The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was established on 18 February 1975 in Dedebit, western Tigray. Within 16 years it grew from a few dozen men into the most powerful of the armed liberation movements in Ethiopia. Leading a coalition of movements named the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since 1989, and with the help of its ally, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), it inflicted a total military defeat on the Derg regime (Provisional Military Administrative Council) and established on 28 May 1991 a new regime that has ruled Ethiopia ever since.The TPLF and the EPLF are the only African liberation fronts whose armed struggle against a military vastly superior enemy, conducted as a "protracted peoples' war", ended with a total military victory and skillfully combined the struggle for national self-determination with radical socio-economic changes
The TPLF is, in a way, the product of the marginalization of Tigray within Ethiopia after Menelik II of Shewa had become emperor in 1889. The Tigrayan traditional elite and peasantry had a strong regional identity and deeply resented the decline of Tigray.Memoirs of the armed revolt of 1942-43 (the "first [qädamay] wäyyanä") against the re-establishment of imperial rule after Italian colonialism remained alive and provided an important reference for the new generations of educated Tigrayan nationalists.
At Haile Selassie I University (Addis Ababa University), from the early 1960s onwards, Tigrayan students created the Political Association of Tigrayans (PAT) in 1972 and the Tigrayan University Students' Association (TUSA). PAT developed into a radical nationalist group calling for the independence of Tigray, establishing the Tigray Liberation Front (TLF) in 1974. In TUSA emerged a Marxist trend favoring national self-determination for Tigray within a revolutionary transformed democratic Ethiopia.Whereas the multinational left movements subordinated the national self-determination of the Ethiopian nationalities to class struggle, the Marxists of TUSA argued that due to the existing inequalities among Ethiopian nationalities for self-determination as the launching pad for the ultimate socialist revolution.