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The unforgettable massacre of Addis Ababa

We observed last Tuesday, the 19th of February, the 82nd anniversary of the massacre of civilian Ethiopians in Addis Ababa. We give a special place in our heart to those who lost their lives cold bloodedly at the hands of the brutal Fascist invaders. This writer dedicated this piece in memory of the 30,000 civilian Ethiopians who were massacred indiscriminately by the Italian invading fascist force in 1937.
Italy who had no any colonial possessions in the early 19th century was running amok in need of one from the impoverished but resourceful continent, Africa. In 1911 this European country had to try its chance on Libya. The then Italian invading force in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, was “mad with lust for blood” … to say it in words of an observer. Ian Campbell, the renowned historian, states in one of his incisive accounts that “[a]ll the Arabs they met, men, women and children, even babes at the breast were shot down without trial” by the brutal Italian invading force. It was estimated that close to 4,000 Libyans were butchered by Italians over three days in October 1911.
As Europeans and Western powers were tantalized by the natural resources of the continent, no single country came to denounce the atrocities committed by the Italian invading force in Libya. Libyans cried for deliverance; but is was in vain. This undoubtedly encouraged Italy to come again after 26 years with its barbarity to the ancient African country, Ethiopia.
In February 1937 young Ethiopians who bitterly denounced the invasion and occupation of their country by the invading Italian force hurled grenades in an attempt to kill the Italian military commander, Rudolfo Graziani who was appointed by Mussolini to govern Ethiopia. This happened 82 years back in the center of Addis Ababa at an event organized by the Italians. While the commander, Graziani, was delivering speech to Ethiopians gathered around, the hurled grenades detonated. The Italian fascist soldiers who were enraged by the incident started firing directly at the crowd of Ethiopians. A number of people were killed and seriously wounded. This was the beginning of the massacre that was attested by many to be the worst ever heard in this planet. That time all exits of the compound were sealed off so that the innocent Ethiopians could not run off for their lives. Then, the blood lust Italian soldiers chopped off the Ethiopians. Campbell wrote the following: “Throughout the day, Italian soldiers… ran amok in the streets and suburbs of the city. They split the heads of Ethiopians with pickaxes and shovels. Every native was a target… Men, women and children were taken and killed indiscriminately and without explanation. Going home for lunch or stopping for a chat, unsuspecting and defenseless, they were ruthlessly struck down in broad daylight in the main streets… among the eucalyptus groves and the hedgerows, around market stalls, on bridges, in tiny lanes and narrow alleys.”
Unfortunately, the fascist Graziani survived the attack unscathed. No Italians were killed. But after the aborting assassination, the city transformed in to a butchering site. Addis Ababa was inundated by blood of the poor civilian Ethiopians. Some say that the invading Italian force perpetrated atrocities the worst of its kind in the 20th century. Campbell said that in three terror-filled days and nights of arson, murder and looting, thousands of innocent and unsuspecting men, women and children were roasted alive, shot, bludgeoned, stabbed to death, or blown to pieces with hand-grenades. Ethiopians suspected or accused of opposing Italian rule were rounded up and executed. “Meanwhile the notorious Rudolfo Graziani, infamous for his atrocities in Libya, took the opportunity to add the carnage by eliminating the intelligentsia and nobility of the ancient Ethiopian empire in a pogrom that swept across the land.” Bahiru Zewdie, a prominent historian wrote that the massacre marked the total liquidation of the intellectual component of the resistance. According to Campbell, the massacre was aimed “in particular at eliminating the Ethiopian nobility and intelligentsia”. Most of the 125 young men who had their education abroad were killed.
In this way the Italian soldiers took revenge on Ethiopians who had defeated their fathers at the battle of Adwa. They knew that their forefathers suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of Ethiopians 41 years ago. However, the Italians showed to the world in 1937 that they were not men enough to join the Ethiopian gallant force at the real battle grounds. The best war-front for Graziani and his soldiers was the then dilapidated Ethiopian capital city which was inhabited by women, children elderly citizens and other defenseless people.
Following the assassination attempt, Rudolfo Graziani gave his strict command to the fascist soldiers that they should slaughter or kill any Ethiopian they happen to see on their ways. “Remember,” he spoke out loud to his soldiers who carried their guns and sabers at the ready, “remember, you are Italians, Romans, and remember that your forebears were once in this country.” With his words echoing in their ears, the Italian soldiers slaughtered, burned alive, cut heads of many Ethiopians. Moans of crushed babies, disemboweled pregnant women and beheaded people echoed across the city… Many cottages were gutted down by fire. The blood stream was lapped up by truant dogs… The dead bodies were torn up by vultures and hyenas. Ethiopians bitterly cried being shrouded by black shadow of death. The Italian soldiers who are driven by a lust for blood killed the Ethiopians with daggers, shovels, axes, truncheons, pickaxes… Some posed on the dead bodies and decapitated heads of the victim Ethiopians to have their photographs taken. In the three-day massacre perpetrated by Italians, it was estimated that 19-20 per cent (close to 30,000 in number) of the people of the then Addis Ababa was eliminated. Campbell says that the civilian carnage perpetrated by the Italian force is “one of the most hideous civilian massacres of all the time to be concealed, and the perpetrators to walk free”.
The most surprising thing was that after the abortive attack launched by Ethiopians against the Italian invading force, Graziani received a strict commend from Duce (leader of the then Italy) to execute all prisoners. As an Ethiopian I feel here that it was far better for those compatriot prisoners to be killed (so long as it was their fate) than to be used for the purpose of shooting target practices by the barbarian Italian soldiers. This is my opinion. It doesn’t mean I am ruthless… but I suggest that. History gives its testimony that Ethiopian PoWs (prisoners of war) “were frequently used for target practice” by Italian soldiers. First, they were shot in the testicles and then in the chest. This was the real incident witnessed in this country in broad daylight.
Commonly we Ethiopians are not the kind of those who take revenge on evil doers. Even if we lost 30,000 civilian compatriots, we did not take revenge on Italians after liberation. The world attested the fact that Ethiopians did never raise their hands against the Italians who were strolling in their midst at the time. In his passionate speech delivered to its people, Emperor Haile-Silassie admonished the people not to repay evil with evil. “Take care not to spoil the good name of Ethiopia by acts that are worthy of the enemy,” Haile-Silassie urged. This reminds us of the same forgiveness given by Emperor Menelik-II to the Italian PoWs captured by Ethiopian warriors at the famous battle of Adwa. Menelik was compassionate for the Italian PoWs. History testifies that the Italian PoWs were not made to languish in prison cells. Instead they were given to the then prominent Ethiopian officials who were duty bound to abide by the imperial command to give shelter, clothing and food to the PoWs. This was our history we all Ethiopians should be proud of.
Available sources indicate that in its 1935-41 occupation of Ethiopia, the Italian fascist force has massacred one million Ethiopians; destroyed 2,000 churches as well as 525,000 residential houses and killed 14 million animals. I would like to seize this opportunity to announce my support to those who claim that Ethiopia deserves apology for the massacre perpetrated by Italy. I am also voicing my compliant that Ethiopians should be compensated well by the Italian government for the havoc.

By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw

The writer can be reached at


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