were, they would destroy completely the tenebrous falsehood that these brainwashed Abyssinian participants believe. The eventuality that these people delete a scholarly opinion equals to the potentiality that in the year 2004 you accept a new … Hitler! Well, we just cannot accept any other Hitler anymore! This is all! I therefore stopped even visiting that website, and I do not intend to change my opinion.
I have my feedback whatsoever! Many people write straight to me either to thank me for my contributions, to ask various questions, and/or to express their deep curse against the Cemetery-of-Peoples Abyssinia, the worst Hell on the surface of the Earth, the last apartheid in Africa. I came, therefore, to know that the situation worsened, dozens of serious articles have been deleted, learned participants have been banned, and the rotten-minded moderators delete every article that makes a reference to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a serious and respectable website that is an excellent source of knowledge (entry ‘Abyssinia’) about the crimes perpetrated in Abyssinia against Christian priests, monks, researchers and missionaries. It is a disgrace and a source of contamination for all the world, and I do not intend to leave it like that. The state of Abyssinia must express in public its apologies to the rest of the world for having deliberately executed devoted researchers, who intended to study and publish valuable Gueze manuscripts that the illiterate Monophysitic Debteras keep hidden in their heretic monasteries. But, what is written in these manuscripts? That the Anti-Christ is an Amhara?
To describe the entire situation I faced in Ethioindex in just one sentence, I would say that the Amhara participants reacted as if I unveiled their crime or – even worse – as if I caught them in flagrante delicto; it is not actually less than a crime what they have done so long! Usurping another ethnic and national name is a criminal act. If Sudan was not disoriented into the Pan-Arabic falsification and diverted into the ‘Arab-Islamic’ (anti-Islamic) terrorism, Khartoum would have certainly demanded the immediate stop of use of the usurped name of Ethiopia.
Actually, only two potential pretenders to the name of ‘Ethiopia’ exist, namely Sudan – as the place that was called by that Ancient Greek name – and the people of Oromo – as the majority among the plausible descendants of the Ancient Ethiopian Meroites. Perhaps, following developments in both Sudan and Abyssinia, the Arabic speaking Meroites of Sudan, and the Meroitic origin Oromos may find their common origin and meet each other in the search of the glorious past of Ethiopia to which they both have right of inheritance. With the other peoples of Sudan getting first their independence, in the South the Dinka and the Nuer, in the West the Fur and the Hausa – speaking people, in the North the Nubians, and in the East the Beja, the Arabic speaking Meroites could make a long-term alliance with the Oromo, search and find their own Kushitic identity, and finally identify themselves as real Africans.
VF: As you may very well know, the friction between religions of the Middle East, not the religions per se, is a major problem in that region. In fact, this friction seems to have reached The Sudan and in some people’s views, it is a concern for the countries of the Horn of Africa. In one of your communications with a participant on Ethioindex, you mentioned “… it seems that the days of the rising crescent disturb your mental functions! After the full moon, you will recover to some extent.” I believe the Quran teaches that in the end, all the peoples of the world will believe in Islam? Your statement appears in line with this teaching. Would you explain what you mean?
Prof: Well, I understand your question, but I do not understand your quotation! I was speaking to a lunatic Amhara fanaticized participant on Ethioindex’s forum, and I was hinting that his exacerbated case of hysteria will calm down after the full moon, which is what doctors say for cases of lunatic people. It seems that their worst time is the first half of the lunar month. This is unrelated to the issue of the moon as a symbol among Muslims, and also unrelated to the problematic role that misinterpreted beliefs and manipulated faiths play in fanaticizing masses in many parts of the World. Christian fanaticism runs high in America, in Europe, in Russia, Hindu fanaticism has become very perilous in the subcontinent and in Sri Lanka, Zionist Jews are very fanatic too, and the phenomenon concerns Thailand, Japan, and other places of the world. If you only count how many people wait a Messiah, Jesus, Mahdi, Maitreya, and other mythical figures – or misinterpreted historical figures, which makes no difference – said to come for a second time to save the world (from God only knows what !!!!), you realize that the entire Mankind is very close to the edge.
What you say is true and wrong, or rather misinterpreted (not you personally – I mean Muslims and all sorts of other religious thinkers and interpreters), at the same time. You say that ‘the Quran teaches that in the end, all the peoples of the world will believe in Islam’. But this sentence misinterpreted by a Muslim may be taken as meaning that at the end all the Jews will reject Judaism in order to accept Islam, admitting it was not correct to do it earlier! Or that they should (‘must’, ‘will’, ‘have to’ – any verb you like) be forced to accept Islam. From this point start problems originating from Muslim false believers. On the other hand, the same sentence misinterpreted by a Jew makes him say that this sentence proves that Islam is a violent religion of the sword that oppresses minorities to extinction, having no respect for the other, advancing totalitarian approaches, and necessitating therefore very hard tackling. Similar misinterpretations may occur in the case of other inter-religious relationships.
But perhaps the teaching of the Quran that at the end, all the world will be Islamic may only signify a peaceful world in which, originating from different and even conflicting backgrounds, various people may ultimately reach a common understanding of the same true monotheistic principles that have been encapsulated in all the backgrounds and in all the religions. In a way that one, being perfect Buddhist, may be also an excellent Muslim without even understanding it.
VF: Waaqeffanna (an Oromo wisdom tradition), Christianity and Islam are the three major doctrines that the Oromo people follow. To the extent that all these doctrines may be wisdom traditions, some people view that Waaqeffanna is an answer to the Oromos for the challenge of the wind of friction between the religions of the Middle East. This is especially supported by some relationships between Waaqeffanna and the other two religions. A recent study by Dr. Marco Bassi of Bologna University in Italy suggests that Oromo religion is monotheist and similar to Christianity and Islam. Another scholar of the 17th Century, M. de Aimeida had the following to say: “the Gallas (Oromo) are neither Christians, moors nor heathens, for they have no idols to worship.” Both the Bible and the Quran have excellent references to Kush. In Amos 9:7, it is said “aren’t you like the people of Cushite to me, O people of Isra’el”. Also Prophet Mohammad has said Ethiopia is the land of the righteousness wherein no one is wronged. Obviously, one of the major achievements of both Christianity and Islam are to tend to monotheism. Based on these facts, there is some theory that goes both prophets may have been inspired by Cushitic world outlook. It seems that it is based on such background that Oromos see value in Waaqeffanna. What is your opinion on this?
Prof: First of all, I do not accept at all the concept of Christianity as a monotheistic religion! The trinity is a typical polytheistic concept, and more precisely it originates from Mithraism, the Persian origin religion that prevailed throughout the Roman Empire in the 2nd and the 3rd century CE, before many of its basic doctrines were passed on to Christianity. Mithras is One and Three at the same time, Mithras is born on the 25th of December, of course in a Cave, with shepherds attending. Mithras comes to the world by means of an immaculate birth, Mithras performs miracles, Mithras offers a Last Supper, Mithras is sacrificed to save the Mankind by means of His blood, and then to be resurrected, and even ascended to the Skies. On the other hand, a vast polytheistic influence has been exercised over Christianity by Isidism, the complex and vast system of Isiac cults and beliefs that were turning around the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Aset (in Greek Isis). Isis is Mother of God, and even at a pictorial level the Christian Virgin with the Infant resembles Isis with Harpocrates (Greek form of the Isis’ child’s name ‘Horus the Child’, in Egyptian Hieroglyphics ‘Hor pa Hered’). All this is only a partial and brief enumeration of related arguments.
Ptolemy XII presents his offerings to Horus and Isis of Philae on the eastern half of the second pylon of the Isis temple at the ‘island of the end’ as signifies in Ancient Egyptian the name of the island (‘pa irek’). The Egyptian name became the object of phonetic confusion among the Greeks of the Ptolemaic years, who called the island Philae, hinting at the presence of the Egyptian priestesses of Isis as ‘friends’ (in Greek ‘philae’). Philae, at 5km distance in the south of Aswan, was the last non Christian operating temple, and was closed by specific decree of Justinian as late as 540 CE.
So, the Hebrew religion, Judaism, Islam, Waaqeffanna, many other currents within several religions can be taken monotheistic and aniconic, but not Christianity.
I accept that Waaqeffanna is a monotheist Weltanshauung, but I cannot at the present state of related research and knowledge call it ‘religion’. A theoretical system of popular beliefs is far from being a religion. The quintessence of the religion is an understanding, interpretation, and identification of the Holy; it constantly implies holy places, sacred objects, temples and priests. Even within Islam, despite the fact that it was explicitly preached by Prophet Muhammad that priests are prohibited, the professionalized faith led to the creation of schools, and organizations reproducing all these useless and fake sheikhs that preach terrorism and ultimately desecrate Islam. One can say by now that Islam has been completely Christianized.
Now because various – known and unknown – developments led the Kushitic Oromos to the monotheistic and aniconic conceptualization of the faith, we cannot be led to the conjecture that aniconic cult and monotheism were typically Kushitic. Ethiopian Meroe was particularly polytheistic, and the religious impact of Hamitic Egypt on the early Kushitic phases of civilization with epicenter at Kerma and at Napata was polytheistic. Of course, there were great schools of monotheism in Egypt, the Hermupolitan and the Heliopolitan dogmas and systems are of strong monotheistic inclination, contrarily to the Memphitic and the Theban systems, a great monotheistic rise of Aton occurred in the 14th century BCE with Akhenaton and Nefertiti at its top, but all this does not allow us to say that the Egyptians were monotheistic. The same concerns the Ancient Ethiopians, the Kushites, whom the Ancient Egyptians considered as highly experienced Black Magic practitioners! Of course, we can find some monotheistic elements among the Meroites, but this does not lead to a conclusion that ‘Kushites were typically monotheistic’.
The same is also true for the Semitic peoples; we attest early Semitic monotheism in Mesopotamia already during the 3rd millennium BCE. We have strict Assyrian monotheism in Nineveh during the Sargonid times (722 – 625 BCE), and we have explicit Babylonian polytheism during the Nabonid times (625 – 539 BCE). The same is correct for the Indo-Europeans, we have monotheistic Zoroasterian Persians during the Achaemenid times (550 – 330 BCE), and we have polytheistic and monotheistic tendencies in Greece.
Speaking about Prophets, I believe that what characterized their minds were a concept and a principle; it was always a matter of mental abstract procedure of perceiving the idea and the essence of the Divine in a totally monotheistic way. I do not believe that cultic, social and ideological data mattered to them and their intellectual endeavors. Prophet Eliyah may well have known details about the Egyptian monotheism of Aton, as introduced by Pharaoh Akhenaton, an entire historical phenomenon to which Moses and the Exodus seem to be an emanation and a continuation, but we cannot afford to say that Eliyah was inspired by that fact. We have full proof that the prophetic thought is a high level abstract conceptualization, not an inspiration due to earlier events. The early priestly monotheistic perception of the Creation, as attested in some Assyrian – Babylonian, Hittite and Egyptian holy texts, seems also to be a matter of abstract conceptualization. Later literary, religious, and ideological compilations were not.
Finally, there is no such a system of thought as ‘Kushite monotheism’ or ‘Semitic monotheism’ or ‘Indo-European monotheism’. Monotheism is monotheism; the cultural environment may vary but matters very little. Akhenaton, Solomon, and Sinakherib as rulers, and the editors of the ‘Egyptian Book of the Hours’, of the Assyrian Messianic Epic ‘Etana’, of the Hermetic ‘Poimandres’ (the first book said to be written by God Himself, this time not by Allah but by Hermes Trismegistus), and of the books of Jonah, of Daniel and of Tobias, as well as Thales, Pythagoras and Socrates, as authors and conceptual thinkers, are all very close to one another.
VF: As a follow up question to your answers above, it is true that monotheism is monotheism as you very beautifully put it. At the same time, how it was conceptualized and has been adhered to matters. In your answers to one of the questions in Part II, you wrote: “Without Akhenaten’s religion there would never have been a certain Moses – Musa.” In a 2001 article, John Graham, a Canadian who worked for an NGO in Ethiopia and also wrote extensively on the cultural history in Ethiopia, reported the following: “Moses, for one, is said to have derived his monotheist beliefs from the example of Waaqa [equivalent of God – hence Waaqeffanna]. As with Moses, the staff is a sacred object for the Waaqa followers.” By staff, he was referring to Bokku, a stick like object, held by any Oromo leader, and Kalacha, a rare spiritual symbol kept by Oromo Qallus – spiritual leaders. There was a question in Part III regarding Kiya’s description. She was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton; some Egyptians believe he was the first person to conceptualize monotheism. The description of her name has a striking sentiment with the words meaning in Oromo language. Are we looking here at some visible dots and connections of history? What does this indicate to you?
Prof: There is a difference; with the Exodus dated at the times of Merenptah, Akhenaton antedates Moses approximately120 years; we can safely claim that the great grandfather of Moses lived at the times of Akhenaton. There is a continuation of ideas, ideological and philosophical, theological and literary approaches, their social events ensuing from one another. The ‘white terror’ of the restored Amun Theban polytheism, as practiced by rulers controlled by or expressing the Theban priesthood, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, Seti I and Ramses II, was awful for the monotheistic party of Egypt during all that time between the collapse of the Amarna monotheism of Akhenaton and the Exodus. Under Moses many Egyptians left along with the Hebrews! So, we can say that without Akhenaton there would be no Moses.
Now comparing the rise (or restatement) of a monotheistic religious system among fugitive masses in the desert and solitude of Sinai with a monotheistic Weltanschauung of a settled community in the African pasturelands, when various peoples and languages are involved, is – I am afraid – seems farfetched. Furthermore, there is a period of no less than 3000 years that separates the two systems of thought and belief! It leads to generalizations that help nobody.
VF: As another follow up question to the previous question, it is true that there is no prophet from the Oromo people. Some Oromos have asked why and one of the explanations is that no Oromo got order from God to be His messenger or no Oromo was willing to shoulder the responsibility of being God’s messenger. As you stated above, what is in religion is the true monotheistic principles. In this sense, isn’t religion a belief system? Where is the demarcation between what is religion and what is not? If all the people believe in monotheism and that will make them Muslim as you said and supposing that Waaqeffanna was monotheist long before Islam, it would mean that a Muslim is a Waaqeffata according to your rationale. Is this fair rationale?
Prof: Well, if we limit it within Hebrew religion, Judaism, and Christianity environment, you are right, no prophet originated from the Oromo people. But if we apply the Islamic approach, it is not quite sure! According to Islam, there have been several unknown or unidentified prophets at all times and allover the world. Of course this statement concerns the period before the last prophet, Muhammad, who has been described as the Seal of the prophets, but however! It enlarges the realm of the prophecy tremendously! To give you an example, it can mean that Akhenaton was a prophet, and/or that an unknown average fellow of that – or any other – period before the prophet Muhammad could have been a prophet without any other person understanding it. So, in this case, there may have been a Kushite prophet.
Then you ask me whether a belief system is a religion or not. Well, it is certainly not! Religion implies certainly cult. If you strip a religion from its cult, then there are not religious acts, ceremonies, procedures, litanies, all the action goes away! What is left is an ideology, a philosophy, a Weltanschauung, a belief system as you say, but then the ‘religion’ would look like the philosophical schools of Thales, Pythagoras, and others!
However, from all the rest, I retain the exchange of terms, Muslim and Waaqeffata. Names do not matter that much, I believe! What arrived as system first is certainly Islam I believe. From 370 CE (fall of Meroe and dispersion/departure of the great majority of the Meroite – Ethiopians) to 622 CE (explosion of Islam), you have got just 250 years! It is impossible that from a polytheistic system turning around Apademak, Amun, Isis, Horus and other Meroitic and Egyptian gods, within 250 years, the ancestors of the Oromos, errant around the banks of Blue Nile, shifted to a monotheistic system without idols. This necessitates a greater span of time, and a virtually different natural environment, I mean settlement far from the Nile. But what comes first and what comes second does not mean much! What matters is diachronic presence of the same ideals.
VF: So, do you consider Scientology as a religion or not?
Prof: The subject is vast, when it comes to anything that goes from the behavioral social system, the popular beliefs, the religion, the ideology, the philosophy, and the secret societies of initiation. You understand that I classify Scientology among the latter! When we refer to secret societies, let it be understood very well, we do not mean societies, associations and organizations that are totally unknown, and their existence is known only to members. And we do not mean of course the secret services of a country.
Secret societies are known associations, organizations, lodges and/or ateliers with their locals publicly known, but their members undisclosed (usually with the exception of few), their hierarchy unidentified and possibly unrevealed even to a great part of the membership, and their ideas, beliefs, eventually ritual practices, cultic acts, ceremonies and litanies hermetically secret in the sense that something ‘holy’ cannot be revealed to ‘dogs’ as they were saying in the Antiquity. It is not just philosophical elitism like that of Cicero, for instance!
You do not need to refer to Scientology, a recent group initiated by Ron Hubbard, to speak of secret societies. There are plenty of them allover the world, and it has always been like this! Of course, some of them do not accept the appellation of secret society for themselves, stating that they are ‘open’, newcomers can easily join, and things like that, but of course this is nonsense, since when you ask them to reveal their upper hierarchical level teachings, ideas, ceremonies, initiations, rites, clothes, symbols and the like, they refuse to do so. This is secrecy, whether they like or not. Certainly the important and powerful among the secret societies, the most historical and traditional ones that rely on secret transmission through young apprentices’ initiation, do not bother at all if you call them ‘secret society’ or not. But the newer societies do not want to be characterized by an ambivalent word that may make many people reluctant to join, depriving therefore the expansion of the pyramidal structure that needs large base and many disciples. But, of course, they are wrong, because nonsecret societies are for instance political parties, non governmental organizations, cultural associations and the like, since they state their entire ideological system, belief, approach and interests to all openly without any restriction or initiation.
The famous Templars – the ferocious threat to Papal power at the times of the pyramids, the Hashashin Ismailiyah and their Old Man of the Mountain – mentioned even by Marco Polo, the Cathars – a survival of the Late Antiquity Gnosticisms, the Great Eikonomachoi, the rejecters of the icons within the Eastern Roman Empire who shook that state for more than 100 years until the final and tyrannical imposition of the icons at 842 CE, the Rosicrucians, the Free Masons, the Jesuits, and several other organizations, the Opheitai (Snake symbolists) of ancient Alexandria, the colleges of priests in several ancient Egyptian temples like those at Philae, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Denderah, the Chaldaic Priesthood of Late Antiquity Babylonia, the priestly college of Ishtar of Arbil in Assyria, the Persian and Roman Mithraic secret societies, the Egyptian Isiac mysteries as enacted by the Isis secret societies throughout the Roman Empire, the Hermetists of the Late Antiquity and the European Middle Ages, the Islamic times Alchemists, so many groups, some extinct, some surviving, some disguised under varying appellations, consist in the Dark Side of the Moon, as far as History of the Mankind is concerned. And Shakespeare spoke symbolically about his beloved ‘Dark Lady’…
What does it mean therefore, if one group, society or party practices a really undisclosed religion? Well, here one should first make clear that it is quite possible that a secret society has only political scope of activities, focuses exclusively on financial issues, or represents a number of people with strong conviction and faith in an ideological and philosophical system that they do not want to make it publicly known in order to avoid attacks, rejection, secession and /or alteration.
In all these cases the secret society has nothing to do with a religion, absolutely nothing. However, if the society practices a cult, introduces rituals, fixes holy days, and carries out specific ceremonies and litanies during these ‘holy’ days, deploying therefore the entire spectrum of a religious performance, then we have to do with a segregated religion known only its few, selected and initiated disciples and followers.
To respond straight to your question, I will simply say that I do not know whether Scientology belongs to one of the three former categories or to the latter type, in which case of course it would be a religion. ‘Modern religious and ideological groups’ is not my field…
VF: I think there are two kinds of people who live in this world: those who understand it and those who just live in it. Unfortunately, the latter are plenty and noisy. And I think you are one of the few in the former kind. With the greatest appreciation, thank you Sir.
Prof: But it was always like this! In the days of Shabaka, Qore at Napata and Pharaoh at Thebes, and in the days of Arkamani, Qore at Meroe, in the days of the free Gada congress participants, and in the days of tenebrous and lugubrious Abyssinian ruling class oppression. Thank you for your invitation to your well documented, much enlightening, and much promising website. I believe that, thanks to the work of people like you, the Voice of Finfinne will be heard to the four corners of the world, will resonate within every Oromo and every illuminated person of this world, and will ultimately be imposed in its correct location, eliminating the antihuman fabrication of ‘Addis Ababa’.
Thanks to pioneers and vanguard intellectuals like you, the world came to know that, in your great country, Finfinne means the land of the Living People whereas Addis Ababa signifies the Hell of the Dead.
The present interview is herewith available in attachment.