Martyrdom of Yekatit 12, lessons from history

On February 19, or Yekatit 12, every year Ethiopians commemorate Martyrs Day on which more than 30,000 Ethiopians were massacred by the troops of Fascist Italy 82 years ago following the attempted assassination on Marshal Rodolfo Graziani.

That is why February is also marked as a month of martyrdom. The Italians conducted the most atrocious massacre that could have been considered as genocide of the highest proportions.

After 40 years of preparation following its defeat at the Battle of Adwa in Ethiopia, Italy began its well organized second attempt to colonize Ethiopia in 1934. Despite a letter of appeal submitted by the late Emperor Haile Selassie to the former League of Nations, on May 14, 1934, Italy deployed a massive army well equipped to the teeth ready to annex the entire territory of Ethiopia.

Italy deployed 685,000 soldiers, another 4,000 from Eritrea and more than 285,000 soldiers from its colony in the former Italian Somaliland. Italy had 6,000 machine guns, 2,000 artillery and 599 tanks as well as 390 aircrafts. Italy later ordered and acquired 3,300 machine guns, 275 artillery pieces. 200 tanks and 205 aircrafts.

This was no match to the Ethiopian Army which was composed of mere 350,000-760,000 trained and untrained peasant soldiers with ammunition of 400,000 mainly old rifles; 234 antiquated artillery and 75 anti-tank guns; 4 tanks and 13 outmoded aircrafts with four pilots. (Kidane Alemayehu, a war criminal who escaped Justice).

As an independent country and a member of the League of Nations, Ethiopia should have been provided with the League’s fullest solidarity and support against the unprovoked and aggressive invasion by another member of the League, Italy.

However, what actually transpired was the League’s half hearted and ineffective measures which in fact facilitated Fascist Italy’s perpetration of devastating war crimes in and occupation of Ethiopia for five year.

According to Grip, Lina and Hart John in their book “ The use of Chemical Weapons in the 1935 Italo-Ethiopian War, the Fascist forces used mustard gas bombs on at least ten localities in Ethiopia including Tekeze area, Ambalage, Borena ( Wollo), Sekota, Mekele, Megalo, Wadla Delanta, Korem, Yirgalem and, Endamehoni.

Here it is interesting to note that over the last one and half year, terrorist TPLF invaded the same areas in Amhar region in a bid to re-annex the districts and zones into what it called “Greater Tigray”. According to Alberto Sbachi, (Ethiopia

Under Mussolini”, pp 47-63 ) during the Italian occupation, one million Ethiopians including patriots, women and children were massacred of whom 30,000 were killed, under Graziani’s orders, within only three days (February 19-21, 1937) in Addis Ababa as well as over 2,000 monks and parishioners at Debre Libanos Monastery. 2,000 churches and 525,000 homes were destroyed; Destruction of 14 million animals as a result of the environmental destruction caused by the mustard poison gas sprayed in many parts of Ethiopia.

The Hague Convention of 1899 to which Italy was also a signatory was the first instrument that forbade the use of chemical weapons. That was followed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925 forbidding the use of poison gasses. Therefore, the Italian Fascist Government used chemical weapons on its war crimes in Ethiopia in utter disregard of the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

On February 19, 1937, two years after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Italy conducted a mass massacre on innocent Ethiopians also known as Addis Ababa Massacre among historians and the international media Fascist Italy conducted a three days rampage of an indiscriminate killing of 30,000 Ethiopians mostly composed of the elderly, lactating and pregnant mothers and their children.

Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Marchese di Neghelli, Viceroy of Italian East Africa, organized a public event at the Genete Leul Palace (now a building that housed the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa to provide alms to the poor to celebrate the birth of the baby Prince of Naples.

Crowds from all walks of life were gathered in and out of the palace with the expectation of receiving gifts without the slightest hint of what will befall them. On the morning of Friday of February 1937 two young Ethiopians Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom resolved to assassinate.

Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Marchesedi Neghelli, another young person of their own age cooperated with their plot. According to Richard Pankhurst, a taxi driver named Simeyon Adefres drove them out of the city.

Pankhurst also credits him with providing the grenades that Abraha and Moges threw on Graziani. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, The Italian response was immediate.

According to Mockler, Italian carabinieri had fired into the crowds of beggars and poor assembled for the distribution of alms and it is said that the Federal Secretary, Guido Cortese, even fired his revolver into the group of Ethiopian dignitaries standing around him. Hours later, Cortese gave the fatal order which read: According to Bahiru Zewede, the attempted murder provided the Italians with the reason to implement Mussolini order, issued as early as 3 May 1936, to summarily execute The Young Ethiopians the small group of intellectuals who had received college education from American and European colleges. February 1974 also marked a revolutionary upsurge by the peoples of Ethiopia against feudal oppression and repression.

The immediate causes of the upheaval included the skyrocketing of fuel prices triggered by an economic strategy used by Arab countries to wage an economic war on Israel and the western world.

The grave consequences of famine in northern Ethiopia, particularly Wollo, strikes by taxi drivers, labor unions, teachers and demonstrations by Muslims in Addis Ababa culminated in the downfall of the imperial regime and subsequent usurpation of political power by a committee drawn from the armed forces. Over the previous several decades and more particularly in February 1975, Ethiopian students advocated for “land to the tiller,” and the military government otherwise known as the Derg declared a rural land proclamation of 1975 that was to shape the socio-economic and political profile of the country over some four decades.

The land proclamation did recognize the legal rights of the peasantry to use their lands which are in fact a public property. However, despite the proclamations the peasants remained in poverty and utter destitution as they lacked all the necessary requirements to ascertain their livelihood.

Despite the unprecedented valor exhibited by Ethiopians in defending their territory against all foreign encroachments and aggression, prior to 1991, the peoples of Ethiopia were forced to sustain unfathomable repression and oppression in the hands of the imperial regime and the totalitarian regime of the Derg.

Under such oppressive conditions. The events that took place in February in Ethiopia undoubtedly transcend the timeline of both Ethiopian and African history. February is also a month of a popular quest for democracy, good governance, tolerance and smooth transition of power.

A month of this year in which the government is attempting to address popular demands of the public.

On the 15th of February, Prime Minister Hailemariam filed a resignation letter to the House of Peoples’ Representatives after his request was endorsed by his own party, South Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Front whereupon his request has also been endorsed by the secretariat of the EPRDF.

The HPR made a final decision on his request and facilitated the resignation of the former premier. Such formal request for resignation is the first of its kind in the political history of the country and depicts a new stage in the expansion of inclusive and pluralistic democratic process in the country and effectively shows a stance in a democratic transition of political power in Ethiopia.

The appointment of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to the vacant position of premiership ended the era of dictatorial revolutionary democracy dominated by TPLF dominated EPRDF. This ushered in a new ever democratic election that was conducted in the country for the 6th round.

The 6th National Election which was conducted in 2021 helped to accelerate a wave of reforms conducted under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Terrorist TPLF, which has ushered a reign of terror, hunger, destitution and isolation on the people of Tigray now, promised the population in the region to re-annex Wolkaiyt, Setit Humera, and Afar into its present internal territory by reinvading theses territories which were totally devastated by the wanton massacre of innocent citizens in Amhara and Afar regions.

Unaccounted amount of infrastructural facilities were dismantled, looted and transported to Tigray by trucks confiscated from WFP which was transporting food to the needy population in Tigray.

Married women and girl children as well as elderly mothers were raped in front of their family members in the most unprecedented savagery.

Terrorist TPLF is claiming to celebrate Yekatit 11 on the bloodshed it conducted on the people of Ethiopia in a devilish partnership with its allies like Shene has conducted a special type of unforgettable genocide on the people of Amhara and Afar.

To the contrary, the people of Ethiopia shall remember the horrific massacre of Yekatit 12 but will also continue its amicable and good relations with the current Italian government which also abhors fascism in all its forms with commitment to mutually beneficial development programs and diplomacy of peace and friendship.

What lessons can be drawn from these events? Valor, magnetic democratic unity against neo-colonialism and illegal interference into the internal affairs of Ethiopia, steadfastness, gender sensitivity solid national commitment and professionalism in implementing the development programs of this nation, perseverance in promoting peace and stability in Ethiopia and Africa, accelerating the vision of Pan Africanisim through the implementation of Agenda 2063 is the only way out of poverty in this country.

Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The


The   22 February  2022

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