U.S. Embassy's Use of Finfinnee Sparks Controversy: Oromo-Americans Express Support in Open Letter to Secretary Blinken

Published Nov. 29, 2023, 4:58 p.m. by FNN

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FNN has obtained an open letter addressed to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken from a group of Oromo-American scholars and professionals (OS&P). The letter expresses concern over an online attack by some Amhara extremists against the Head of Mission in Ethiopia, triggered by the U.S. Embassy's use of the historical name "Finfinnee" to refer to the capital city of Oromia and Ethiopia.

The letter, dated November 28, 2023, outlines the historical context behind the naming of Finfinne and sheds light on the assimilationist policies implemented during Emperor Menelik's era. It argues that the use of the original name is not a threat to security but rather a demonstration of knowledge and respect for the indigenous name of the city.

According to the letter, the Amhara extremists' outrage extends beyond linguistic issues, citing a recent incident where Oromo Orthodox leaders advocating for preaching in Afaan Oromoo faced accusations of ethnicizing and dividing the religion. The letter notes a disparity in the extremist reactions, with the formation of a Tigrayan Synod not eliciting the same degree of outrage.

The Oromo-American scholars and professionals express appreciation for the U.S. State Department's recognition of Finfinne and its role in encouraging a negotiated resolution to the political conflict in Oromia. They emphasize the importance of enforcing constitutional principles, including federalism and equality for all nations and nationalities, as crucial steps towards lasting peace.

The letter concludes with a call for genuine, all-inclusive peace negotiations involving key stakeholders to end the ongoing war in Oromia. The group believes that prioritizing peace in Oromia is essential for the stability of Ethiopia and the broader region.

We provide the full text of the open letter below:

Joint Open Letter to the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Support of the

use of the Legal name Finfinnee by the U.S. Embassy

November 30, 2023

The Honorable Antony Blinken
United States Secretary of State
The State Department
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Blinken:
We, the undersigned Oromo-American scholars and professionals (OS&P) together with our
colleagues in Europe and Australia, write to express our concern about the unprecedented online
attack against the Head of Mission in Ethiopia by some Amhara extremists. The extremists are
reportedly “outraged” because the Embassy posted content online that referred to the capital city
of Oromia and Ethiopia by its original name, Finfinnee.
Historical record clarifies that in 1887, Emperor Menelik’s wife renamed the city of Finfinnee
(which means hot spring in Afaan Oromo) as “Addis Ababa” (new flower in Amharic) following
the forcible incorporation of Oromia into the Abyssinian Empire (later renamed the Ethiopian
Empire in the 1931 Constitution of Emperor Haile Selassie). During the era of Emperor Menelik
(1889-1913), Ethiopia instituted an assimilationist policy that centered on the Amharic language,
Amhara national identity, culture, and Orthodox Christian religion at the expense of the
languages, religions, and cultures of other nations and nationalities, which is why Finfinnee was
renamed as Addis Ababa. This assimilationist policy—which would last from 1889 to 1991—
was designed to facilitate the conquering and transferring of resources from the conquered
peoples including the Oromo, the single largest national group in Ethiopia, and to gradually erase
indigenous languages, cultures, and identities. For instance, Afaan Oromo, the Oromo language,
was banned and it was not permissible to teach, preach, write, and broadcast in the language up
to 1974. Even today, the Orthodox Church does not permit preaching and publishing in Afaan
Oromo. Oromo Orthodox Christians are denied the right to worship, teach, learn, and reason
their religion in their language.
During the 1960s and early 1970s the oppressed nations and nationalities resoundingly rejected
the assimilationist policy. They established multiple liberation fronts that battled the government
forces resulting in the defeat of the last unitarist military regime in 1991 and thereby adopting a
new constitution that recognizes nations and nationalities and the establishment of a federal
system.
Referring to places by their original names does not in any way threaten anyone’s safety and
security nor will it lead to the breakup of a country, as some extreme online voices claiming to
represent the Amhara suggest, it rather demonstrates knowledge and respect for the indigenous
name of a city. Most importantly, the use of Finfinnee by the Embassy as a legal name is
consistent with what the previous EPRDF led government declared in 2017 that both Finfinnee
and Addis Ababa are legally acceptable under the country’s law. Further, a nationality based
federal system strengthens, not weakens, the will and potential of the various nations and
nationalities to co-exist peacefully.
Another example of this extremist group’s deep-seated hate and discrimination against Oromo
language and identity took place earlier this year when Oromo Orthodox leaders demanded to be
able to preach to their followers in their language, Afaan Oromo. Because of this request,
Amhara extremists accused the priests of ethnicizing and dividing the religion, called for
protests, excommunicated the Oromo priests, and facilitated attacks against them. In contrast,
when the Tigrayans officially formed their Synod, these Amhara extremists did not show the
same degree of outrage.
Mr. Secretary, as Oromo-Americans, we are appreciative of not only the recognition of the
capital city’s original name Finfinnee, but also of the State Department’s role in encouraging a
negotiated resolution of the devastating war in Oromia. We strongly believe that the only hope
for peace and stability in the country is to fully enforce its constitution and its principles of
federalism, guarantee the equality of nations and nationalities as enshrined in the constitution,
ensure human, political and cultural rights are respected, and enforce the rule of law. Peace in
Oromia is paramount for peace in Ethiopia and the region. Furthermore, we believe that a
genuine all-inclusive peace negotiation of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), Oromo Liberation
Front (OLF), Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and the Federal Government is the only way to
end the five years long war in Oromia.
Finally, we wish to take this opportunity to thank the State Department for prioritizing ending the
devastating war in Oromia as part of our nation’s foreign policy initiative and thank the Head of
Mission in Ethiopia, Ambassador Ervin Jose Massinga and his Mission personnel for their
outstanding effort to work with and support all regions and peoples of Ethiopia.

CC
Honorable Michael McCaul
US House Foreign Affairs Committee
Honorable Ben Cardin
US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee
Ambassador Ervin Massinga
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia

Respectfully,

Signatories:
1. Abdisa Koricho (PhD)
2. Abraham Mosisa (MSc)
3. Adugna Birhanu (PhD)
4. Ahmed Gelchu (PhD)
5. Alemayehu Biru (PhD)
6. Alemayehu Kumsa (PhD)
7. Aman Kedir (MA)
8. Amanuel Gobena (PhD)
9. Asebe Regasa (PhD)
10. Asafa Jalata (PhD)
11. Asfaw Beyene (PhD)
12. Ayana Gobena (PhD)
13. Ayele Teressa (PhD)
14. Bahiru Duguma (PhD)
15. Bahiru Gametchu (PhD)
16. Baro Deressa (MD)
17. Bedassa Tadesse (PhD)
18. Begna Dugassa (PhD)
19. Beekan Erena (MEd)
20. Bekele Temesgen (PhD)
21. Benti Getahun (PhD)
22. Benti Ujulu (PhD)
23. Berhanu Kedida (MD)
24. Beletech Dheresa (PhD)
25. Bersisa Berri (PhD)
26. Beyan Asoba (PhD)
27. Bichaka Fayissa (PhD)
28. Daniel Ayana (PhD)
29. Daniel Dibaba (PhD)
30. Degefa Abdissa (MD)
31. Dessalegn Negerie (PhD)
32. Desta Yebassa (PhD)
33. Ezekiel Gebissa (PhD)
34. Fantahun Diba (PhD)
35. Galaana Balcha (MD)
36. Geremew Begna (PhD)
36. Geremew Nigatu (PhD)
38. Gizachew Tesso (PhD)
39. Gizaw Tasissa (PhD)
40. Gobena Huluka (PhD)
41. Guluma Gemeda (PhD)
42. Gutu Olana (PhD)
43. Habtalem Kenea (PhD)
44. Haile Hirpa (PhD)
45. Hambisa Belina (PhD)
46. Henok Gabisa (PhD)
47. Ibrahim Elemo (PhD)
48. Iddoosaa Ejeta (PhD)
49. Imiru Itana (MSc)
50. Ismael Abdullahi (PhD)
51. Itana Habte (PhD)
52. Jamal Ebrahim (MD)
53. Jemal Hebano (PharmD)
54. Jenberu Feyisa (PhD)
55. Jirenya Gudeta (MSc)
56. Junaidi Ahmed (MD)
57. Kano Banjaw (PhD)
58. Kebene Kejela (PhD)
59. Koste Abdissa (PhD)
60. Mekbib Gebeyehu (PhD)
61. Mekuria Bulcha (PhD)
62. Mesfin Abdi (PhD)
63. Michael Oli (MSc)
64. Moa Apagodu (PhD)
65. Mohammed Hassan (PhD)
66. Mohammed Tahiro (PhD)
67. Mosisa Aga (PhD)
68. Namara Garbaba (PhD)
69. Oli Bachie (PhD)
70. Rundassa Eshete (PhD)
71. Samuel Geleta (PhD)
72. Solomon Geleta (PhD)
73. Demissie Karorsa (PhD)
74. Teferi Margo (PhD)
75. Tekleab Shibru (PhD)
76. Tesfaye Negeri (PhD)
77. Tesfaye Tesso (PhD)
78. Teshome Dime (MSc)
79. Thomas Baisa (MD)
80. Tolawak Beyene (MD)
81. Tsegaye Ararsa (PhD)
82. Workineh Torben (PhD)
83. Worku Burayu (PhD)
84. Zelealem Abera (MSc)
85. Zelalem Negassa (MS)

Email: oromo.scholars.professionals@gmail.com


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