1936: Aboune Petros, Ethiopian bishop

On this date in 1936, the Italian forces occupying Ethiopia executed anti-occupation cleric Aboune Petros.

War on Ethiopia had been Benito Mussolini‘s monument to muscular Italian nationalism.

By May of 1936, it had forced Haile Selassie into exile and established control of the country. Mission accomplished!

At last Italy has her empire.

-Mussolini

As is often the case, the war of conquest instead transmogrified into a war against continuing resistance to foreign military occupation, and the colony of Italian East Africa was a short-lived and bloody affair.

The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians.

-Italian Gen. Rodolfo Graziani

(Though the progressive counterpart to Italy’s iron-fisted approach to troublemakers was monumental construction, and 1930s-era fascist architecture is still to be seen in Addis Ababa today.)

Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch Aboune — it’s a title that can also be rendered Abuna or Abune — Petros cut a public profile a little too sympathetic to the native subversives. When the Italians demanded that he tone it down, he replied (according to a hagiography that appears several places online),

The cry of my countrymen who died due to your nerve-gas and terror machinery will never allow my conscious to accept your ultimatum. How can I see my God if I give a blind eye to such a crime?

On July 28, Italians repelled a large* Abyssinian insurgent attack by the sons of Ras Kassa between Addis Ababa and Petros’s stomping-grounds of Dessie; the next day, Petros was escorted to an abrupt martyrdom to the mirroring causes of national self-determination and anti-insurgency realpolitik.

His sacrifice is commemorated in statuary as well as a couple of notable theatrical pieces, Yedam Dems (The Voice of Blood) by Makonnen Endalkachew** and Petros Yachin Saat (Petros At That Hour) by Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin.

* On the scale of thousands. It “showed a certain tenacity,” according to the London Times‘ droll Rome correspondent in a July 30 story.

** Not the same guy as the post-colonial Prime Minister who was executed in a 1974 purge.