Meskerem 1, 2000. That’s what the Ethiopian calendar reads Wednesday. It’s the first day of a new year and a new millennium. Ethiopians around the world welcomed the new millennium through countless cultural and political activities. Here in Washington, a five-day extravaganza was organized as a run-up to the main event. It included symposia on the future of Ethiopia, music gala, soccer competition, a prayer vigil and a millennium march for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.
Among the organizers of the five-day events is area resident Neamin Zeleke. He says, “the occasion serves as an opportunity to reflect on our past, assert our present and envision a better tomorrow.”
Neamin rejects critics who say any form of millennium celebration at this time is inappropriate, given the political and economic conditions Ethiopians face back home.
“The millennium celebration here is not only about chifera or dankira or festivities and merriment. We have several events that deal directly with the suffering of our people,” he says.
He says that the symposia are but one example of a program that addresses relevant issues of interest to Ethiopia and Ethiopians.
The Ethiopian organizer says the millennium activities have another benefit. “To show that Ethiopia should not be synonymous with only poverty and hunger…that it is indeed rich with culture.”
The September 11th terrorist attacks claimed the lives of about 3,000 people – including two Ethiopians. Neamin says that organizing millennium celebration activities on the sixth anniversary of the attacks was not easy. Organizers made sure no festive events were scheduled for September 11th, the day of the terrorist attacks anniversary.
The five-day extravaganza welcoming the Ethiopian millennium was coupled with yet another festive occasion. Just days before the millennium, a delegation of recently freed opposition leaders arrived at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. They received a tumultuous welcome by supporters, the size of which has rarely been seen before at the airport.