MARTYR’S DAY – YEKATIT 12 by Msmaku Asrat, PhD
Today is yekatit 12th in the Ethiopian calendar. It was on this day that two patriotic Ethiopians, Abrha Debotch and Mogus Asgedom threw hand grenades at the assembled dignitaries of Fascist Italy at Genete Luel palace (presently the Administrative office of the Addis Ababa University). The palace was the Imperial residence of Emperor Haile Selassie who has gone to exile in Britain. It was now occupied by Marshall Graziani the Viceroy of Fascist Italy in Ethiopia. The occasion was to distribute alms to the poor of Addis Ababa who were already assembled in the grounds of the palace. The grenades wounded Graziani and killed some of the Fascist senior staff. Hell broke loose and the Fascist High Command declared a Reign of Terror on the inhabitants of Addis Ababa which lasted for three days. This is how Professor Richard Pankhurst, OBE, summarizes the event of the mayhem and massacre carried out by Fascist thugs of the inhabitants of Addis Ababa:
“One of several graphic eye-witness accounts is provided by the Hungarian, Dr Ladislav Sava, or Shaska. He recalls that immediately after the attempt, the fascist party leader, Guido Cortese, “convoked the blackshirts to the seat of the Fascio, the chiefs to a consultation, and the others to wait for orders. Very soon they sped from the Fascio in every direction, fully armed. Everyone in the town was a prey to anticipation, but what really happened was worse than anyone had feared. I am bound to say, for it is true, that blood was literally streaming down the streets. The corpses of men, women and children, over which vultures hovered, were lying in all directions. Great flames from the burning houses illuminated the African night. . .
“The greatest slaughter began after 6 o’clock in the evening… During that awful night, Ethiopians were thrust into lorries, heavily guarded by armed blackshirts. Revolvers, truncheons, rifles and daggers were used to murder completely unarmed black people, of both sexes and all ages. Every black person seen was arrested and bundled into a lorry and killed, either in the lorry or near the Little Ghebi [the present Addis Ababa University building], sometimes at the moment when he met the blackshirts. Ethiopian houses and huts were searched and then burnt with their inhabitants. To quicken the flames, benzine and oil were used in great quantities. The shooting never ceased all night, but most of the murders were committed with daggers and blows with a truncheon at the head of the victim. Whole streets were burned down, and if any of the occupants of the houses ran out from the flames they were machine-gunned or stabbed with cries of ‘Duce! Duce! Duce!’ From the lorries in which groups of prisoners were brought up to be murdered near the Ghebi, the blood flowed on to the streets and again from the lorries we heard the cry, `Duce! Duce! Duce!’”.
“I shall never forget,” Sava concludes, “that I saw that night Italian officers passing in their luxurious cars through the blood-drenched streets, stopping at some point whence they could have a better panorama of the murdering and the burning, accompanied by their wives whom I am very reluctant to call women”
I used to live near sadist kilo in my younger years and every year there was a wreath laying ceremony by the Prime Minister at the old Martyr’s monument (the present one is a gift of the anti Fascist patriot Marshall Broz Tito, friend of Emperor Haile Selassie) There were also Red Cross nurses from the Beta Saida hospital on one side of the square lined up. They were a sight to see with their crimson gown and white nurse uniforms. A military band plays patriotic songs and is on the opposite side, our main attraction as young boys. I have watched the short ceremony many times and I have always wondered why it was not the Emperor, but the Prime Minister who laid the wreath. I still do not know why it was so. Every year on this day the national papers “Addis Zemen” and the English “Ethiopian Herald” carry a perfunctory and sketchy article about what happened on this date, with the pictures of the educated and elegantly dressed Mogus Asgedom and Abrha Deotch prominently displayed in their front pages-a rare occurrence since it was the picture of the Emperor that normally appears on their front pages. The same pattern would repeat again the following years.
I used to attend the nearby Tafari Makonnen School and there were many books in Amharic about the five year Fascist occupation that were given to us sometimes but which we could borrow from the school library-the biggest one of any school in the country then. I had also some of these books at home. The titles of these books are almost identical. It is about: የአምስቱ አመት የመከራ ዘመን (the five years of trail and tribulations). One book I still remember was written by the Principal of the nearby Etegue Menen School for girls, Weizero Sinidu Gebru. I do not remember the title of the book but it was about the massacre of Yekatit 12th and has many pictures of persons killed, hanged, disemboweled, and of houses burning. The book also has a list of names of the educated people killed by the Fascists during these harrowing days of mayhem. I only saw the book when I was an elementary school student and never saw it again. I hope her children will reprint this important historical book, if they have not already done so.
Abrha and Mogus lobed about ten hand grenades which killed many and wounded about 35 Fascist officials. Abrha Debotch has pierced the Italian flag by a bayonet on the wooden floor of his house and tied the Ethiopian flag on top of the bayonet. The two nationalists were supposed to have gone out of the city in the direction of the famous monastery of Debre Libanos. The Fascists were there in a flash. They interrogated the holy men about the whereabouts of Abrha and Mogus, when they could not find them the Fascists and their shumbash and Bulukbash bandas brazenly massacred all of them, estimated to be about 600 souls. Many attempts to torch the church failed. Abrha Debotch and Moges Asgedom were said to have passed through Debre Libanos area on their way to join the patriotic forces of Ras Abebe Aregay. Then their trail runs cold. They never reached their objective; they were never captures by the Fascists. They perished without anybody knowing where and how they died. A tragic end.
Yekatit 12th became the turning point for Ethiopian patriotism. Thousands fled the cities and towns to join the incipient patriotic forces, which grew and grew until final independence was achieved. It has been estimated that about 70% of the tiny educated elite in Ethiopia were rounded up and murdered by the Fascists. Almost all of the rest escaped to join the Patriotic Forces. Graziani was never tried for his crimes in Ethiopia. For his collaboration with the Nazis he was sentenced for 19 years, but served less than a year! Marshall Bodallio who ordered mustard gas to be sprayed at the war front of Maichew was never brought to justice and died “honored and dignified” in 1956. About 5% of the elite remained behind to be collaborators of the Fascists. They were pardoned together with non Fascist Italians by the Emperor the day he returned to the capital. I remember that a book about the non-violent resistant of Mahatma Gandhi was written (I do not recall the author, I guess by Ato Amanuel?)Celebrating his wisdom and comparing it to the wisdom of the Emperor in being so magnanimous to his enemies. There was also another book about the “last Testament of Mussolini” in which he berates his fellow Italians as cowards and no better than a herd of sheep (I am afraid I do not recall the author as well) By way of digression I may add that many cabinet ministers at the time have written books which were available to us at Tafari Makonnen School, the premier educational establishment at that time. What I am referring here is merely the period when I was an elementary school student. In later years I did not think about these things or stopped thinking about them. The history book that we were required to memorize by rote was taught in Grade 4. This Amharic book was called “the History of the Ethiopian People” (an appropriate book, now that I think about it) written by the learned Aleka Taye. It is about the movement of the Ethiopian people from north to south and from south to north to form what I will venture to call the salad bowl, or quilt, or mosaic that presently constitutes the Ethiopian people. It was many years later that I found out that Aleka Taye was the most learned and most profound authority on Ancient Ethiopian History. He has lived for many years in Germany and his students were later to establish he first European Chair of Ethiopian Studies at a university level.
Many years later it was the same month -February – that was the month when the Ethiopian revolution was ignited. The year was 66 in the Ethiopian calendar. It was referred in Amharic as የካቲት ስድሳ ስድስት (Yekatit sixty-six). February was the 6th month of the year – making the timing “666” – the mark of the Anti-Christ or the Devil. So the Devil descended on the Ethiopian people in the face of the Derg-which was an absolutely evil criminal enterprise. We are bound by the truth to recall that the crimes of the Italian Fascists, however horrendous and horrible, is nowhere near the crimes of the Derg. During the 17 years of Derg rule, when it was said that the Ethiopian people forgot to smile, hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered, in all sorts of inhuman methods which the Fascists also utilized but which the Derg expanded and perfected. A million died of starvation and three million fled to exile. -an Exodus of Biblical proportions. The Derg period was the most harrowing experience that Ethiopians ever faced and we pray collectively that it will never happen again.
Ethiopia has a deficit, in large part, of ignoring and not honoring its heroes, both domestic and foreign. We need to erect monuments, name streets and bridges, school, hospitals, etc; after them. I do not recall if anything has been named for Abrha Debothch and Mogus Asgedom, or many of our Patriots. Among the forgotten foreigners is Alfred Ilg, the advisor to Emperor Menelk, and who was involved in the establishment of Addis Ababa and the Franco-Ethiopian railway He was the first one to bring piped water from the mountains of Entoto to Menelik’s palace. Another one s Minas, the Addis Ababa engineer appointed by Menelik. I remember that I was a boy of six or seven when I first saw Minas. He was riding his white mule, was dressed in white and has a white “bush” colonial style hat and he was followed by a small army of day laborers carrying their spades and pick axes on their shoulders. I was the transfixed. That was also the last time I saw him and he may have been in his eighties then. There is nothing named after both men.
Zerai Deres of Rome fame had a merchant ship named after him. He was also created a Dejazmatch the last appointment Emperor Haile Selassie gave before he was forced to abdicate. Zerai Deres was a young man from the Italian colony of Eritrea who strongly believed in his Ethiopian identity. At a ceremony at Piazza Cnique Cento (the Piazza of the 500) The Piazza was named in honor of the 500 Italians killed by Ras Alula at the battle of Dogali. The statue of the Lion of Judah (which was erected in front of the railway station) has been taken from Addis Ababa to Rome. Zerai was supposed to carry a ceremonial sword and march before the statue. When he reached there Zerai kneeled before the statue and then crying “the Lion of Judah is Avenged; Long Live Ethiopia” plunged his sword at the assembled Fascist dignitaries and killed five of them. He was apprehended then sent to prison in Napoli awaiting trial. In 1945 Ethiopia asked the Allied powers to return him to Ethiopia. The Italians refused to hand him over fearing his emergence as a hero against Fascism. They always gave the excuse that they did not know where he was imprisoned. When he was found and the Italians were prevailed upon to return him, they murdered him in prison in July 1945. The official explanation was that they found him dead in prison. It is sad that he died after the Allies have occupied Italy. He was only 29 years old. We need to bring back his remains and give him a hero’s burial.
The month of Yekatit has also a glorious history. It was in Yekatit 23rd that Emperor Menelik defeated the Italians at the famous battle of Adwa. While Adwa represents a place of pride to all Ethiopians and the peoples of Third World Countries, it represents shame and humiliations for Italy. During the Italian occupation the Italians erected a massive bust of Mussolini on the spot of their defeat; the bust they said was to be seen from miles around. I have seen a reproduction of this extremely massive statue in a book whose title I could not recall now. It was also said that that the British Army blew it pieces during the liberation period.
The tribal TPLF have put one step forward by giving names to places, institutions, and building statutes. They have a statue in Mekele for a patriotic donkey named ደሳለኝ (I am happy). Was it an Amhara donkey? The correct name in Tigrigna is ተሃጉሴ why didn’t they call him that? One wonders. Even if it was meant to be a common name ሃጎስ would have been more appropriate. It is hard to fathom their tribal and primitive mind set. Perhaps that bulwark of their solid support, the partisan Tigrean elite who spearhead the Weyane propaganda juggernaut by reading its tea leaves -would supply us with a ready answer.
The historic people’s revolution that took place in Tunisia and Egypt and is now taking place in Algeria, Yemen, Iran, and Bahrain is particularly reminiscent of the famous European Revolution of 1848 and of no other. That revolution was democratic revolution that spread to many European countries like wild fire. The same phenomenon is now happening now in North Africa and the Middle East -Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and now Djibouti. (the joker Col. Kaddafi is demonstrating with the demonstrators) The people’s revolution is bound to arrive in Ethiopia, even though Ethiopians are the most isolated people in the face of the earth, with regard to all aspects of modern communication. Ethiopia is currently shut off completely from the internet, twitter and face book revolution. The tin pot dictator Meles has once said that Ethiopia does not need a seaport. Now that he is selling our land right and left he may be saying that Ethiopians do not need their land. His trademark specialty has become making outrageous and ignorant statements.
We urge that the US and Western European governments give use the same respect they are giving North African and Arab countries by also supporting Ethiopia’s demand for democracy when the mass movement of the youth arrives there as it inevitably will. Perhaps Ethiopians deserve a lot better because of the extreme suppression they face now; and cognizant of the fact that Ethiopia is the only country in the world which has kept its independence for thousands of years. The survival of Ethiopian independence is severely threatened by its home grown enemy, the Tigrean supremacist Weyane. The revolution when it comes to Ethiopia will be an existentialist revolution since the very idea of an Ethiopian nation is at stake. We need immediate and urgent remedies. As a start Western countries need to stop supporting financially this mafia crime syndicate, freeze the loot of Meles and his Tigrean scavengers stashed in their banks, and forbid them to travel to their respective countries. If Egyptians can get rid a dictator in spite of one and a half million spies, Ethiopians can get rid of Meles in spite of about the same number of Tigrean spies. (Incidentally these spies are trained by the British who also train the beleaguered Bahrain and other Gulf State spies) The uprising for democracy and to abolish the minority Tigrean rule will arrive in Ethiopia as surely as night follows day. With this as a backdrop we say to the Weyane and its Hodam camp followers:
A lutta continua -the struggle continues!