Tag Archives: Graziani

Ian Campbell on the Addis Ababa Massacre of 1937

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Yekatit 12 Monument in memory of the 1937 Massacre, Siddist Kilo, Addis Ababa

This week, Oxford’s Horn of Africa Seminar hosted Ian Campbell to present his research on the events surrounding both the assassination attempt on Italian commander Rodolfo Graziani in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 19 February 1937, and the reprisal killings and massacre that occurred in the days and months which followed.

Ian presented a harrowing and detailed account of the extent of the massacre which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 18-20% of the population of Addis Ababa, the majority of whom were women and children. While Graziani lay in a coma at Ras Desta Hospital following the grenade attack, a killing force comprised of members the Italian Army, Black Shirts, and civilians was organised. Forces were loosed on the city as the Italians feared the grenades thrown at Graziani were a precursor to wide-scale Ethiopian insurrection. Ethiopian servants were dragged out of houses in the Greek and Armenian neighbourhoods of the city and shot in the street. Black Shirts began burning down whole residential sections of the city, targeting Ethiopian homes with the residents still inside, and throwing any babies or young children who tried to escape back onto the flames. Hundreds of intelligentsia and young Ethiopians were rounded up and shot opportunistically, despite their obvious lack of involvement in the plot against Graziani.

The killings in Addis went on for three days, until Mussolini himself sent orders to stop. Graziani emerged from his coma, but remained in recovery in hospital for months. Reprisal killings were then taken outside city borders – mobile gallows were erected and transported across the countryside, with the Italians targeting local aristocracy and community leaders. Graziani also targeted the Debre Libanos monastery for its symbolic link to the Orthodox church and Ethiopian cultural heritage, killing 3,000 monks, priests, and local residents.

Ian Campbell has spent twenty years amassing documentary evidence on the extent of the reprisal killings in the months following February 1937. While the massacre has been memorialised in Addis at Yekatit 12 square in Siddist Kilo, the extent of the destruction has largely been hidden over the last decades. Ian has collected film and photographic evidence of the burnings and murders, the majority of which were taken by Black Shirts themselves as souvenirs of their time in Ethiopia. The photos were initially gathered by Sylvia Pankhurst for her anti-fascist newspaper, New Times and Ethiopia News, in addition to other foreign diplomats and Ethiopians living in Addis in the late 1930s. Ian has also unearthed critical documents within the national archives in Rome demonstrating that the massacre was deliberately planned and orchestrated by senior Italian leadership, and was not, as often asserted, a random act by a group of belligerent Black Shirts.

Ian’s careful collection of evidence demonstrates the extent to which the full picture of this massacre has largely been erased from history, and the way in which its erasure has contributed to the myth of Italy’s “benign” occupation of Ethiopia. Why was such an atrocious series of events forgotten in time? Not only by the international community, but to a large extent by Ethiopians themselves? Ian argued that the forgetting was a deliberate political tool, both by prominent British politicians intent on securing Italy’s alliance at the end of World War II, and even Haile Selassie himself. The Emperor’s quick forgiveness of the Italian occupiers is striking given the widespread destruction, violence, and oppression they enacted in Ethiopia, but is symptomatic of Haile Selassie’s desire to merely move on and begin industrialising his reclaimed empire. Territorial disputes with the British, both Eritrea and the Somali Ogaden region, also left the Emperor with little choice but to capitulate to foreign pressure to not pursue justice against the Fascist occupiers.

Post-war political juggling aside, the fact that no war crimes trials were conducted for the Italian occupiers of Ethiopia is striking, especially given the new evidence unearthed by Ian Campbell. His scholarship begs larger questions about the politics of memory in relation to acts of violence, especially in colonial contexts. In the wake of ongoing revelations about the extent of organised killings and brutality across colonial Africa, we must continue asking why certain acts of violence are allowed to be committed with impunity, and how to most effectively memorialise atrocities from the past.

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ICES Resolution on the Graziani Memorial

It’s been a while since the International Conference on Ethiopian Studies in Dire Dawa, but we just received a copy of the resolution regarding the Graziani memorial that was passed there and thought we should share – see below, and see our own comment on the issue here.

H.E. Mr. Giorgio Napolitano,

President of the Republic of Italy,

H.E. Mr. Mario Monti,

Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy

Your Excellencies,

The 18th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies was held in the eastern Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa from 29 October to 2 November 2012. The conference brought together three hundred scholars from twenty-six countries from all over the world. It was the latest in the series of conferences first held in Italy in 1959.

On the last day of the conference, we the participants noted with great dismay the erection in August 2012 of a monument to the Fascist war criminal Rodolfo Graziani in the town of Affile. The name of Graziani is associated with the worst atrocities of Italian Fascism in Ethiopia and, earlier, in Libya, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Africans. He is remembered for vowing to deliver Ethiopia to Mussolini “with or without the Ethiopians”. He went on to fulfill that vow with indiscriminate use of chemical weapons and the massacre of thousands of Ethiopians. The notorious “Graziani Massacre” that followed the attempt on his life on 19 February 1937 was marked by brutal and inhuman killing of thousands of innocent Ethiopians. Targeted for liquidation in particular were a number of young educated Ethiopians. This was followed by the massacre in May of nearly three hundred monks and over twenty other Ethiopians in the medieval monastery of Debre Libanos. Continue reading

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A Monument for Graziani: Italy’s unresolved relations to its violent colonial past

By Jacob Wiebel and Toni Weis

Opening of the Graziani memorial in Affile. Copyright holder unknown.

Earlier this month Affile, a small town in the Italian region of Lazio, has inaugurated a Mausoleum dedicated to the memory of the fascist Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. The Marshal’s name is well remembered in Ethiopia for his use of chemical weapons and for ordering massacres which cost thousands of Ethiopian lives, including those of a sizable portion of the country’s intelligentsia, during the Italian invasion and occupation of the country in the 1930s. Coverage of these news in the Italian media has remained marginal and has largely centred on the exorbitant price tag of almost 130.000 €, paid for with regional funds. The erection of a monument to a fascist leader has been denounced by some, but the violent colonial realities created by that leader have received little attention. The memorial to Graziani powerfully illustrates Italy’s ongoing flirtations with far-right politics; but it also acts as a reminder of the systematic human rights abuses and war crimes on which Italian colonialism was built, and of the sad fact that these have never engendered the public debate and societal soul-searching that their gravity, and their victims’ dignity, demands.

 The illegal use of chemical weapons in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, claiming thousands of lives, is well documented. For example, on the eve of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in March 1936, Graziani sent a secret memorandum on his preparations for the conflict to the Ministry of War in Rome. In this file, which has recently been purchased by the Library of Congress (see footnote 1), he outlined his strategy for overcoming the numerous but poorly-armed Ethiopian defense forces. Central to this strategy was the large-scale use of illegal chemical weapons:

 “Condizione essenziale per la riuscita dell’ operazione: [...] libero uso di bombe e proiettili a liquidi speciali per infliggere al nemico le massime perdite e sopratutto per produrne il completo collasso morale.”

[“Essential condition for the succeeding of the Operation: [...] the free use of special-liquid bombs and shells in order to inflict maximum losses on the enemy, and above all to effect his complete collapse of morale”] Continue reading

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Leading academics react to the Graziani memorial

The decision, by the Italian town of Affile, to erect a monument in honour of Rodolfo Graziani is not only an insult to his victims, but also a challenge to those who research and write the history of colonial rule.  Focus on the Horn has asked a number of international scholars to comment on this issue; below, we document their responses in full. Please feel free to add your own comments! (For our background article on the Graziani memorial, see here).

Bahru Zewde is Emeritus Professor of History at Addis Ababa University and author of A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1991.

” I do hope that your blog and other initiatives would culminate in the dismantling of this shameful memorial. This is not an academic issue. It is a matter of honour and dignity, not only of those in Libya and Ethiopia who were the victims of his bloody reprisals but also of later generations who had kept those martyrs in their memory. In Ethiopian history, Graziani is particularly notorious for what has come to be known as the Graziani Massacre when, following an attempt on his life on 19 February 1937, the Black Shirts were let loose on the population of Addis Ababa. Three days of indiscriminate killing set in. But not so indiscriminate was the systematic liquidation of a promising generation of young Ethiopian intellectuals. Their crime: having been part of the Black Lion Resistance force. Although they had surrendered to the Fascist forces months earlier, they were rounded up and executed.” Continue reading

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