1936: Aberra Kassa and Asfawossen Kassa, Ethiopian royalty

Add comment December 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1936, Italian forces consolidating control of occupied Ethiopia mopped up a couple of royal relatives who had resisted a bit too long.

Brothers Aberra Kassa and Asfawossen Kassa had briefly become, with the flight to exile of their ally Haile Selassie, symbolic leaders of Ethiopia’s domestic resistance to Mussolini’s imperialism.

Along with another brother, these sons of Ras Kassa mounted an abortive July 1936 attack on Addis Ababa, precipitating a furious Italian response.

The rebels were hunted to their retreat: the other brother was caught in a cave and summarily executed, which must have been at the back of Aberra and Asfawossen’s mind when they surrendered under a pledge of safe conduct.

‘Now I tell you to surrender’, wrote Graziani, ‘and I assure you nothing will happen to you. Why do you want to die uselessly?’

Only his cousins had remained with Dejaz Aberra: Mesfin Sileshi and the two younger men, Lij Merid Mangasha and Lij Abiye Abebe. They suspected Italian treachery. ‘If you want to be killed’, said Mesfin, ‘shall I kill you?’ …

The exact sequence of the events that followed is difficult to disentangle … Aberra and Asfawossen finally decided to submit. Aberra however sent his wife and baby son away with Mesfin and the two cousins, a last-minute concession to their pleas and threats.

A letter was sent up to General [Ruggero] Tracchia who had now occupied Fikke:

“To General Tracchia

“As you have assured me in your letter ot me that our lives will be spared, we shall assemble our armies and receive you by peaceful parade in a place called Bidigon.

“Aberra Kassa”

Ras Hailu in person led Aberra and Asfawossen to General Tracchia’s camp. While they were in the tent drinking coffee with the General, the men of their escort were disarmed, apparently without difficulty, and taken away (they were released the next morning). A group or carabinieri entered the tent and arrested the two brothers. It was 21 December, three days after Ras Imru had surrendered. At 7 p.m. the men in the escort heard a volley of shots in the centre of the town.

Tracchia sent a laconic cable to Graziani: ‘Dejaz Aberra and brother shot dusk in piazza of Fikke’. Graziani sent a cable to Lessona (Italian link) repeating Tracchia’s message and adding ‘Situation Salale liquidated’.

This reference to the Salale or Selale branch of the Ethiopian royal family was not entirely correct, however.

Not liquidated was the youngest brother, Asrate Kassa, who had escaped to exile and would return with Haile Selassie’s post-Mussolini government. Asrate ultimately qualified for these dolorous pages himself, however, as one of the victims of the 1974 Derg purge.

Of more immediate concern for Graziani and his ilk: Abera Kassa’s widow Kebedech Seyoum (French link) legendarily rose from childbirth after learning of her husband’s execution to become one of the Ethiopian resistance’s greatest military leaders. She’s a national hero in Ethiopia … and there’s also a Laboratorio Femminista Kebedech Seyoum in Rome, dedicated to the study of ant-fascist women.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Ethiopia,Execution,History,Italy,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Royalty,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1936: Aboune Petros, Ethiopian bishop

Add comment July 29th, 2010 Headsman

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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Ethiopia,Execution,Famous,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1974: Black Saturday in Ethiopia

4 comments November 23rd, 2009 Headsman

November 23, 1974 was “Bloody Saturday” in Ethiopia for that day’s* surprise purge of some threescore politicians and soldiers by the ruling Derg.

It was barely ten weeks since the Derg — an Amharic word meaning “committee”, in this case a leftist military junta — had formally overthrown Emperor Haile Selassie, so ancient that he was already middle-aged back when he’d been leading Ethiopia’s resistance against Mussolini.

It’s strange to say in retrospect, but having spent the best part of a year systematically supplanting the political authority of the decrepit ancien regime with widespread public support, the Derg had engendered hope that its revolution would be accomplished without slaughter.

“Ityopiya tikdem/yala mimin dem” — “Let Ethiopia progress/Without any bloodshed” — became the popular slogan of that heady time. (pdf source)

Black Saturday turned the leaf on all that, and opened the sanguinary chapter of Ethiopian history today evoked by the name of the Derg.

What went wrong with Ethiopia's bloodless revolution?
“The prospect,” concluded the analysis that appeared under this headline in the Nov. 29, 1974 London Times, “is that the mass executions will be followed by further drastic action aimed at consolidating the control of the new military rulers.” The same author, Michael Knipe, had written on Nov. 16 that “the firmness of [the military’s] control appears to be matched by an overall moderation of approach, which holds promise for Ethiopia’s future.”

The Derg long remained a shadowy body, its members largely unknown and its internecine factional politics only guessed-at. The executions this date are generally read as the consolidation of the coup’s “radical” elements as against its “moderates” and the first signal event in Derg member Mengistu Haile Mariam‘s eventual conquest of supreme authority.

The crucial issue that separated radicals from moderates at the revolution’s early stage appears to be their approach to the ongoing struggle of coastal Eritrea — then still a province of Ethiopia.

Ethnically Eritrean officer Aman Michael Andom, the first titular head of the Derg who had been deposed from his position only a week ago, was a noteworthy advocate of negotiating a peacable settlement with Eritrean agitators. He was among the casualties of Black Saturday. (Aman was later reported to have been killed resisting arrest, rather than actually executed; many of the available accounts of this massacre have slightly varying numbers and particulars.) Henceforth, military force would be Addis Ababa’s only approach to the Eritrean problem.

A few other Aman supporters in the Derg shared his fate in a political wipeout. But more numerous among the 29 civilian and 31 military men announced as casualties the next morning — and there had been no prior warning that executions were imminent — were aristocrats and officials of the Haile Selassie government, including:

  • Two former Prime Ministers, Endelkachew Makonnen and Aklilu Habte-Wold (or Aklilou Wold), both of whom had been slated for trial for the recent famine in Wollo (London Times, Nov. 14, 1974);**

  • Solomon Abrahami, the former governor of Wollo;
  • Selassie’s own grandsom, Rear Adm. Iskender (Alexander) Desta;
  • 16 generals, including Selassie’s son-in-law (and former Defense Minister) Abiye Abebe.

(This Nov. 25, 1974 New York Times article — behind the paper’s pay wall — lists all 60 vicitms.)

These were a selection of some 200 political prisoners held by the Derg; how hard to come down on these officials was another point of contention between radicals and moderates. It emerged later that the Derg had met earlier on the 23rd to vote, name by name, which among its prisoners deserved execution.

So if you look at it right, summarily machine-gunning only 30% of your political prisoners is a moderate policy. Alas: these would hardly be the last.

After the Derg government was itself finally overthrown in 1991 — and the troubled province of Eritrea finally won its independence from Ethiopia — some of the perpetrators of its genocidal atrocities were themselves put on trial.

* It’s obscure — perhaps permanently so — whether the nighttime killings transpired before or after the end of the day, and both the 23rd and 24th are variously cited as the date of death. “Reliable sources said the executions were by machine gun at midnight,” the unhelpfully breezy New York Times reported on Nov. 25. This account (pdf) has the shootings occupying several batches with midnight passing during the process. We give precedence to Saturday the 23rd here because that’s the day that earned the “Bloody” appellation.

** According to Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution, Mengistu was rumored to have disposed of Aklilu personally.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Ethiopia,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • MARIA: I just watched a programme on this – I think it was Charlotte’s friend Lucy could have done it...
  • Lucky: I would like to correct the article by saying that it wasn’t Bandaranaike’s daughter who became...
  • Leonard Humphrey: I show and have read last public hanging was in Canton for man who killed a drummer of goods in...
  • Bob McCully: Hello folks. These are most likely images of Cowell’s greenhouses. They were located on Ridge Road...
  • Julia: Aby was a brave lad, and badly mistreated, he came out to fight, for his adopted country, not only lying about...