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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Remembering Yekatit 12: Italy’s Deadly Attack on Ethiopians


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The history of colonialism and its impact on the world is a complex and multifaceted issue. From the exploitation of resources and labor to the subjugation of entire populations, the legacy of colonialism continues to shape the world we live in today.

One of the most poignant examples of this legacy can be found in the relationship between Ethiopia and Italy, a relationship that has been marred by violence and oppression.

At the heart of this relationship is the occupation of Ethiopia by Italian forces, which began in 1935 and lasted until 1941.

During this time, the Ethiopian people endured countless atrocities at the hands of their occupiers, including the massacre that occurred on Yekatit 12. Despite the passage of time, the wounds inflicted by this period of history remain raw and unresolved.

For many Ethiopians, the occupation of their country by Italy represents a painful chapter in their history that has been largely overlooked by the rest of the world.

Despite the scale of the violence and destruction that occurred during this time, there has been little acknowledgement or reparations from the Italian government, leaving many feeling like their suffering has been ignored.

In this blog post, we will examine the history of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, paying particular attention to the events that occurred on Yekatit 12.

We will explore the lasting impact of this period of history on Ethiopia and its people, as well as the ongoing struggle for justice and accountability in the aftermath of these atrocities.

Through this exploration, we hope to shed light on a dark chapter in human history and honor the memory of those who lost their lives during this time.

In 1935, the Italian government launched a second attempt to colonize Ethiopia, after 40 years of planning, following its defeat at the Battle of Adwa.

Despite the late Emperor Haile Selassie’s attempt to resolve the matter peacefully by sending a letter to the former League of Nations, Italy sent out a sizable army to seize all of Ethiopia.

The Italian forces deployed 685,000 soldiers, including 6,000 machine guns, 2,000 artillery pieces, and 599 tanks, as well as 390 aircraft.

Later, Italy ordered and acquired 3,300 machine guns, 275 artillery pieces, 200 tanks, and 205 aircraft.

In contrast, the Ethiopian Army was comprised of 350,000 to 760,000 trained and untrained peasant soldiers, armed with mainly old rifles and ammunition of 400,000, 234 antiquated artillery pieces, 75 anti-tank guns, 4 tanks, and 13 outmoded aircraft with only four pilots.

The Italian occupation of Ethiopia resulted in a series of war crimes, including the deployment of mustard gas and the bombing of a Swedish Red Cross field hospital.

However, the Addis Ababa massacre, also known as the Yekatit 12 massacre, was the greatest single atrocity of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.

On February 19, 1937, fascist troops carried out a three-day indiscriminate slaughter of more than 30,000 Ethiopians in retaliation for the attempted assassination of Rodolfo Graziani, also known as “the Butcher of Fezzan,” Viceroy of Italian East Africa.

Yekatit 12 is a date in the Ethiopian calendar, equivalent to 19 February in the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used to refer to the massacre.

Despite strong historical evidence, the Italian government continues to deny the Addis Ababa massacre and other mass executions.

Ian Campbell, the author of The Plot to Kill Graziani and The Massacre of Debre Libanos, has presented discoveries from his extensive research into the massacre of Addis Ababa, which was a hitherto undocumented event.

Campbell obtained most of the documents, maps, photos, and official government papers used in his research from Italy. According to Campbell and Alberto Sbacchi, there are still vast quantities of “classified information” across Italy dealing with the war.

Every year on February 19, Ethiopians commemorate Martyrs Day, when fascist Italian troops slaughtered more than 30,000 Ethiopians.

Because of this, February is sometimes referred to as the month of martyrs. The most heinous atrocity carried out by the Italians might have qualified as the highest form of genocide.

The Yekatit 12 Square Monument in the Siddist Kilo neighbourhood in Addis Ababa serves as a reminder of the tragedy, and it was constructed in honour of the 30,000 citizens who were slaughtered on that fateful day.

Yekatit 12

Yekatit 12 stands out as one of the most horrific incidents in the history of Ethiopia. Over 85 years ago, on February 19, 1937, Fascist Italy committed a brutal massacre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

The massacre, which lasted for three days, saw the merciless slaughter of over 30,000 Ethiopians, marking one of the darkest moments in the history of Ethiopia.

The massacre was a direct response to the assassination attempt on Rodolfo Graziani, the viceroy of Italy in East Africa, and other Italian officials in Addis Ababa by two men of Eritrean descent who launched hand grenades at them.

The Ethiopian populace had consistently resisted the Italian control of East Africa, and this attack only served to further fuel Italian aggression towards Ethiopians.

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Graziani ordered the ruthless punishment of the Ethiopian inhabitants of Addis Ababa.

The Italian forces under Graziani undertook an ethnic cleansing operation that included scores of massacres and atrocities to “keep Ethiopians in line.”

The response was immediate, and Italian carabinieri fired into crowds of beggars and the poor who had assembled for the distribution of alms.

It is even said that the Federal Secretary, Guido Cortese, fired his revolver into the group of Ethiopian dignitaries standing around him. Hours later, Cortese gave the fatal order to “destroy and kill and do what you want to the Ethiopians.”

The massacres continued for three consecutive days, from February 19 to 21, 1937, but atrocities continued until the Ethiopian resistance and its allies drove the Italian occupiers out of the country. Soldiers beat and stabbed Ethiopians to death to the cries of “Duce! Duce!” and “Civiltà Italiana.”

The homes of Greeks and Armenians in the capital were plundered, and houses were set on fire. Dozens of Greeks and Armenians were also executed if they were discovered protecting Ethiopians in the city from the fascists.

In addition to the massacre, the Italian occupiers also set up concentration camps in which mass executions and forced labor were conducted. Graziani personally made sure Ethiopian inmates would only receive the absolute minimum of meals to keep them working.

The concentration camp at Nokra was particularly brutal, and those who survived the facility endured years of hunger. The Third Reich later adopted the fascist Italian techniques and applied them to their own concentration camps during the Second World War.

Over 30,000 to 40,000 people were killed in Yekatit 12, according to Italian and British soldiers. However, given that the Italian government kept most of its key players a secret during the Nuremberg Trials, that number may be much higher.

It is a tragedy that has had a lasting impact on Ethiopia, and the scars of Yekatit 12 are still felt today.

Despite the passage of time, Italy has yet to sincerely apologize to Ethiopia for occupying Yekatit 12 or make restitution. Ethiopia continues to discreetly back Emperor Haile Selassie in exile and resist the Italian occupation.

During the Second World War, Ethiopian resistance groups led by the emperor teamed up with British forces to drive out the occupiers, finally ending the Italian occupation.

The martyrs of Yekatit 12 will never be forgotten, and their legacy will continue to live on in the memories of Ethiopians and people around the world who seek to understand the horrors of war and the consequences of colonialism.

The atrocities committed during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia are a painful reminder of the brutality of colonialism and the lasting effects it can have on a society.

The Ethiopian people suffered greatly under Italian rule, with countless lives lost, families destroyed, and a rich cultural heritage forever changed.

One particularly dark moment in this history is the massacre that occurred on Yekatit 12, a date that marks the Ethiopian calendar’s equivalent of February 19th.

On this day in 1937, the Italian army unleashed a brutal assault on the city of Addis Ababa, targeting civilians and carrying out a massacre that claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 people.

The indiscriminate violence and destruction that occurred during this time left a lasting scar on Ethiopia, and the memory of those who lost their lives on Yekatit 12 continues to be honored to this day.

Despite the scale of this tragedy, there has been little acknowledgement or reparations from the Italian government.

Also read: Brutal Execution of Prince Klaas, Ghanaian Advocate for African State in Antigua

To this day, there has been no official apology or reparations paid for the crimes committed during the occupation, leaving many Ethiopians feeling like their suffering has been overlooked and their pain left unacknowledged.

It is important to remember the martyrs who lost their lives on Yekatit 12 and to honor their memory by continuing to work towards a world where such atrocities can never happen again.

Through education and advocacy, we can ensure that the lessons of history are not forgotten and that the victims of past injustices are never silenced or forgotten.

In conclusion, the tragedy of Yekatit 12 serves as a powerful reminder of the need for justice and accountability in the face of oppression and violence.

It is our duty as global citizens to acknowledge the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon others, to speak out against injustice and inequality, and to work towards a more peaceful and equitable world for all.

May the martyrs rest in peace and live on through our memory, inspiring us to never forget the lessons of history and to continue fighting for a better future.


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