Yekatit 12 is a date in the Ethiopian calendar (equivalent to 19 February) and commemorates the indiscriminate massacre and imprisonment of Ethiopians by Italian forces. Italian Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani had led the Italian forces to victory over their Ethiopian opponents in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and was supreme governor of Italian East Africa. He had organized an event to distribute alms to the poor on 19 February 1937 at Genete Leul Palace (now Addis Ababa University).
Two members of the crowd, Abraha Deboch and Mogus Asgedom, brought in grenades, slipped through the crowd to the steps, and threw up to 10 grenades before escaping. According to historian Richard Pankhurst, Abraha has very bitter about racist practices although he worked at the Fascist Political Bureau and was seen as a collaborator.
The grenades wounded the Viceroy, top Italian generals and Abuna Querellos but prompt hospital treatment saved the Viceroy who later claimed 250 pieces of steel had pierced him, although the overhanging balcony shielded much of the blast.
Wikipedia quotes historian Anthony Mockler on the immediate Italian response: “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.” A few hours later Cortese ordered: “Comrades, today is the day when we should show our devotion to our Viceroy by reacting and destroying the Ethiopians for three days. For three days I give you carte blanche to destroy and kill and do what you want to the Ethiopians.”
In three days (19-21 February), the Italians had killed 30,000 Ethiopians in Addis Ababa only, using daggers and truncheons to shouts of “Duce! Duce!” and “Civiltà Italiana, burning down houses with gasoline and lynching servants of local Greeks and Armenians.
Reprisals and imprisonments continued for weeks. Investigators found that Abraha and Mogus had stayed a while at Debra Libanos and slight circumstantial evidence suggested that the monks had foreknowledge of their plans. Graziani, who was already very suspicious of the Coptic Orthodox clergy, on 19 May cabled the local commander: “Therefore execute summarily all monks without distinction including the Vice-Prior.” The following day, a feast day of their patron saint Tekle Haymanot, 297 monks plus 23 laymen were shot, the entire population of the monastery.
The massacres greatly increased the scale of the resistance by Ethiopian patriots.
Picture of Ethiopian patriot troops from the memoirs of an Allied bomber pilot shot down by Italians near Gondar and sheltered and fed by patriot troops under Imperial Officers while walking 150 miles to Debre Tabor.
Ian Campbell is a development consultant specializing in East Africa who arrived in Addis Ababa in 1988 and has been studying Ethiopia’s cultural history since then. Author of “The Plot to Kill Graziani” (Addis Ababa University Press, 2010) and “The Massacre of Debre Libanos” (Addis Ababa University Press, forthcoming), he will present the findings from research he conducted over a 20-year period into the massacre of Addis Ababa – a hitherto undocumented event and the greatest single atrocity of the Italian occupation.
Ian will present the circumstances surrounding the massacre, maps showing the extent and location of the attacks on residents, rare photographs of what happened, previously unpublished documents showing that the massacre was authorised by the Italian authorities, and his analysis and estimates of the number of victims.
Anthony Mockler (2004). Haile Selassie’s War, published by Signal Books, available here.
Richard Pankhurst: Who was the Third Man? Article in Addis Ababa Tribune, published 27 February 2004.