Dr. Girma Demeke is an internationally renowned linguist and one of the world’s leading scholars on the origins, history and syntax of Ethio-Semitic languages. In addition to publishing academic articles, dictionaries and textbooks on Amharic and several East African minority languages, he has played a prominent role in the renaissance of some of Ethiopia’s most endangered languages.
For nearly three years, Dr. Demeke served as Addis Ababa University’s Ethiopian Languages Research Center Director, a prestigious position of public interest. Despite his attempts to remain politically neutral and focus purely on his scholarship, Dr. Demeke faced politically-motivated harassment and intimidation. When the University wrongfully dismissed him from his position in 2008, he secured a visiting professor position at the City University of New York (CUNY), only to be detained by officials while en route to the United States. Ethiopia’s Anti-Corruption Office later charged Dr. Demeke with corruption for the misappropriation of Addis Ababa University resources, and he was placed under house arrest for over two years, barred from international travel and prevented from returning to his work.
In the summer of 2010, the Anti-Corruption Office cleared Dr. Demeke of all charges, citing lack of evidence; however, he was neither allowed to return to his job nor compensated for the illegitimate denial of his salary. Despite reiterating his exclusive commitment to academic research, the harassment and threats intensified, culminating in an attempt to assassinate him by a deliberate car accident. News of another assassination plot prompted Dr. Demeke to leave for the U.S. to present his research at an academic conference. Shortly after he arrived, he learned that a prominent Ethiopian magazine, Kumneger, had published an exposé on the faulty corruption charges against him, exacerbating his already precarious position.
Dr. Demeke applied for and was awarded a Scholar Rescue Fund fellowship to continue his research in safety at the Institute of Semitic Studies (ISS), the first independent institution in the U.S. dedicated to the study of all ancient Semitic languages and cultures. He will spend the 2011-2012 academic year collaborating with linguists around the world to study Amharic nominal and complex noun phrases and the origins and history of the Ethio-Semitic languages. He is also developing a project to revitalize the Argobba language, in collaboration with a Norwegian university and local Ethiopian development organization.