Ethiopia: Egypt Copt’s Centuries-Old ‘Unholy Aggression Against Holy Place’

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Religious fathers proposed government’s intervention to save one of world’s sacred places of Christianity, Deir al-Sultan Monastery, which they also said is on brink of collapse.

The holy site owned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) according to the fathers is lone representation of black people despite contraction due to years of scramble by other denominations of Christianity.

Recently, the holy place has come to the spotlight once again as clash broke out between Israeli forces and Egypt’s Coptic church on planned renovation works to renew the roof of the monastery. Later, EOTC holy Synod has condemned Egypt’s Coptic Church attempt to mislead the Arab world and influence Israel aiming to prevent the renovation decision.

The Synod also expressed disappointment over Egypt’s unfounded claim of ownership in what it said unfounded and fabricated one.
While Egypt has tried to halt Israel’s move of refurbishing the heritage, renovating the roof according to religious fathers, is a must do task to save the sole holy acquisition of the black Christian community in the monastery.

“Without the holy place, Ethiopia’s history would be incomplete,” says a religious father under the condition of anonymity, adding that:” the place has deep connections since the visit of Queen of Sheba.”It was granted to Queen of Sheba by King Solomon and has remained to be Ethiopia’s holding ever since.”
Various documents show that when the Egyptian took control of Jerusalem as Ottoman surrogates, (1831-1840) compounded by a plague that claimed the lives of Ethiopian monks and nuns in 1838 may have opened loopholes to Egyptians to secure the gate’s key (Negussay Ayele (n/d), Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World).
“What other claimants have been doing was inhuman, unholy and distortion of facts,” as to the source.

The place in fact is one of the holist ones for Christianity, but the reality is a far cry.

It has been in precarious condition especially in the part of Ethiopia’s section.

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Due to the “Status Quo” – the controversial 1852 decree, issued by the then-Ottoman rulers of Jerusalem, to put an end to the arguments, innovation works become difficult, he adds.

“The options are now either to let it collapse or renovate the site. There must be a breakthrough in the deadlock. We should not set back and see the sacred place breaking up. “

The place has long been in precarious condition that it is even hard to liturgical processions. To the contrary, the Egypt’s section is by far in better condition, he noted, adding: “Our former fathers had tried to protect the place.”

Later the church failed to assign multilingual and knowledgeable fathers who can handle and manage this important possession, according to him.
To make matters worse, while the Ethiopia’s government was doing nothing about it, Egyptian government, though knows the fact that the monastery belongs to Ethiopians, has been nationalizing the issue, as to the source.

“Discussions should be held at government levels involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Israel.” There is nothing the church can do about it. Now the highest responsibility rests on Israeli government to save the place.”

Ethiopia has uncontested right but Egyptian have forcibly been trying to forfeit its ownership which saw the size diminishing over time, says Aba Yohannes Worku, a theologian and Scholar of Intellectual History and Cultural Studies.

“I personally witnessed the situation of Ethiopian monks and nuns in Dier al-Sultan. It’s heartbreaking, to say the least.”

The Egyptian monks are well aware that the site does not belong to them. It historically belongs to Ethiopia who has been there since time immemorial. But the Copt’s conspiracy has been there for well over centuries to weaken Ethiopia’s ownership of the sacred place, he argues.

However, he says the place which incorporates important events of both Old and New Testaments has been the only historical and holist holding of the black community.
“It is a good step that Israel has now begun renovating the heritage. The Israeli move is promising one that would corroborate Ethiopia’s ownership. The Israeli know well that the holy place belong to Ethiopia.”

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Tel Aviv should have settled the matter long time ago but they wanted to remain neutral to avoid diplomatic row with Egypt, he says, adding that it has only been striking balance between the two churches.

Melake-Mhiret Aba Abreham Abebe, is Head of EOTC Church based in Egypt. To him, Israel is willing to renovate the place, Ethiopian government need to encourage the move and closely follow the matter.
“Egypt church has no historical and legal rights to claim the heritage. It has no any other holding in Israel. Paradoxically, Cairo is taking the issue to the wrong turn,” he adds.
The government of Ethiopia has only been a bystander doing nothing to stop Egypt’s unfair treatment of EOTC. The issue should no longer be left only to the church, according to Aba Yohannes.
“Given its connection to Ethiopia’s history and religious values, the government must stop turning blind eye. It needs to exert utmost efforts.”

Megabi-Selam Priest Solomon Tolcha is Head of EOTC Heritage Conservation Tourism Department.

Expressing as he visited the site, he said Egypt’s aggression has been ongoing quite a while.

“Our forefathers have been able to preserve the sacred place even at the expense of their life. But many of our holdings were taken forcibly.

This Egypt’s church aggression and other environmental factors have got Ethiopia’s position in the monastery into trouble, he said, adding the church’s stubborn act has prevented renovation work and the recent clash with Israeli forces is also continuation of their unjustified acts.

“Their action should draw worldwide criticism and condemnation,” he notes.

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“Ethiopians had paid lots of sacrifices to protect the holy site and it would be up to this generation to perpetuate it.”

The government must lobby Israeli government while Ethiopians across the country must voice their concern about the scared site.

“We have many uncontested documents on Ethiopia’s ownership but there has never been support from the government side.” Egypt is wrongfully claiming the site while its church has no legal and historical proofs.

In fact, Ethiopian and Egyptian churches have made attempts to make deals but fell short of yielding success. We need to expose Egypt’s unjustified claim and years of unfair aggression,” he concludes.

Regarding how the site gets in their hand, many writers related it with the deadly plagues which are rather mysterious.

The plague was even associated as sourcing from Ethiopia’s parchments. “In the year 1838 when plague struck Jerusalem and all the Ethiopian monks died, the Copts took over the monastery and, according to the Ethiopians, burned the library containing the documents which validated the Ethiopian claim to Deir es-Sultan.” Robin Twite (2003), Africa in Jerusalem – The Ethiopian Churchess.

This is not to mention the various testimonials including from Greek and Armenian Orthodox Church patriarchate in Jerusalem that proven as Ethiopia’s ownership starts from time immemorial in letters dated 1321 and 1905 respectively.

And it was the bubonic disease that helped the Copt’s to distort facts; and honest and respected persons like Francis Stephan in a letter dated 1221 clearly stipulated as Ethiopia is the rightful owner of the holy place.

The Israeli government’s renovation efforts have parked the light at the end of the tunnel, and diplomatic efforts have to be accelerated from the Ethiopian side. The asset long-protected by the Ethiopians is also humanity’s heritage and the renovation works should not be politicized as the Copt’s are attempting to do so.

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