About Emperor Haile Selassie I
BIRTH & ANCESTRY
Emperor Haile Selassie I was born on July 23,1894,as Lij Taffari Makonnen at Enjersa Goro, just outside the city of Harrar. His parents were Ras Makonnen Wolde Michael, the governor of Harrar, and his wife, Woizero Yeshimebet Ali AbaJiffar. Ras Makonnen was the son of Dejazmatch Wolde Michael Wolde Melekot, a noble of Doba in northern Shewa. Ras Makonnen’s paternal grandfather was Ato Wolde Melekot Yemane Kristos a Tigrean noble from Tembien who had moved to Shewa. Ras Makonnen’s mother however was Woizero Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, daughter of King Sahle Selassie of Shewa, sister of King Haile Melekot of Shewa, and aunt to Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. Ras Makonnen was thus the first cousin of Emperor Menelik II and a member of the Solomonic Dynasty.
Woizero Yeshimebet his wife was the daughter of Dejazmatch Ali AbaJiffar, an Oromo chieftan of Wollo, and his wife Woizero Welete Giorgis Yimeru, a Gurage and Amhara woman once married to Ras Darge Sahle Selassie (Menelik II’s uncle). Woizero Yeshimebet died before her son was 2 years old. Ras Makonnen had an elder son Yilma whom he did not aknowledge until later in life (some say after Yilma saved his fathers life during the battle of Adowa). Dejazmatch Yilma Makonnen was Emperor Haile Selassie’s only sibling, and was the father of four children, sons Kegnazmatch Sehalu Yilma, Kegnazmatch Asfaw Yilma and Dejazmatch Mengesha Yilma, and a daughter Her Imperial Highness Princess Yeshashework Yilma. Ras Makonnen himself had several siblings however.
His elder sister Ihite Mariam had a daughter Mazlekia, who was married to Fitawrari Haile Selassie, and was the mother of Ras Imiru Haile Selassie, who was to be the Emperor Haile Selassie’s life long companion and close confidant. As Ras Makonnen spent a great deal of time traveling on diplomatic business for Emperor Menelik, so he entrusted the care of his son Taffari to Fitawrari Haile Selassie. Therefore, Taffari grew up with Imiru more as brothers rather than cousins. Lij Taffari also was cared for by his maternal grandmother Woizero (later Emahoi after taking vows and becoming a nun) Welete Giorgis, and his maternal aunt Woizero Mammit. The boys were given the traditional education given to the children of Ethiopia’s aristocracy. They were taught by Orthodox priests, and could recite the psalms in Ge-ez by age six. They were ordained deacons and served as such at Harrar’s St. Michael’s Church. Later, Ras Makonnen approached a French Catholic Capuchin monk residing in Harrar, Father Jaresseau to teach the boys along western lines.
The Catholic priest taught them French, geography, world history, philosophy and some Latin as well. Over the next years, Taffari also picked up English, and German, as well as the Ethiopian languages of Amharic, Tigrigna and Oromigna(called Galligna in those days) and became a scholar in Ge-ez. After the death of his wife Woizero Yeshimebet, Ras Makonnen was prevailed upon by Empress Taitu to marry into her family.
She arranged for him to marry her niece, Woizero Mentewab, a girl closer to the age of Lij Taffari and Lij Imiru than Ras Makonnen. Brought to Harrar, Woizero Mentewab briefly presided as lady of the household and step-mother to Lij Taffari, however less than a year later, Ras Makonnen sent the girl back to her aunt, the marriage having never been consumated. He believed it was unfair to the girl to marry her to a man of his comparatively advanced years. Empress Taitu took deep offense and never forgave the Ras. Lij Taffari however would hold the woman who was briefly his step-mother in high regard for the rest of her life.
PATH TO THE THRONE
At the age of thirteen, Lij Taffari Makonnen was created a Dejazmatch by his father, and given the district of Garra Muleta as his fief. Ras Makonnen also summoned all his officers and informed them that it was his wish that his son Dejazmatch Taffari succeede him as governor of Harrar, and asked them all to swear their loyalty to Taffari. Although Ras Makonnen may have tried to establish his wishes in such a manner, ultimate decisions as to the succession of the Harrar governorate belonged to his cousin Emperor Menelik II.When Ras Makonnen died suddenly in 1908, the situation in Ethiopia was not what most had anticipated. The Ras died at Kulibi on his way to Addis Ababa from Harrar possibly of typhus. He was taken back to Harrar and buried at St. Michael’s church there. Emperor Menelik was beside himself with grief upon hearing that Ras Makonnen had dead. He had the huge funeral tent set up on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in the capital, and proclaimed that he himself would be the chief mourner for Ras Makonnen in place of the two sons of his cousin.
He summoned Dejazmatch Taffari, and Ras Makonnen’s entourage from Harrar to Addis Ababa where Dejazmatch Yilma was already residing. Dejazmatch Taffari and the officers of Ras Makonnen arrived in Addis Ababa, and they walked into the Emperor’s presence weeping and carrying a large portrait of the dead prince. Traditionaly, royalty in Ethiopia did not show emotion in public, so it stunned and moved the assembled courtiers when suddenly, Emperor Menelik rose up from his throne and embraced the portrait of his dead cousin, weeping and sobbing repeadedly, “Makonnen my son, Makonnen my brother! I have lost my right hand!” Menelik did not expect the younger Ras Makonnen to pre-decease him. Indeed it was often speculated that because Menelik had no sons of his own, he might name Makonnen his heir. This was not to be however.
Although Ras Makonnen had made clear that he had wanted Dejazmatch Taffari to succeede him as governor of Harrar, Menelik was not disposed to following through on that. Empress Taitu was especially opposed to Taffari inheriting Harrar, arguing that he was far too young. Instead, she argued for the apointment of the elder son of Ras Makonnen, Dejazmatch Yilma, who had been at the Imperial Court for several years, and was now appointed to succeed his father as governor.The Empress also arranged for Yilma to marry her neice Woizero Aselefech. Dejazmatch Taffari was instead given the honorific governorship of Selale, and told to remain at court where he became a member of the Emperor’s personal retinue. Empress Taitu may have also advised this course of action because she suspected that the young prince may have been unduly influenced by the Roman Catholic priests that had been teaching him in Harrar.
She may have suspected that he might have accepted the Catholic faith because he held so many of the progressive views of his father associated with westerners and Catholics. She would soon be reassured that he was firmly Orthodox however as far as religion went. He was placed in the new school built in the capital for young nobles, the Menelik II School. This situation continued until in 1910 when Dejazmatch Yilma also died. Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo (known as Abba Nega) was briefly appointed to the Harrar governorate, but proved to be extremely unpopular with the local officials who had long identified with Ras Makonnen and his sons. They appealed to Addis Ababa to have Dejazmatch Balcha removed. Empress Taitu, acting on Menelik’s behalf due to the Emperor’s stroke, appointed Taffari to the governorship of Harrar.
It was to be her last official act, as the very next day, the nobility led by Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis and Dejazmatch Gebre Selassie Baria Gabr, deposed her, and put power in the hands of the Lord Regent Ras Tessema Nadew. They limited the Empress to caring for the stricken Emperor. In 1913, Emperor Menelik II died, and Lij Eyasu assended the throne, with Ras Tessema Nadew as his Regent. That same year, Ras Tessema also died under mysterious circumstances, and Lij Eyasu took the reigns of government himself, although he refused to be crowned as of yet.
In 1916, Dejazmatch Taffari Makonnen was removed from Harar by Lij Eyasu, and appointed governor of Kaffa. Dejazmatch Taffari was very resentful of the loss of what he considered his birthright. In addition Lij Eyasu, after taking Harrar for himself, had moved into the governors palace there, and ordered that his niece, and Taffari’s wife, Menen, be evicted immediately. Lij Eyasu was informed that Woizero Menen was in the midst of giving birth, and could not possibly be moved (she was giving birth to Prince Asfaw Wossen, later Emperor Amha Selassie).
He resentfully agreed to allow his niece to give birth, but ordered her to leave immediately afterwards. This embittered already poor relations between Taffari and Eyasu. Not long after this, the nobles and ministers of the Empire began to openly express concern about the erratic behavior of the heir, and his apparent sympathy for Islam. The diplomatic missions of the Entente Powers, concerned about Lij Eyasu’s pro-German leanings encouraged this dissension. Finally, the Nobility, led by Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis, became convinced that Lij Eyasu had secretly converted to Islam, and following a two day meeting at Jan Meda in Addis Ababa (the Imperial Parade Ground), the nobility convinced the reluctant Coptic Archbishop, Abune Mattiwos, to declare Lij Eyasu an apostate, and release them from their oaths of loyalty to him.
The nobles decided to swear fealty to the daughter of the late Emperor Menelik, and so Empress Zewditu was proclaimed Elect of God, Conquering Lion of Judah, and Queen of Kings, at the feast of Maskal (Feast of the Holy Cross’ discovery by St. Helena)which fell on September 27,1916. Dejazmatch Taffari Makonnen was proclaimed Heir to the Throne, and Crown Prince with the title of Ras as a compromise to progressives who were feeling relegated from the action which was being led by the conservative forces. Ras Taffari soon afterwards assumed the title of Regent, and became the true ruler of the Empire.
Ras Taffari Makonnen began to institute wide spread reforms in order to bring Ethiopia into the modern age. In order to qualify for membership in the League of Nations, the Regent proclaimed the end of slavery in 1923, and all slaves were declared free. A school was established in Addis Ababa for former slaves as well. The first newspapers were established to disseminate the progressive views of the Crown Prince and his supporters to the people in order to win support He also went on a tour of the Holy Land and the European capitals, being the highest ranking member of the Imperial family to ever travel abroad.
He visited Rome and was greeted by the new Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini, as well as by King Vittorio Emanuelle. The King of Italy invested the Crown Prince of Ethiopia with the Order of the Annunziata, which entitled him to be called a “cousin” of the King of Italy (Something that would be regarded with such irony only a few years later). He went on to Paris, Luxembourg (Where the reigning Grand Duchess Charlotte gave birth to her heir Grand Duke Jean during his visit),Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain in an official capacity and paid private visits to Sweden and Germany.
He met the Pope as well, and received an honorary degree from Cambridge University. In an effort to convince the nobility of the Empire that the path of modernization and progress was the best way to guarantee Ethiopia’s continued independence and future prosperity (as well as to keep a close eye on them), the Prince-Regent had brought with him to Europe the leading nobles and aristocrats of his country. This exposure to the west with it’s wealth, it’s technology and it’s military might as well as to it’s many material advantages was instrumental in getting the nobility to relax their long time conservative opposition to the progressive trends of the Prince and his predecessors, Emperors Menelik II and Tewodros II. The visit was very successful in that respect.
However, he failed to convince France, Italy and Britain to cede Ethiopia a sea port in one of their colonies. The Ethiopian delegation caused quite a stir in Europe and aroused the interest of many who were not aware of the only ancient independent state in Africa. Much comment was made on the impeccable aristocratic manners and traditions of the delegation, and on the enlightened attitude of the Crown Prince. His desire to bring progress and education to his people was applauded in the European press. Among several anecdotes from this trip, is one involving Ras Hailu Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam. This Prince was one of the wealthiest men in the Ethiopian Empire.
He was the son of a king, and a man who carried himself as such. When the Crown Prince and his entourage were received by King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace, Ras Hailu along with the other princes and nobles was introduced to the British King. King George in meeting Ras Hailu asked if His Highness could speak English. The interpreter said no. He asked if he could speak French or German, again the answer was no. King George, rather irritated told the interpreter to tell His Highness that he was an ignorant man. Ras Hailu listened quietly and asked the interpreter if His Majesty could speak Amharic. When told no, he asked him if His Majesty could speak Tigrigna or Guragigna, again he was told no. The prince then haughtily told the interpretter to tell the King that His Majesty was equally ignorant. King George burst out laughing and took a great liking to Ras Hailu, Prince of Gojjam. Ethiopia was said to be opening up to the world.
Upon his return, the Crown Prince was able to please the Empress with the news that the British government would be returning one of the crowns of Emperor Tewodros II that the Napier expedition had siezed and carried off from Magdala in 1867. He did have to face however the deepening hostility to his modernizing zeal on the part of the conservative camp led by Fitarwrari Hapte Giorgis (who had not accompanied him abroad) and the Archbishop Abune Mattiwos who was displeased with the delegations call on the Pope in Rome.
They rigorously opposed his every move towards modernizing the administration of the Empire, raising objections, saying that the things the Prince wanted to do were “un-Ethiopian”. Particularly, when told that slaves were to be freed, Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis is said to have sputtered with outrage “…so is my wife to carry water on her back from the springs herself????” With the deaths of these two powerful but elderly men, Ras Taffari was able to consolidate his power by co-opting much of the Fitawrarris personal forces and staff into his own, and by postponing the appointment of a new Archbishop by entering into negotiations with the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria over the posibility of having an Ethiopian appointed to the post for the first time.
The reluctance of the Patriarch to agree to this resulted in the Ethiopian born Echege (Abbot of Debre Libanos Monastery) being the highest ranking cleric in Ethiopia, and he being much more in sympathy with the regent than the Archbishop had been, it was in the interests of the Prince to let things remain as they were and let the negotiations with the Holy See of St. Mark drag on. The power of the conservatives was thus greatly reduced. The Empress, although a staunch traditionalist was increasingly devoting her time and energies towards prayer, fasting, and church building.
She was therefore never an effective leader for the forces of conservatism. Part of the reason for this behavior may have been a deep sense of guilt that she bore for having defied her father’s will and replaced his designated heir on the throne, and also because of her deep sorrow at being forcefully separated from her husband. These events may have put her in a position of helplessness, and at the mercy of her nobles. After a series of plots and counter plots, an attempt was made to arrest the Prince-Regent at the Imperial Palace by conservative elements in the cabinet, possibly with the Empresses knowledge and agreement.
However, the Crown Prince’s wife got wind of the plot, and was able to alert him as well as send a force of his guards to the palace to liberate him. The Empress claimed ignorance of the plot, although it had been carried out in her name. Progressives and modernizers in the nobility and the army held an unprecedented demonstation in support of Ras Taffari on the grounds of the palace. In order to appease the angry progressives who rallied to the Crown Prince, the Empress agreed to crown him king.
In November of 1928, Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia crowned Taffari Makonnen as King and Heir to the Throne of Ethiopia. It was an unusual arangment as the King would remain in the capital with the Empress, and that no territory such as Wollo or Gondar was given him with the title. It was assumed that he was king of all Ethiopia, an unprecedented situation. His coronation as Nigus was regarded as a dress rehersal of sorts for his eventual coronation as Niguse Negest (Emperor). He would later see to it that no one else would ever be crowned king once he became Emperor.
With the eventuallity of his becoming emperor all the more likely now, the new king began to accelerate the process of getting an Archbishop from Alexandria. Although the Copts remained staunch in refusing to name an Ethiopian to the post, the Ethiopians were able to get the Patriarch to appoint 4 Ethiopian born suffrugan bishops to serve under the Egyptian Archbishop.
The new Egyptian born Archbishop Kyrilos, and the Ethiopian born Bishops Petros, Abraham, Markos and Lukas were all consicrated in Alexandria and arrived in Ethiopia soon afterwards. The Ethiopian Church was jubilant to have so many bishops at once, as well as 4 native born bishops. A year later, upon the occasion of the visit of the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria to Ethiopia, he consicrated the Echege of Debre Libanos, as the fifth Ethiopian born Bishop with the name Sauiros.
Soon after becoming king in 1928, Nigus Taffari recieved yet another challenge from the forces of conservatism. Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo, known popularly by his horse name of “Abba Nefso”, an Oromo unich who had been raised by Emperor Menelik and placed in several powerful posts by that Emperor. He had briefly succeeded Dejazmatch Yilma Makonnen as governor of Harrar, but upon his replacement by the then Dejazmatch Taffari in 1910, he had been appointed Governor of the wealthy gold, ivory and coffee producing province of Sidamo.
Now he arrived in Addis Ababa from Sidamo with a very large number of well armed men. He had repeatedly refused the summons of the new King to come to the Capital, and only obeyed now because he had recieced a summons from the Empress. Dejazmatch Balcha and his army encamped at Nifas Silk, just outside the city, and the presence of Balcha’s large Army was regarded as being a direct challenge to the king, in support of the Empress and the conservatives she supported. On the second evening after his arrival, Dejazmatch Balcha and his leading officers were invited by King Taffari to come to the Imperial Palace for dinner.
They arrived to find a fine feast prepared for them, and much to drink. As the evening wore on, and Balcha’s officers grew more and more intoxicated, they also grew more and more insulting to the king and his supporters as they sang songs as was customary. When the Dejazmatch and his followers finally returned to Nifas Silk, they were stunned to find that his entire army had vanished. While they had been eating and drinking at the palace, Ras Kassa Hailu and several other officials had arrived at Nifas Silk with a bag of Silver Maria Theresa Thallers, and another bag of whips. They announced to Balcha’s army that a new governor, Ras Birru, had been appointed for Sidamo and that they were to report to him at once.
They were instructed to immediately accept payment in the silver coins, surrender their weapons and go home. The bag of whips was left in clear view to show what would happen to anyone who did not obey. Within a short time, the soldiers had surrendered their weapons, recieved their payment and were headed back to their farms and families in the south. When Dejazmatch Balcha realized what had happened he fled to the Raguel Church on Mt. Entoto and rang the bell, a traditional plea for royal mercy in Ethiopia that monarchs were required to honor. The King confined Balcha to a monastery, but did not punish him further.
The country was abuzz with the many changes that were taking place. Bale was set up as a model province and was ruled along western lines with direct rule from the Central government, as an example to the nation. The armies of the various nobles and princes were being increasingly consolidated into a central military force with loyalty to the central government and not to regional leaders. Taxation was being uniformized accross the land and it’s collection handed over to officials appointed by Addis Ababa rather than by the regional rulers.
This cut into the income of the regional aristocracy and caused great resentment. The most resentful was clearly Ras Gugsa Wele who had much to be angry about. Although he had been made governor of Beghemidir, he fealt greatly slighted by the Shewans, and by King Taffari in particular. The Shewans and Tigreans had been responsible for the removal from state responsibility of his aunt Empress Taitu. They had later conspired to remove Lij Eyasu and place his own wife on the throne on the condition that he her husband separate from her, and sent him to far off Gondar to make sure his influence on the Empress would be minimal.
His resentment against Addis Ababa and the King increased as time went by, and he recieved encouragement from the Italians in Eritrea. In 1929 he gathered together a huge army of Beghemidir, Simien, and Yeju loyalists of his family, and marched on Shewa. The Empress pleaded with her husband repeatedly to no avail. Her final letters to him showed that she had become quite embittered by his refusal to listen to her pleas. The government ordered an Army north to meet him and do battle, and the two forces met at Anchiem plain. Before the battle began, the government engaged in a first for Ethiopia, the use of airoplanes in battle. Two flights took place.
The first flight was used to drop leaflets on Ras Gugsa’s army which bore messages from the Archbishop Kyrilos excommunicating anyone who was found to have fought against the government, and another that bore letters from the Empress (reluctantly written) and the King-Regent that declaired Ras Gugsa a rebel. This psychological warfare worked on some of Ras Gugsa’s forces who then began to desert in significant numbers. The second flight then took place in which a bomb was dropped on Ras Gugsas army and caused panic, and the bitter battle of Anchiem began.
By the end of the day, Ras Gugsa was dead and his army crushed. Quiet celebration of this victory had barely begun in Addis Ababa the next day when suddenly the capital was plunged into deep mourning with the death of Empress Zewditu herself. Zewditu’s death was a shock to her subjects. The population was deeply saddened as Zewditu was hugely popular, arousing much sympathy with her piety and her devotion to her late father. It is unclear if Empress Zewditu was actually told that her husband was dead, and if this played a role in her demise.
There are those who maintain that the Empress was poisoned as soon as news of her husbands defeat was certain, by radical modernist elements in the Palace. It had however been a palace secret that the Empress had long suffered from diabeties, and that in addition to western medicine, she also took traditional folk treatments, and visited shrines to bathe in holy water and holy springs in hopes of a cure. Members of the diplomatic corps reported to their home governments that the Empress had been taken early that morning to be emmersed in a container of frigid holy water for a cure, and that she had promptly gone into shock and died. They reported that she had not been told of her husbands death.
Other more romantic rumors reported that the Empress had fainted in sorrow upon hearing of the death of her husband, and had then died of a broken heart. Her Swiss doctor would report years later that her cause of death was diabeties, and it is this that is stated in Emperor Haile Selassie’s autobiography, and in a book by General Virgin, a Swedish military advisor. Nevertheless, this event marked the end of the conservative feudal era in Ethiopia, and the beginging of the new centralized beaurocratic Empire. The day after the death of Empress Zewditu, Nigus Taffari Makonnen was proclaimed Emperor Haile Selassie I, Elect of God, Conquering Lion of Judah+ , King of Kings of Ethiopia. His wife became Empress Menen of Ethiopia, and his children all assumed the titles of Prince and Princess.
On November 1st, 1930, the new Emperor of Ethiopia paid his respects to his illustrous predicesor, by erecting a equistrian statue of Emperor Menelik II infront of the Cathedral of St. George. Addis Ababa’s streets had been newly repaved, electrical lights put up and unsightly slums cleaned up for the pagentry that would follow the next day. On November 2nd, 1930, Haile Sellasie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia by the Coptic Archbishop, Abune Kyrillos at the Cathedral of St. George. His wife was also crowned as Empress, and Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen anointed as Heir to the Throne.
The coronation was the most splendid yet in Ethiopia. On the evening of November 1st, the Emperor and Empress were driven to the Cathedral in an open car as footmen riding behind them held red velvet umbrellas, heavily embroidered in gold, over their heads. After an all night vigil at the Cathedral, the foreign guests arrived to witness the anointing and crowning of the Imperial couple and the anointing of the crown prince. Around the outdoor dias were four large live lions, chained to the platform on which the Emperor sat with gold chains.
The Emperor and Empress were crowned outdoors infront of the Cathedral and enthroned there, as canons boomed a 100 gun salute, church bells rang, women ulultated and men cheered. The Imperial family, under a large portable gold encrusted canopy of red velvet, the upper nobility and clergy along with the foreign delegations then entered the cathedral to hear mass.
The coronation was witnessed by royalty and important dignitaries from around the world. Representing the British Empire was H.R.H. Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of King George V, brother the future Kings Edward VIII and George VI, and uncle to Queen Elizabeth II. Representing Italy was H.R.H. Prince Eugenio Di Savoia, Duke of Udine, cousin of the King of Italy. France was represented by Marshal Franchet D’Esperry. The King of Belgium was represented by Monseiur Gerard, the King of Sweden by Baron Dabells, the Queen of the Netherlands by Mr. Unhar Hersmadd, the Emperor of Japan by Baron Ezbur, the King of Egypt by Tewfik Nessim Pasha, the Greek government by Count Metaxis, the government of Turkey by Muhitin Pasha, the government of Poland by Count David Bazaki, the President of Germany by Baron Balthaussen, and the President of the United States by Mr. Jacobi.
The international press was also present, a first for Ethiopian coronations. Following the church ceremonies, the Emperor and Empress boarded the former Imperial Coach of Germany, which had been purchased from the German government earlier. Thousands of Ethiopian subjects and nobles lined the streets to the palace and witnessed the procession, the last coronation the country would see.
National Geographic took photographs of the Emperor in his coronation robes and covered the events in their next issue. The pagents did not go off without a glitch however. During welcoming ceremonies for the foreign delegations there was one significant event that caused minor disruption. As Crown Prince in 1923, the Emperor had visited Jerusalem. While there, the Armenian Patriarch and Catholicos of Jerusalem had met him, and told him of the plight of the large number of Armenian orphans being raised by the Patriarchate, and the financial dificulty this had placed on the patriarchate.
These children were among the survivors of the huge massacres of Armenians by the Turks a few years earlier. The then Crown Prince had decided to help the Armenian Patriarch by taking some of these orphans to Ethiopia to raise them in a country that shared the Oriental Orthodox heritage of their dead parents. These Armenian youths had formed a marching band in Ethiopia that played at many public events, and at the Palace as well for Imperial occasions of state. During the welcoming ceremonies before the coronation, they would play the national anthem of which ever delegation was arriving at the train station.
When the Turkish delegation arrived, the Armenian youths staunchly refused to play the Turkish anthem causing the Emperor to be very embarrassed and quite angry. The Emperor decided to put the matter before the senior princes and nobles in council to decide how to punish the Armenians for disobeying the monarch. When the council demanded an explanation from the band, the Armenians tearfully replied that it was against their conscience to honor those who had butchered their fathers and mothers. Much moved, the council agreed that it was too much to expect the Armenians to honor the representative of Turkey, so they recomended that they not be punished. The Emperor agreed and the Armenians were allowed to disobey the Emperor and refuse to play the Turkish National Anthem as it was in violation of the commandment “Honor your Father and Mother”. Among the guests at the coronation was the novelist Evlyn Waugh who would one day be a major defender and apologist for the fascists and Mussolini’s invasion and occupation of Ethiopia.
Emperor Haile Selassie began an agressive programme of modernization and centralization of the structure of the state. He ordered the drafting of the first written constitution for the Empire, which was completed and promulgated in 1931. The First Imperial Constitution, which borrowed heavily from the Meiji Constitution of Japan, provided for a Parliament for the first time in Ethiopian History. The Parliament was composed of two houses, a House of Deputies (lower house) and an Imperial Senate (upper house).
The Senate was comprised of High Nobles, and important personages who were appointed to their seats by the Emperor. The lower house was made up of land owners, and was also filled by appointment of the Emperor. Although the structure of this new constitution maintained the absolute power of the monarhcy, it did set down the rights of the people. As was traditional, the Supreme Court of Ethiopia remained the Emperor’s Chilot, where the Emperor heard the cases himself and passed down the final verdict. Every subject had the right to appeal to this court and to be heard.
The ministries were staffed with men who shared the Emperors progressive views, and advisors were employed from abroad to help them in their work. The cabinet of ministers, established by Menelik II was expanded, and under the constitution it had an advisory role to the monarch, as well as running the day to day affairs of state. Emperor Haile Selassie being the type of person he was, however, was not one to let others do the work of state. He was very active early in his reign with the most minute details of government.
However, as he grew older, and the government grew in size and in function, he began to have less and less of a role, and simply excersized his final approval/veto of policies formulated and excecuted by the increasing number of technocrats. The Emperor had no Prime Minister, but the Tsehafi Te-ezaz, a traditional title that had been converted into the Minister of the Pen in the modern cabinet, was the most senior of the ministers. After 1961, however, the Emperor decided to appoint a Prime Minister to take on more of the Policy formulation role in government. Early in his reign though, there were not enough educated Ethiopians to take on the responsibilities this would entail. The Emperor also used the restructuring of the government to severly curtail the powers of the aristocracy and the regional princely and noble families.
The 1931 constitution limited the succession to the Imperial Throne not only to the House of Solomon, but within the House, to direct decendants of Emperor Haile Selassie. This limit on the Imperial succession caused considerable unhappiness among the Princes of the Imperial blood who were expected to sign away their potential claims to the throne by endorsing the constitution, particularly Ras Hailu of Gojjam and the princes of Tigrai, Ras Gugsa and Ras Seyoum. Ras Kassa Hailu himself, a firm ally of the Emperor in most matters, and a man who had refused to be considered for the throne himself, was not the least bit pleased that his decendents should be excluded in this manner.
He pled illness and was not present for the signing of the constitution, and did not sign it. The Emperor encouraged the spread of modern education, and sponsored many young Ethiopians to go to Europe to study. He built the Haile Selassie I Hospital (known today as the Yekatit 22), and several schools. A modern military was being developed with the aid of European advisors. The Swedes trained his Imperial Guard, and the Belgians his Imperial Army. He built the Amsale Guenet Palace, and housed the visiting Duke of Abruzzi there, and then recieved the Crown Prince of Sweden Gustav Adolph and his wife for a state visit and housed them in the newly built Guenete Leul Palace, both built on the site of his fathers old Addis Ababa house. After the visits, the Emperor and Empress moved in to the new Guenete Leul palace themselves, and it together with the Amsale Guenet became known as the Little Guibi (the Menelik or Imperial Palace being the Great Guibi). Ethiopia sought to emulate Japan in it’s development strategies, something that the colonial powers in the region were not very pleased about.
It was during this time, late 1931, that Lij Eyasu escaped from his detention at Selale. He was hunted down and captured, and re-imprisoned, this time in much less comfortable circumstances at Gara Muleta in Harar. Eyasuism would continue to be a thorn in the side of the government. Lij Eyasu himself would remain a prisoner, but among the people of Wollo and among various elements in the nobility, there were strong feelings that he was the true and legitimate heir to Menelik II, and this belief would persist for a long time.
Upon the recapture of Lij Eyasu, it was found that he had been aided by his former father-in-law, the Prince of Gojjam, Leul Ras Hailu Tekle Haimanot, in concert with the Italian colonial authorities in Eritrea. The Gojjami prince, who previously had been convicted of conspiracy to murder someone, was now sentenced to life imprisonment. Behind his plot to restore his ex-son-in-law was Hailu’s deep resentment at not having been made King of Gojjam in succession to his late father, Tekle Haimanot. Ras Hailu was a fabulously wealthy man, he may have well been the richest man in the Empire. He taxed Gojjam brutally, and he owned lavish homes both at his seat in Gojjam at Debre Markos, and in the capital.
His relations with his his brothers, Ras Bezabeh, and Dejazmatch Bellew were not warm, and all three brothers at various times had quarelled with their father and sought the protection of Menelik. Menelik II always partial to the King of Gojjam, never tried to undermine him by using his sons against him, but rather counseled the sons to honor their father.
Tekle Haimanot was aware of this, and appreciated it. Upon Tekle Haimanot’s death, his widow Laquech Gebre Medhin, sister of Emperor Tekle Giorgis III, wanted to rule Gojjam as successor to her husband as did both Bezabih and Bellew who were at court with Menelik. Her argument was that her stepsons had behaved badly toward their father and so she should be considered his heir. Bezabih had married Lij Eyasu’s sister Zenebework, but it was Seyoum ( who changed his name to Hailu) who ended up with the bulk of Gojjam. Now though, Emperor Haile Selassie was determined not to create anymore vassal kings within the Empire following Menelik’s example. Menelik had chosen to recognize Tekle Haimanot as king of Gojjam because that title had been granted by Yohannis IV, but he didn’t create any Kings elsewhere as he could have. Lij Eyasu had created his father King of Wollo, and Zewditu had made her cousin Wolde Giorgis King of Gondar, but the new Emperor was having none of that.
The Tigrean and Gojjami royals were created “Leul” or Prince, their wives granted the title of “Lielt” or Princess. Thus Rases Seyoum Mengesha and Gugsa Araya (succeeded by Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa) in Tigrai, Hailu, Bezabih, and Bellew (succeeded by Hailu Bellew) in Gojjam, and Kassa Hailu, and Imiru Haile Selassie in Shewa, made up a tier of “Princes of the Blood”. They were royals with Solomonic blood who surrounded the throne of Haile Selassie, but knew that they could never hope to be made kings in his reign. Ras Hailu was resentful, and his aid to Lij Eyasu was probably in reaction to this. With his imprisonment though, The Emperor replaced him with Ras Imiru, his own cousin, and sent representatives of the central government to take over Hailu’s property and the entire province of Gojjam bringing under the direct rule of the central government and ending the reign of the Gojjam branch of the dynasty in the province. Ras Hailu’s nephew, Ras Hailu Bellew would briefly govern Gojjam in the 1950’s, and would be the last member of the Gojjam branch of the dynasty to govern it.
The Emperor continued with his modernizing zeal. Foriegn advisors were appointed to assist in advising and helping to set up a modern administration and beurocracy in the various ministries. The cadre of young educated people known as the “Young Ethiopians” made up a new domestic intelegencia which was rooted in progressive and modernist philosopy, and were relied on by the Emperor to carry out his plans for the Empire.
They were eager and willing to work hard towards this goal. The Emperor continued to promote men of humble background to positions of the highest responsibility at the expence of the traditional nobility. The commoners, he believed, would be more directly loyal to him because they would owe him their education and high station completely, and be more likely to act in his interests. The old nobility was too conservative, and too ambitious with their own family interests and personal ambitions to promote. The aristocracy was increasingly resentful of the commoners that the Emperor seemed to favor, and they campaigned for him to return to appointing people from the noble classes to powerful posts.
The Emperor decided to balance one group against the other by creating the Crown Council. The Cabinet of Ministers would eventually be dominated by commoners with a few nobles here and there, while the Crown Council would be dominated by the Aristocracy with a few commoners included. He hoped this would create a balance of interests. It was into this situation that the country would spiral into the Ethio-Italian conflict of 1936, and the prelude to World War.
Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen was born in Wollo in 1889. She was the daughter of Jantirar Asfaw of Ambassel, and his wife, Woizero Sehin Michael. Woizero Sehin was the daughter of King Michael of Wollo and half sister of Lij Eyasu. Through King Michael, Empress Menen could trace her ancestry back to Emperor Fasiledes and also to the Prophet Mohammed. Empress Menen had been married three times prior to her marriage to Emperor Haile Selassie.
Her husband immediately before the Emperor had been Ras Leulseged Atnafseged. From her first husband Empress Menen had two children, Woizero Belainesh Ali, and Jantirar Asfaw Ali. From her second marriage, she had two more children, Jantirar Gebre Igziabiher Amede and Woizero Desta Amede. She had no children from her brief marriage to Ras Leulseged. The Empress thus had ten children altogether and the Emperor therefore had 4 step-children. Empress Menen married Emperor Haile Selassie on July 30th 1910, while he was still Dejazmatch Taffari Makonnen of Harrar. Unlike her previous marriages, this one was a church wedding with a communion service, thus the only one of her marriages recognized by the Orthodox Church. Lij Eyasu ordered his niece to marry his maternal cousin, and involved Taffari’s cousin Dejazmatch Imiru in escorting Woizero Menen to Harrar after he ordered her separation from Ras Leulseged.
He may have promoted the match after the couple first met at his home in Addis Ababa and were smitten, and he realized the political advantages to him. Whatever one believes, what is certain is that their marriage proved very successful and long lasting. Theirs would prove to be a remarkable personal and political partnership. No one could claim to having been more influential with the Emperor than Empress Menen. The Emperor and Empress celebrated their golden wedding aniversary in 1960. Her Imperial Majesty died in 1961 after 51 years of marriage, at the age of 71. She had been Empress of Ethiopia for 32 years at the time of her death. She was buried at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.
The Italian Invasion of 1935
Ever since the crushing defeat of the Italian Army at Adowa in 1896, Italian officials, especially colonial officials had chaffed at the lack of revenge, or restoration of their honor. Revenge for Adowa was considered essential for Italian prestige in Europe. Italian colonies in Libya, Italian (southern) Somaliland and Eritrea were unprofitable, and in the case of Libya, unstable. The Italians increasingly saw Ethiopia as their natural hinterland for their Somaliland and Eritrean colonies. A vast territory of industrious people, fertile soil, untapped mineral wealth and the prestige of ancient empire were a prize that they were simply unwilling to pass up for good.
The fact that relations between Ethiopia and Italy had been outwardly warm since the war of 1896 was no deterrent. As Crown Prince and Regent, the Emperor had visited Rome in 1923 and met with King Victor Emmanuelle and Queen Helena, as well as Italy’s brand new Premier, a vulgar braggart and demagogue named Benito Mussolini. During the visit of Prince Regent Tafari, the leader of the Socialists in the Italian Parliament, and a vocal opponent to Mussolini’s fascism, mysteriously disappeared. A racist cartoon in a Rome Daily depicted the Ethiopian Prince asking el Duce if he had eaten his opponent, as if that was typical behavior for Ethiopian leaders to eat their enemies.
The Italian and Ethiopian governments renewed the treaty of Friendship and Commerce, and the King of Italy decorated the Prince with the Order of the Annunziata, entitling him to be called a “cousin” of the King of Italy. The Prince of Udine (later made king of the fascist puppet state in Croatia), an actual cousin of the King of Italy had even attended the Emperor’s coronation in 1930. At the same time, the new fascist government was laying down plans for the eventual conquest of the Ethiopian Empire. The excuse that Italy needed was provided by the infamous Wal Wal incident and the un-demarcated border between Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland.
Wal Wal was a outpost in the Ogaden desert that had wells used by the Somali nomads that freely crossed between British, French and Italian Somalilands, and the Ethiopian Ogaden. The treaty that set down the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia stated that the border ran parallel to the Benadir coast of Somalia at a distance of 21 leagues. What was unstated was if this meant 21 standard leagues or 21 nautical leagues. The Italians insisted on the nautical leagues, as this would push the border further inland, while the Ethiopians maintained it was absurd to claim that the treaty used nautical leagues to measure a distance on dry land.
Nevertheless, a contingent of Italian soldiers occupied the wells at Wal Wal and built a small fort on what Ethiopia claimed was clearly Ethiopian territory, and had been administered by the Ethiopians. Ethiopian territorial troops under the command of Fitawrarri Shiferaw (posthumously created a Dejazmatch)confronted the Italians, and after repeated requests for the Italians to leave the site, gunfire was exchanged. The fighting grew fierce and Italian airplanes bombed Ethiopian positions. Ethiopia complained to the League of Nations, calling on the collective security agreements embodied in the charter to be invoked and applied. The Italians railed that it was Ethiopia that had attacked an Italian fortification.
The Emperor assumed that the League would protect all members from aggression once the victim party was ascertained. In order to leave no doubt as to who was the aggressor, and in a move that showed exactly how much faith he had put in the League, the Emperor ordered all Ethiopian forces to withdraw from large areas along the borders with Italian Somaliland and Eritrea. In the meantime, Italy charged that its honor had been impinged. Ethiopia was depicted at the League as a savage and barbarous land where slavery and brutality were the common way of life, a land that did not deserve to be treated equally with “civilized countries”. Ethiopia was urged to find a way to accommodate the “civilizing influence” of Italy territorially in the Ogaden and even in Tigrai in the north.
The Ethiopian government refused all such urgings as impinging on it’s sovreignity. In November 1935, thousands of Italian troops accompanied by even more native colonial “Askari” troops crossed into Tigrai from Eritrea in the north under the command of Field Marshal De Bono, an elderly and cautious officer who planned to progress slowly into the Empire. They were quickly followed by similar forces from Italian Somaliland in the south and east commanded by Marshal Graziani.
The fact that Italy had crossed deep into Ethiopian territory left little doubt as to who the aggressor was, but there was still little will to stop the aggression. The Emperor had put complete faith in the League, and had resisted the calls of his nobles to declare war because he believed that the League would live up to the charter and rush in to protect his country. The Emperor’s logic was that the doctrine of “Collective Security” would obligate the League to protect Ethiopia.
An attack on one member of the League was supposed to be regarded as an attack on all the members. It was this protection that had inspired him to join the League in the first place back when he was still Prince-Regent and faced with a hostile nobility which wanted no part of the “foreigners” League. However, at the time, Hitler was preparing to annex Austria, and the leading voice against this was Mussolini. Britain and France hoped to use Mussolini as a bulwark against German designs on Austria, and thus did not want alienate Mussolini over what they considered an unimportant African remnant.
Not only were they not going to help Ethiopia, but France went so far as to forbid the import of weapons into Ethiopia on the Addis Ababa – Djibouti railway. Instead they encouraged mild sanctions on Italy that did not include the all important petroleum used for military trucks and tanks. The sanctions were essentially useless. The Foriegn Ministers of France and Britain (Laval and Hoare) were secretly negotiating a solution that would involve Ethiopia handing over the Ogaden and most of Tigrai to the Italians, grant English hegemony over the basin of the Blue Nile, and the French control of the area adjacent to the railroad to Djibouti. The Emperor would be left with a truncated Empire composed of Shewa and Wollo, with bits and pieces of the Tigrean and Oromo territories.
He would be firmly placed under an Italian protectorate. The Hoare/Laval plan was denounced by supporters of the Ethiopian cause in Europe when it was leaked, and the Ethiopians were generally scandalized. The Emperor had no choice left to him but to try and fight an enemy that had massive material resources prepared to defeat him. The great negarit (war drum) of Menelik was beaten at the Palace in Addis Ababa, and war was formally declared. Thousands of irregulars, mostly armed with old guns from the last century and swords, spears and shields, marched north to confront the huge Italian force which was equipped with modern tanks, machine guns, artillery and airplanes armed with bombs and poison gas.
Even the modern regular army created by the Emperor was ill equiped to face this technological onslaught. The soldiers even marched barefoot. Emperor Haile Selassie at this point knew that a military solution was futile, but he was determined to fight on militarily and diplomatically until such time as he hoped the League acted. Empress mobilized the women of Addis Ababa in making bandages and provisions for the soldiers. She presided over the Ethiopian Red Cross and became it’s patron. The Emperor established his norther front headquarters at Dessie, and commanded the troops against the Italians. The Italians in the north were led by Marshal De Bono, a senior officer of the Royal Italian army with weak ties to the Fascist hierarchy. His cautious and slow approach to the invasion of northern Ethiopia was regarded with deep impatience by Mussolini who believed that De Bono was dragging his feet. In the mean time, Ethiopian Imperial family was horrified when they learned that the Emperor’s son-in-law, Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa had crossed over to the Italians.
Dejazmatch Haile Selassie was the husband of the late Princess Zenebework, and the great-grandson of Emperor Yohannis IV. His action is said to have been caused by his resentment at not having been made king of Tigrai, or at least Ras. This act of betrayal caused him to still be remembered in Ethiopia as the ultimate traitor against his country. The Tigrean locals looted his home in Mekele in anger. Photographs were taken of him sitting at a table looking over maps with Marshal De Bono and his staff and publicized by the Italians, to show Ethiopian nobles that they could expect good treatment if they collaborated with the Fascists. In the meantime, Ethiopian troops were being pounded by tanks, heavy artillery, airplanes and finally poison gas and liquids.
Use of poison gas had been strictly prohibited by the Geneva conventions, yet the world did nothing to stop Italy. Special spraying mechanisms were installed on the aircraft so that poisonous substances could be sprayed directly onto the land, poisoning not just soldiers, but peasants, cattle, fields and bodies of water. Italy even bombed Red Cross ambulances and clearly marked treatment camps that were run by the British and French Red Cross. Rases Imiru, Kassa, Seyum, Getachew and Mulugueta led armies in the north that fought valiantly, but were beaten back by the slow advance of De Bono and his well armed troops. Impatient with the slow pace of the war, Mussollini removed De Bono and replaced him with Marshal Badoglio.
As the Italians battled through Tigrai and northern Beghemidir with the forces of Rases Seyoum, Imiru, and Kassa, the Emperor assembled his forces and prepared to meet the fascist invader at Mai Chew in southern Tigrai. Shortly before the battle, the Emperor is said to have given a great traditional Giber Feast in a cave near Mai Chew. Some believe that constant delays in attacking the Italians cost the Ethiopian side the element of surprise at Mai Chew. Although they fought valiantly, it was in vain, and the Ethiopian forces were smashed by the Italians and began to retreat in haste. Taking this opportunity, Raya and Azebo tribesmen attacked the retreating forces of the Emperor in revenge for a recent raid to stop them from raiding and rustling cattle, and in anger over the just announced death of Lij Eyasu who many of them still regarded as their rightful monarch.
Oddly, while the army retreated in disarray, the Emperor seemed to retreat in leisure. He did not retreat with the army, but behind it, a dangerous situation that upset some of his advisers as dangerous opening him up for possible capture. The monarch had perhaps given up on earthly powers and was turning to higher authorities. Emperor Haile Selassie paid a secret visit to the churches at Lalibella to pray, taking the time to visit the distant church of Our Lady at the summit of Mt. Asheten as well.
This trip was a huge detour that extended his retreat considerably and dangerously. Finally, the Emperor finished his prayers and then proceeded out of Wello and on to Addis Ababa. Upon his arrival an emergency meeting of war leaders and nobles was held at the palace to decide what the next action should be. It was agreed that Addis Ababa would be impossible to defend, and that in the interests of preserving the Imperial house, the Empress and the Imperial family should immediately leave for Djibouti, and board an English ship for Palestine. A debate was held as to what the Emperor himself and the government should do. Some believed that it would be best to relocate the government to Gore, in the remote south. The Emperor agreed with this and ordered that it be done immediately.
It was then discussed whether it would be wise for the Emperor to move with the government to Gore, and fight on, or leave with his family and present the plea of the Ethiopian people in person before the League of Nations in Geneva. One of his long time supporters and fellow modernist, Blatta Takkele angrily stated that an Ethiopian Emperor had never fled a battle, and that Emperor Haile Selassie should die in the glory of battle rather than go into exile and beg for the help of European colonialists. Ironically, it was the chief voice of conservatism, Ras Kassa Hailu, who just as forcefully argued against this traditionalist position championed by a modernist.
The premier prince of the blood argued that if the Emperor stayed and was killed or captured, the cause of Ethiopia would be finished as the forces of opposition to the Italians fragmented. By staying alive and safe abroad, he could appeal for assistance from a position of legitimacy and return some day to fight again, keeping hope alive for the resistance. The Empress also pulled the Emperor aside and stressed her agreement with this position. She added that he should come with her to Jerusalem and pray for the deliverance of their country with her.
Blatta Takelle is said to have horrified the assembled courtiers by threatening to draw his gun and saying that he would rather shoot the Emperor himself rather than have his country abandoned by her king. The Emperor made his decision. On the morning of May 3rd, 1936,The Emperor with Empress Menen, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen with Crown Princess Wollete Israel and Princess Ijigayehu their daughter; Princess Tenagnework and her children, Princesses Aida, Seble, Sophia,Hirut,Princes Amha and Iskinder Desta; Princess Tsehai; Prince Makonnen Duke of Harrar; and Prince Sahle Selassie; along with numerous nobles and officials boarded the train to Djibouti. Crowds assembled to see them off, and as the trian pulled out, the crowds began to wail. When news that the Emperor had fled began to spread, panic began to set in. The government had packed up and departed hurriedly for Gore.
The Emperor had appointed his cousin Ras Imiru as Prince-Regent and Commander-in-Chief. Ras Desta Damtew, the Emperor’s son-in-law and husband of Princess Tenagnework was to continue in command of the Imperial forces in the south. The remnants of the northern Armies were directed to join him or Ras Imiru immediately. Dejazmatch Beyene Merid, husband of the Emperor’s eldest daughter, Princess Romanework (from his first marriage) remained in command of troops in Bale, under the general command of Ras Desta. Princess Romanework and her two little sons remained behind with the Dejazmatch rather than go into exile.
The chief of the Addis Ababa police, Balambaras (later Ras)Abebe Aregai began to organize a guerrilla army, set fire to key structures that he didn’t want the Italians to seize and marched out of the city. With the departure of the Imperial family, the exit of the government and of the army and police forces, disorder began to take root as the residents realized that the city had no authorities and was on the verge of falling to the hated Italians. Many began to loot and burn stores and warehouses, and foriegn nationals fled to the safety of the compounds of the various diplomatic missions.
On May 5th, 1936, the armies of fascist Italy, led by Marshal Pietro Badoglio marched into Addis Ababa and occupied the city. Promptly, that very day, Benito Musollini went out onto the balcony of the Venezia Palace in Rome and declared that “Ethiopia is Italian” before huge throngs of cheering Romans. The King of Italy emerged on the balcony as the dictator proclaimed him Vittorio Emannuelle, King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia before the wildly cheering masses.
The new “King-Emperor” of the new “Italian Empire” in gratitude bestowed the title of “Duke of Addis Ababa” as a hereditary title upon Marshal Badoglio, and Marchese of Neghelli on Marshal Graziani, the commander of the Ialian troops that seized Harrar. Mussolini appointed Badoglio as the Vice-Roy (Vice-re) in what would henceforth be referred to as “Africa Orientale Italiana” or Italian East Africa, and would combine Ethiopia with the old Italian colonies of Somaliland and Eritrea. The title of Niguse Negest (King of Kings) which had been used by the Emperors of Ethiopia was forbidden to be used for the King of Italy. His new Imperial title over Ethiopia would be Keasare Ityopia (Caesar of Ethiopia) in an echo of Italian pretensions to ancient empire. The Italian flag was raised over the palace of Menelik, and the Italians began to set up colonial administration as they continued the military campaign to stamp out the resistance in the south.
In the mean time, Emperor Haile Selassie and his family were entering Djibouti. As the Emperor had left, he had ordered two prominent prisoners be brought to him and be put on the train. The Imperial train had stopped at Dire Dawa, where the Emperor had these prisoners brought before him. They were Ras Hailu Tekle Haimanot, the disgraced Prince of Gojjam, and Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo, the great general of Adowa and servant of Menelik who had tried to rebel against the then King Taffari on behalf of Empress Zewditu and the conservatives.
He addressed these prisoners by telling them that although he recognized that they did not favor him, he hoped that their love of their country would guide them in their actions, and he released them. Ras Hailu promptly boarded a train for Addis Ababa and submitted to the Italian forces. He would serve them loyaly for the duration of the occupation, and in return he was recognized as the senior “native noble”. Dejazmatch Balcha however was a man of a different caliber.
Although aged and very bitter towards the Emperor (whom he continued to contemptuously refer to as Taffari), he retained a strong love of his country, an unshakable loyalty to Emperor Menelik, and a deep hatred of Italy going back to the Adowa campaign. He and a band of followers became guerrilla fighters who harassed and made life difficult for the Italian occupiers for months on end. Finally, when his troops were almost all dead, and he himself was exhausted and had little hope of success, Dejazmatch Balcha sent a message to the local Italian commander near Harrar and announced that he was prepared to surrender to him and to meet at a specific locale. The officer, accompanied by an appropriate guard in dress uniform went to receive the surrender. The found the old Oromo nobleman, wrapped in a traditional white shawl, sitting under a large tree. As they approached him, he cried out to “Menelik my master” and pulled out a machine gun, killing all the senior officers before being gunned down himself. He is upheld as a great hero of the resistance to this day.
Film exists of the arrival of the Imperial family of Ethiopia and their retinue at Djibouti. They received a state welcome by the French Governor of the colony. The Empress is shown wearing a large hat covered by a heavy veil, but eye witness accounts state that she wept through the whole proceedings. Two trains had arrived in Djibouti carrying many people into exile with the family. Ethiopians resident in the French colony lined the roads in Djibouti to see for themselves if indeed the Imperial family had gone into exile for the first time in history. When they saw that it was indeed a somber Haile Selassie, and a weeping Empress, being driven past them, they too were seen to weep according to the Illustrated Times of London. An English ship had been directed to pick up the Emperor of Ethiopia and convey him to Palestine.
When the ship arrived, it was determined that not all of the people that had gone into exile with the Emperor would be allowed to board the ship for Palestine, and when the Imperial family and a small group of followers (about half of those who had arrived on the two trians) boarded the ship and set sail, those anguished people left behind stood on the docks and wailed and wept as the monarch departed. The Emperor relates in his autobiography how some Ethiopian men and women resident in Egypt rented a boat as his ship passed through Port Said, and sailed next to it waving an Ethiopian flag. When he came out on deck to acknowledge them, he saw them break down and weep, the incident moved him deeply. The Illustrated Times of London printed photographs of the Imperial couple arriving at Haifa, the Emperor and Empress looking dejected. They proceeded to Jerusalem to pray, and to settle in while the Emperor prepared to present Ethiopia’s case to the League of Nations at Geneva.
The Emperor and his entourage were determined to make a stand against Italy at the League of Nations. Although France and the United Kingdom had continued to press Ethiopia to accept partition, and now that the Italians had marched into the capital, both these powers were leaning heavily towards recognizing Italian rule over Ethiopia, the Emperor had a strong case to be heard, and they could do little to prevent Ethiopia from presenting her case.
Although the French had received him in Djibouti with all the pomp of a visiting monarch, his arrival in Palestine and later in Britain had been treated as the arrival of a private person, and no official notice was taken of the event. Hundreds of anti-fascists however chose to make their presence felt by thronging the docks upon the Emperor’s arrival in England, and by crowding around various places he visited to pay their respects. Many roadblocks were set up though to make it difficult.
The Italians spread rumors that the Imperial family had fled with tons of gold and silver, that the Emperor had ordered the torching of Addis Ababa and the butchering of the people. In reality, the Emperor had left to prevent a bloodbath in the city, and he had left with little money, although he did take with him his crown and the old war tent of Emperor Menelik to prevent it from falling into the hands of the fascists. The Emperor arrived in Geneva to address the League of Nations in person. He was the first head of state to appear before the assembly, and the only one who would ever address it. The assembly of the League of Nations was being presided over by the Romanian delegate.
The galleries above the floor of the assembly were packed with journalists, many of whom were Italians. When “His Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia” was announced, the Italian journalists in the gallery began to whistle, stomp their feet and jeer loudly. The Emperor quietly walked up to the podium and stood quietly, a small man in a black cape looking up at the loudly protesting Italians silently. The angry president of the session, the delegate from Romania (who was chairing the session) lost his temper and demanded that the security personnel “Remove the savages!”, and the Italians were removed from the galleries. The Emperor then began his historic speech. The Emperor, although fluent in French, spoke in Amharic. He traced the history of the conflict and the atrocities committed by the Italians. He told of the horrors of poison gas attacks and the death rained on his people. He appealed to the League to follow through on it’s guarantees of collective security, and the promise that small and weak countries would not be allowed to be the victims of the large and strong.
In spite of his victory in the battle for public opinion, the League of Nations did little however to help the Emperor, beyond weak symbolic sanctions that had little effect on Italy. Although the League did recognize the government at Gore, and did not accept the Italian argument that the Ethiopian Empire ceased to exist due to their conquest, Great Britain, France and the United States all gave recognition to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia by acknowledging King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia. The League accepted the Emperor’s argument that the Ethiopian government continued to exist at Gore, and permitted the Ethiopian delegation to continue to sit in the League and represent that government.
The Emperor departed for Britain to begin his new life in exile. He was assisted in his work by Lorenzo Taezaz, and Eritrean born loyalist who acted as his primary representative to the league and a frequent go between with exiles and resistance fighters. Azaj Workineh Eshete (Dr. Charles Martin), the Ethiopian minister to Great Britain was also an active participant in raising funds and publicity for the cause of Ethiopia. Blatangueta Hirui, the elderly foreign minister of Ethiopia worked also towards liberation from exile, until his death in London in 1937.
Back in Ethiopia the Italians were settling in. The Italians took possession of the capital and set about building the foundations for their new administration. The former colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland were merged with Ethiopia to form what they called “Africa Orientale Italiana” or “AOI”, a single colony ruled from Addis Ababa by the Vice-Roy as the representative of the King-Emperor(Kesare) and the Duce Mussollini. As administative units, the Empire was restructured into new regions that replaced the old Imperial provinces.
The Ogaden was joined to Italian Somaliland and made the new governorate of “Somali” based in Mogadishu in the east, the southern kingdoms, provinces and principalities became the governorate of “Galla-Sidamo” and was ruled from Jimma. In the north, Tigrai and Eritrea were merged into the governorate of “Eritrea” based in Asmara, Gojjam, Beghemidir and Simien, Wello and parts of northern Shewa were merged into the governorate of “Amhara” based in Gondar. The region surrounding Addis Ababa was first named after the capital, but later was re-named the governortate of “Shewa” and was ruled directly by the Vice-Roy. Harrar and Dire Dawa, and their environs became the “Harrar governortate”. The Vice-Roy took up residence in the Emperor’s Guenete Leul Palace. Addis Ababa was divided between the “Native” and “Colonial” districts.
The city market, once next to the Cathedral of St. George was moved further out north of St. Tekle Haimanot church and named “Merkato Indigino” and is still refered to as “Merkato” today. This was the “native” district of the city. Italian names were given different parts of the City. The city center of the time was named Piazza (which it is still refered to as even today), the Casa Populare and Casa I.N.C.E.S. are even today refered to as Populare and Casanchis districts of the capital. The Italians would build new buildings and roads, further modernizing the city of Addis Ababa, and the ancient towns of Gondar and Jimma were to be similarly developed by the Italians. Although the Facists ordered strict racial segregation and non-fraternization, this policy was not agressively enforced.
The Italian soldiers and officers, and later settlers, formed friendships and romantic liasons, and had children with Ethiopians, relationships that would survive the occupation. For this reason, many would remain in Ethiopia after the occupation was over. However, the Fascist doctrine of conquest was based on an ideology of revenge for the humiliation of Adowa, and the erasing of Ethiopian national identity. The Italians looted what they could of Ethiopia’s heritage. Several crowns of previous monarchs were taken to Italy on Mussolini’s orders. Badoglio showed one crown to the English writer Evlyn Waugh (a fascist sympathizer) to confirm that this was in fact the crown of Emperor Haile Sellassie, whose coronation Waugh had attended five years earlier.
Waugh confirmed that the silver gilt crown was indeed the crown of Emperor Haile Sellassie, but he was mistaken. The crown used at the coronation in 1930 was solid gold, not silver gilt, and had accompanied the Imperial family into exile. The Italians carried off the taller of the two standing obelisks at Axum, and erected it in Rome in front of the Ministry of the Colonies (the headquarters for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization today) where it stood for decades until it was returned in 2006. During the visit to Addis Ababa by the Minister for the Colonies, Lessona, he ordered several other monuments removed also. Taken to Rome was the Lion of Judah monument from in front of the Addis Ababa train station. The lion was re-erected in Rome next to the Vittorio Emanuelle monument.
The Italians also removed the statue of Emperor Menelik from the square in front of St. George’s Cathedral and also the crown from the top of the dome of the St. Marys Ba’eta monastery where Menelik II was buried. These two large monuments of the Ethiopian monarchy were removed in the dead of night, and taken out of the city and hidden. The next morning, people came out into the streets of the city and saw the empty pedestal of the statue of Emperor Menelik, and many are said to have beaten their chests and wept as if at a funeral of a relative. The Italians took a host of valuable works of art, manuscripts, and the entire Imperial archives and took them to Italy. They also took the Emperor’s Ethiopian assembled airplane, the “Princess Tsehai” named for his daughter. After a few months as the Vice-Roy of the “King-Emperor Vittorio Emanuelle III”, Marshal Badoglio, “Duke of Addis Ababa” resigned and returned to Rome, where he could better bask in the glory of being the conqueror of Italy’s new Empire. More of a monarchist than a staunch fascist, he found himself in constant battles with the Minister for the Colonies, Lessona, over ideological and jurisdictional issues.
He was replaced as Vice-Roy by Marshal Graziani, a staunch fascist, and a man with a long and bloody reputation from his ruthless supression of rebles in Italian ruled Libya. Although the Italians had proclaimed a new “Fascist Empire”, Ethiopia was hardly conquered and pacified. Wide stretches of the countryside remained outside Italian control, and would remain so for the duration of the occupation. Although all the major urban areas were firmly occupied, rural areas remained restive and alive with anti-Fascist activity. The armys of Ras Imiru and Ras Desta remained in the south, very actively opposing the Italians. Guerillas were banding together in the central and northern highlands as well. In particular, Abebe Arregai in Shewa, Belai Zelleke in Gojjam, and “Amoraw (The Hawk)” Wubineh in Beghemidir led well organized guerilla forces that harrassed and bloodied the Italians again and again, making it impossible for them to ever fully extend Fascist rule.
Remnants of the Imperial army however were determined to oust the Italians from Addis Ababa. The scattered brigades needed someone to lead them, and coordinate with the guerillas. Soon, the rumors swept through Addis Ababa, that the Imperial red umbrella’s had been seen in Menz to the north. The House of Solomon was far from finished. In Menz, the sons of the premier prince of the blood, Ras Kassa Hailu, were rallying the peasantry to the banner of the dynasty. Dejazmatch Wondwossen Kassa, Dejazmatch Abera Kassa, and Dejazmatch Asfaw Wossen Kassa began to gather the remnants of the Imperial forces and many more peasants urban intelegencia who had fled the occupation of the cities into a new army. With them was the Bishop of Wollo, Abune Petros himself, who rallied the population and exhorted them to refuse the rule of this godless enemy. The three royal Dejazmatches captured the imagination of the Shewan loyalists of the dynasty, and plans were set up to expell the Italians from Addis Ababa.
The post-war period in Ethiopian history was one of unprecidented development and change. The Emperor returned to a country that had recieved some benefits in infrastructure development fromt the colonial administration of Italy, but much had been distroyed in the war, and the British had instituted a parallel administration to his own. It would take years to dislodge them.
Emperor Haile Selassie had a large family. His first marriage was to Woizero Altayech, by whom he had a daughter, Her Imperial Highness Princess Romanework Haile Selassie. Princess Romanework was married to Dejazmatch Beyene Merid, and had four sons, two of which survived to adulthood. They were Dejazmatch Samson Beyene, and Dejazmatch Merid Beyene. Dejazmatch Beyene Merid died fighting the fascist Italian invasion in 1936. Princess Romanework and her sons were captured by the Italians, and imprisoned in Italy, where the Princess died on Asinara island in 1940, and her body was returned to the Imperial Family after the restoration of 1941. Her sons returned to Ethiopia and were raised by their grandfather the Emperor. Dejazmatch Samson died in Ethiopia before the revolution.
He had been married to Woizero Koremtit Andargatchew, daughter of Ras Andargatche Messai and step-dauther of Princess Tenagnework his aunt. The have one son, Lij Sibistianos Samson. Dejazmatch Merid died in exile in London without issue in 1990. Emperor Haile Selassie was next married to Empress Menen Asfaw, who had previously been the wife of Ras Leulseged Atnaf Seged, an old Shewan noble. Woizero Menen was the daughter of Jantirar Asfaw of Anbassel (Jantirar is a hereditary title reserved for the ruler of Anbassel and is one of the oldest titles in Ethiopia). Her mother was Woizero Sehin Michael, daughter of King Michael of Wollo and sister of Lij Eyasu. Her Imperial Majesty was thus the neice of Lij Eyasu. In 1930, she was crowned Empress-consort upon the coronation of her husband as Emperor.
Empress Menen and Emperor Haile Selassie were the parents of six children. The eldest was Princess Tenagnework, followed by Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen (later Amha Selassie I,Emperor-in-Exile),Princess Zenebework,Princess Tsehai,Prince Makonnen Duke (Mesfin) of Harrar, and Prince Sahle Selassie. Princess Tenagnework first married Ras Desta Damtew who died fighting the Italians in 1936. By him she had two sons, Prince Amha Desta, and Prince Rear-Admiral Iskinder Desta, as well as four daughters, Princesses Aida, Seble, Sophia, and Hirut.
Prince Amha Desta died young (possibly of tuberculosis) in Englad during the exile of the Imperial family there. He had no children and was never married. Princess Aida would marry the hereditary prince of Tigrai, Ras Mengesha Seyoum, and had four sons and a daughter. They are Lij Michael Sehul, Lij Yohannis, Lij Stephanos, Lij Jalliye and Woizero Menen Mengesha. Princess Seble Desta would marry the heir to the Oromo ruling family of Leqa-Qellem principality of Wellega Dejazmatch Kassa Jote. They would have four daughters and a son, Woizero Jote, Woizero Yeshi, Woizerit Lally, Woizerit Kokeb and Lij Amha Kassa. Princess Sophia Desta would marry Captain Dereje Haile Mariam , and had a daughter, Woizero Hanna Dereje. Princess Hirut Desta would marry Gen. Nega Tegegne.
Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen first married Princess Wollete Israel Seyoum, daughter of the then hereditary prince of Tigrai Ras Seyoum Mengesha. They had one daughter, Princess Ijigayehu Asfaw Wossen. Princes Ijigayehu was married to the heir of the ruling Oromo family of Leqa-Neqemt in Wellega, Dejazmatch Fikre Selassie Hapte Mariam. They had six children (see details under page for Emperor Amha Selassie I on main page). Following his divorce from from his first wife, the Crown Prince married Medferiashwork Abebe, daughter of General Abebe Damtew. The new Crown Princess was thus the neice of Ras Desta Damtew, first husband of Princess Tenagnework. Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen had four more children with Crown Princess Medferiash. They are Princess Mariam Senna (Mary), Princess Sefrash Bizu, Princess Sehin, and Prince Zera Yacob (See under Emperor Amha Selassie).
Princess Zenebework Haile Selassie married Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa, son of the other hereditary prince of Tigrai, Ras Gugsa Araya. Princess Zenebework died in 1934, and her husband defected to the fascist Italians on the eve of the 1935 war. He was sent into internal exile after the restoration. Princess Tsehai Haile Selassie was married to General Abiye Abebe, but died in childbirth in 1941. General Abiye continued to be accorded the protocol rank of the Emperor’s son-in-law, even after his remarriage. General Abiye served in a number of capacities in the Imperial government including Crown Representative in Eritrea, Senator, and Minister of Defence. Lt. General Abiye Abebe was executed with the other high government official by the Derg in November of 1974.
Prince Makonnen Haile Selassie, Duke of Harrar was married to Princess Sara Gizaw Duches of Harrar. They had five sons,Princes Wossen Seged, Taffari, Makonnen (David),Michael, and Beide Mariam. Prince Sahle Selassie Haile Selassie was married to Princess Mahisente Hapte Mariam, daughter of the heir to the Oromo principality of Leqa-Neqemt. They had one son, Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie, who is the current President of the Ethiopian Crown Council in exile.
Prince Makonnen, Duke of Harrar, was killed in a car crash on his way to the resort town of Nazareth in 1959. Prince Sahle Selassie died of illness in 1961. Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen also died in 1961 after many years of ill health. The Empress, the Duke of Harrar, Prince Sahle Selassie, Princess Zenebework, Princess Romanework, and Ras Desta Damtew (first husband of Princess Tenagnework were all buried in the crypt of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.
Princess Tsehai was buried at the Ba’eta Le Mariam Monastery Church, in the Imperial mausoleum with Emperor Menelik II, Empress Taitu and Empress Zewditu. Emperor Haile Selassie had built a huge new sarcophagus for himself and a matching one for his wife in the north trancept of the Nave in Holy Trinity Cathedral. He planed to move the Empress’ remains from the crypt under the cathedral to this new tomb,and to be buried there himself. However, the revolution intervened, and the Empress remained in her original tomb until November 2000. Following the disinternment of the Emperor’s remains from the secret grave he was placed in by the Derg in 1991, disputes between the government in Ethiopia and the Imperial family over whether the Emperor should receve a state funeral or not, erupted.
The Emperor’s remains were placed in the mausoleum at the Ba’eta Le Mariam Monastery until the time that an agreement could be reached to hold his funeral and final burial at Holy Trinity Cathedral. No agreement could be reached with the state authorities, so the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Haile Selassie I Memorial Foundation, and the Veterans Association of Ethiopia, in agreement with the Imperial family, held a non-State Imperial Funeral for the late Emperor on November 5th, 2000. Her Imperial Highness, Princess Tenagnework Haile Selassie is the only child of the Emperor who survives.
After months of the military co-ordinating committee (Dergue) placing members of the Aklilu Haptewold and Endalkatchew Makonnen governments in prison, along with the senior military officers, nobility and regional governors and officials, it became clear that the days of the Emperor on the throne were numbered.
The press was full of vitriol and scathing attacks on the fallen governments, on the corruption and incompitence of the officials, and even on the character and the performance of the Emperor himself. The attacks on the Emperor ranged from critics that stated his reign had been too long, that he should have abdicated in favor of his son or one of his grandsons long ago, that he was too old and too senile to hold state responsibility, to outright attacks on his character labeling him a thief and a despot. The daily attacks eroded the Emperor’s once vast popularity and laid the groundwork for the inevitable.
On September 11th, 1974, Ethiopians celebrated their New Year, welcoming the year 1967 according to their version of the Julian Calandar. During the day, truckloads of soldeirs spread out from the baracks of the 4th division and took up strategic positions all over the capital. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled down the streets of Addis Ababa and jeeps with mounted machine guns took up guard outside banks, ninistries, palaces and important junctions in the city. Soldiers wore stickers with the slogan “Ethiopia Tikdem” (Ethiopia before all) on their helmets. Rumors swept the city that Princess Tenagnework and several other members of the Emperor’s immediate family had been placed under arrest. Nothing in the press indicated what exactly was going on.
In fact, the Emperor’s daughter Princess Tenagnework, his daughter-in-law Princess Sara Duchess of Harrar and all their children were placed under arrest in Addis Ababa. In Tigrai, the hereditary Prince Ras Mengesha Seyoum had already taken to the hills with a band of followers, but at Mekele’s castle, his wife Princess Aida Desta (daughter of Princess Tenagnework) along with her daughter and the children of her sister Princess Seble were arrested and put on a plane back to Addis Ababa. The Imperial family was systematically being rounded up. Rumors swept the city, but nothing official was announced. Late in the day, as was traditional, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Theophilos gave his yearly New Year’s Address on national television and radio.
In his speech, the Patriarch likened Ethiopia to a ship in stormy seas, charting a new path into the future. At the end of the speech, for the first time ever, he failed to bless the Emperor and the Imperial family, and instead wished success to the mission of the co-ordinating committee. For the Emperor’s loyalists it was a jarring and shocking development. In 1960, Abune Basilios had condemned any attempt to dethrone the man annointed by the Church and stood firm against the Imperial Guard coup attempt. That his successor should make a statement that seemed to abandon the Emperor to his fate was a shock. Then came the Coup-de-Grace on the reign of Haile Selassie I. Ethiopian Television, showed the Ethiopian public the BBC production of the Hidden Famine by Jonathan Dimbleby.
The film showing the horrifying famine in Wollo with scenes of death and starvation was damaging enough on it’s own, but the Dergue had re-edited the film to include footage of lavish palace banquets and ceremonies in honor of the Emperor’s 80th birthday, the marriage of Prince Asrate Kassa’s daughter, and other glittering court events. The Emperor was also shown feeding his pet leopards and dogs choice cuts of meat from silver platters held by liveried servants.
People watching the film in public places were seen to weep. This time no mention was made of the Aklilu cabinet hiding the famine from the Emperor, or of the ogtagenerian Emperor being out of touch. The film was made to make him seem heartless and steeped in luxury while his people suffered untold misery. It was the final nail in the coffin of Haile Selassie’s reign, and indeed in the coffin of the worlds oldest monarchy.
The following morning, September 12th, 1974 (Meskerem 2, 1967 Ethiopian calander) ten junior officers who were members of the Dergue arrived at the Jubilee Palace which was surrounded for the first time by tanks and machinegun mounted jeeps. A small mostly male crowd had gathered outside the gates suspiciously at the same time as the ten officers. The officers were led by Major Debela Dinsa.
Their mission was to inform the King of Kings that his reign was over and to remove him from his palace. Concerned that he might not be cooperative, the Dergue had asked Ras Imiru Haile Selassie, the Emperor’s cousin, life long companion, and socialist sympathizer, to come with them to convince him to step down peacefully. Ras Imiru was also the father of Lij Michael Imiru, the recently appointed Prime Minister. The officers were all armed with Uzzi sub-machineguns and revolvers, and some had grenades strapped to their belts. The senior prince and junior officers waited at the gates for a camera crew from Ethiopian Television to show up. Much to their irritation, the camera crew did not materialize, and when calls were made, it became apparent that Ethiopian Television had not been informed of the event so they scrambled to get a camera man to the palace at once. The small group then entered the palace and asked to see the Emperor.
The palace no longer had throngs of courtiers and noblemen attending the Emperor’s person, only the servants walked the halls. Debela Dinsa’s account (refered to in Guenet Ayele’s book “Ye Colonel Mengistu Tizitawoch” as “Dergue member 11” at a transparent attempt at annonimity) states that the encounter between the Emperor and the group of officers took place in the Grand Throne Room, but the film of the event indicates it took place either in the Palace library or the Emperor’s study. The film is quite compelling. The armed soldiers stood in a line facing the Emperor, with Debela Dinsa standing at the center of the line. He stepped forward and saluted before producing from his pocket a speech which he read out loud to the Emperor.
The letter was a decree of the Dergue removing Haile Selassie I from the Imperial throne and charging him with abuse of power, lack of compitence to continue to reign due to his advanced age, and the additional charge of embezzeling the money of the people. The Emperor listened to the speech in silence. Debela Dinsa’s hands were visibly shaking throughout his reading of the speech, and his fellow soldiers, although armed to the teeth, seemed awed and nervous while the Emperor sat, regal in his bearing and completely silent. Once the speech was finished, the Emperor continued to sit completely silent looking at the soldiers.
Debela Dinsa freely admits in his account of the event that he was awed and frightened in the Emperor’s presence, and he completely understood the stories that even though the Emperor was such a small frail old man, there was something about him that compelled you to bow low before him. As the nervous tension increased in the room, Ras Imiru approached the Emperor and they spoke in low tones for an extended time. The Emperor then spoke. His statement was simple and moving. He stated that all through his life, he had tired endlessly for the benefit of his country and his people, and that ones individual desires could not come ahead of the needs of the nation.
The Emperor’s role was to lead in good times and bad, he said, and to serve his people always and without fail. If it was determined that this was for the greater good of Ethiopia, then he would accept the decision and do what was required of him. After another nervous extended silence, still refering to the Emperor as “Your Majesty”, Debela Dinsa asked that the Emperor accompany him and his fellow officers to a place where he “would be safe and comfortable”. The Emperor asked “Where are you taking me”. Debela Dinsa replied that a place had been prepared for “your majesty” that would offer comfort and protection of his safety.
The Emperor asked if he could bring some retainers. Debela Dinsa said that he would be allowed some retainers, but for the time being, the Emperor was to bring just one servant with him. The Emperor called out to his servant Merid who came quickly. The Emperor rose and started to walk out with the officers. Ras Imiru, visibly moved asked if he could come with the Emperor. The soldiers informed “His Higness” that he could not come with them, but that he could come see the Emperor later in the day. As the Emperor walked past Debela Dinsa, he asked him “Why are you holding your gun like that?” refering to the Uzzi in Debela Dinsa’s hands.
Debela Dinsa nervously replied that it was so he could carry the gun more comfortably. The Emperor smirked and said “I think not, I think it’s so you can shoot it more easily.” and swept by him. As the Emperor walked through the palace with his armed escort, liveried servants began to gather and follow. They all looked shocked and bewildered. When they arrived at the front portico, footmen, maids, Imperial guards, gardeners, and other staff both male and female had gathered on the steps and at the windows of the palace. Debela Dinsa said most of the men looked stunned and many were staring at their shoes or the ground. It was obvious to them all what was happening. Most were openly weeping.
A small caravan of vehicles pulled up. The Emperor caught sight of the car which was to take him away from the Jubilee Palace for the last time. It was a small baby blue volkswagen beetle, a far cry from the Rolls Royce and Benz limosines that he was accustomed to. Members of the Dergue have since claimed that this car was chosen in order to take the Emperor away with maximum annonimity to protect him fromt he anger of the people, and not to humiliate him in anyway. This is belied by the fact that the small car was escorted in front and back by two jeeps with mounted machine guns, making it just about the most conspicuous car in the city.
For years afterwards, the Dergue would often display this car in public as the final humiliating end of Haile Selassie’s reign, so this statement is obvious in it’s absurdity. As the Emperor was driven away, his servants began to wail and weep loudly, many beating their chests as if at a traditional funeral. Of all his former subjects, the staff of his palaces, people with little power and relatively small personal gain from his reign, have remained the most consistantly loyal to the Emperor’s memory. Once outside the gates however the scene changed dramatically. The small crowd of men which had gathered opposite the palace gates began to scream “Thief! Thief! Thief!” at the Emperor as he passed.
They followed the little group of cars as they drove slowly through the city, running after them screaming abuse at the man who had reigned over them till that very morning. Members of the Dergue have claimed that this was a spontaneous demonstration by people who were enraged at the Emperor following the previous night’s broadcast of “The Hidden Famine”. The Dergue leader and subsequent dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in an interview with a biographer Genet Ayele told her that he found the denunciations of the Emperor distasteful and hated the fickleness of these people who only weeks earlier would have bowed to the ground before him.
This statement ofcourse should be taken with a grain of salt, as Mengistu spent his entire rule of Ethiopia trying to demolish the memory of Haile Selassie and his reign. However, others have stated that the group of young men, who suspiciously gathered at the gates just as the group of officers arrived to enter the palace that morning, was actually a group of soldiers ordered by the Dergue to appear in civilian dress in order to give the dethronement a look of civilian approval and perhaps also to humiliate Haile Selassie I. If this was the case, it was an unnecissary and cruel measure, for within minuites of Radio Ethiopia announcing that Haile Selassie I had been removed from the Imperial throne, students from the University that still bore his name ran through the streets with burning and torn portraits of the Emperor.
The always radically leftist and ardently anti-monarchist students were jubilant and they quickly took up cries of “Taffari Thief” and sang songs sarcastically depicting the wailing of the aristocracy at the end of their days eating fine lamb and chicken. They tossed flowers at the soldiers guarding the city and sang the praises of the Dergue and the Ethiopian revolution. Around the world leaders and governments hailed the peaceful transfer of power in Ethiopia, commending the military for carrying out the coup in a civilized and bloodless manner. Cries of “Etyopia Tikdem” (Ethiopia before all) and the even more ambitious “Yaleminim Dem Etyopia Tikdem” (Without any bloodshed, Ethiopia before all) which was quickly incorporated into a popular song, were heard on the streets and on television and radio. Ethiopia was supposedly embarking on a bright and happy future, emerging from centuries of darkness and backwardness.
It would be only a very short time later that the hollowness and falseness of these dreams would be dreadfully apparent. In the immediate aftermath of the dethronement, the Dergue issued a decree establishing itself as the Provisional Military Admimistrative Council (PMAC) and declared martial law. The constitution was suspended, the Imperial court disbanded and the Emperor’s Chilot which was the Supreme Court of the land abolished, as was the Crown Council. Parliament was immediately disolved. The Dergue did not however formally abolish the monarchy at tht time. Instead, it was announced that Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen would be annointed “King” of Ethiopia (as opposed to Emperor) upon his return from medical care in Switzerland. In the following days, it was announced that the title of Conquering Lion of Judah was henceforth to be changed to Conquering Lion of Ethiopia, and that Prince Asfaw Wossen was to be a strictly titular monarch with no political power whatsoever.
The brief period of freedom of the press was ended as part of the emergency measures of martial law and would never see the light of day again for 17 years. The Dergue, in an effort to gain support with more liberal elements announced that Lt. General Aman Michael Andom, would serve as it’s new Chairman and acting Head-of-State and Head-of-Government. General Aman was an Eritrean born veteran in his youth of the war against Italy and a renowned Ethiopian patriot. Unlike most of the Ethiopian heirarchy he was not an Orthodox Christian, but born and raised a Protestant (Lutheran).
He had attended Sandhurst on an Imperial scholarship and was generally regarded as one of the finest officers in the Ethiopian Army, and widely popular with the rank and file of the military as well as the general civilian population. General Aman had an impecable military record, and was refered to as the “Lion of the Ogaden” due to his heroic role in turning back the Somali invasion of the Ogaden in the early 1960’s. However, his outspoken support for reform had alienated him from the Imperial government, and he had been retired from active military service.
The Emperor, in an act he often carried out on public figures who were outspoken in their critisism of his regime, had appointed General Aman to the Imperial Senate. (It was the type of punishment that would soon be looked back with fondness by political dissidents in Ethiopia. It was noted the Emperor used to punish people with appointments to prestegious yet powerless positions or foriegn ambassadorships.) General Aman was popular, and the Dergue was confident that he would lend them added legitimacy. One of his first public acts was to announce that Ras Mengesha Seyoum was to henceforth be regarded as a traitor and an outlaw, and that he was not only stripped of his governorship of Tigrai, but that he was also stripped of his princely title. He also issued an immediate recall to Prince Makonnen (David) Makonnen, second son of the late Duke of Harrar, to immediately leave his military studies in the United States and return to Ethiopia at once. David Makonnen promptly went into hiding.
Following his dethronement, the Emperor was taken from his palace to the baracks of the 4th Division on Debre Zeit Road, near the rail line into the city, where most of the members of his government and his court were imprissoned. According to his doctor, noted surgeon Professor Asrat Woldeyes (later founder of the All Amhara Peoples Organization in the post Dergue era) who was brought to see him, he spent his first night there in large tent, with a machine gun set up facing the entrance from the outside.
The next morning however he was moved into the vacant house of one of the senior officers on the grounds of the baracks. He was visited here by Ras Imiru and Dejazmatch Kebede Tessema, the only two Crown Councilors to escape arrest, as well as his doctor. He was waited on by members of the palace staff, and his meals were cooked at the palaces and brought to the 4th Division daily.
The new government sent deligation after deligation to the Emperor to demand that he return the “Billions” that they charged he had stolen from the people of Ethiopia. Over the months the Emperor steadfastly denied that he had secreted money abroad for his own benefit or for his decendents or for the nation. Some sources say that he admitted that a modest sum had been sent to Switzerland to cover the medical costs of the Crown Prince and the living expenses of the Crown Princess and her daughters, but denied that any other money had been sent abroad, but even this claimed admission is not clearly documented. The Dergue even convinced Ras Imiru to plead with the Emperor to return any money he might have taken. What the Emperor must have felt at his own cousin and the one person who could claim to be a brother to him being co-opted into this effort can only be imagined as he has left no record of this. Ras Imiru who had long enjoyed a good reputation in all quarters of Ethiopian society would now earn a serious blemish on his record for his role in this matter.
When a sarcastic Dergue officer (some say it was Mengistu himself) is said to have asked the Emperor “Surely Your Majesty must have had some savings put away for hard times, for your retirement.” The Emperor is said to have haughtily replied “Retirement? The Emperor of Ethiopia has no retirement. His retirement is death. Therefore there was never any need to save for retirement.” On another occasion, he was accused of having stolen the equivalent of U.S. $20 Billion. It is said he wearily stated, “How poorly we have failed in educating you in math.” For a country that in the 1970’s when it’s economy was at it’s most productive since the begining of his reign in the 1930’s, had a Gross Domestic Product of U.S. $2billion, it was a truely ridiculous sum. The Dergue decided it would take on more of the formal trappings of government and assume the mantle of state by leaving it’s erstwhile headquarters at the 4th Division Baracks and move into the Imperial Palace (Great Guibi) built by Emperor Menelik II as it’s seat of power.
All the prisoners were removed from the baracks and placed in the wine cellars of the palace. The Emperor himself was moved into Inqulal Bet (Egg House) on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. This house, built by Emperor Menelik was thus named for it’s egg shaped dome on it’s roof, and had previously been used by Empress Zewditu while she was still a Princess and helping to nurse her ill father Emperor Menelik II, and later as a guest house during her reign. The house had a small flower garden where the confined Emperor would take daily walks. However, when palace staff, and even the administrative staff of the Dergue as well as soldiers posted to guard him continued to bow and pay him customary homage, the Dergue ordered a tall fence of corrugated tin to be built around the garden to block him from view. His place of detention was right next to the Se’el Bet Kidane Meheret Church (Our Lady Covenant of Mercy) which is located on the grounds of the palace. Denied permission to attend services at the Church, he would instead stand at an open window overlooking the church and listen to the liturgy over the public address system of the church, making the responses as required.
He continued to be attended by loyal servants, but he was repeatedly subject to visits by officials and “intermediaries” demanding bank account numbers and admissions of embezzelment which he steadfastly denied to the very end. The Emperor’s signet ring, which bore the emblem of St. George slaying the Dragon, was taken from him and found to contain a spring mechanism that bore a key. The Dergue triumphantly proclaimed that it had found the key to a safty deposit box someowhere in Switzerland and demanded to know the location of the box. The Emperor’s servants protested that the key was only used to open an attache case that the Emperor had, but the Dergue was only interested in furthering their search for money and distroying the Emperor’s reputation. They ordered a comitteee of University Professors to study the ring and find any hidden codes or bank account numbers in the ring, going so far as removing the stones that surrounded the signet. Nothing was found, and the existence of a fortune stashed abroad for the Emperor and his family was never proven. (The author’s father, as personal jeweler to the Emperor confirms that the key in the ring was indeed simply for an attache case that the Emperor used to keep personal documents.)
In the meantime, the Revolution had started to heat up. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was disestablised as the state religion and Equality of Faith declaired. Even as students, intellectuals, and former politcal dissidents debated the future of the Ethiopian state and what form it should take, things were changing at the top. General Aman Andom was a forcefull leader and a man used to firm military dicipline. The antics of the Dergue with it’s collection of low level officers acting in defiance of their supperior officers was not really to his tastes.
The Dergue had wanted a figure-head in General Aman, but instead it got a dynamic leader with ideas of his own, and a suspicion of their motives, as well as a driving ambition to be the new power in the land. Soon, the Dergue and it’s leaders Colonel (formerly Major) Mengistu Haile Mariam and Colonel Atnafu Abate were in a direct collision course with General Aman Michael Andom. The Dergue wanted to authorise a new major deployment of troops in Eritrea to put down the seccesionist rebellion there. General Aman argued that a chance should be given to negotiations with the rebles now that a new government had come to power in Ethiopia. Dergue members looked at his argument with suspicion since General Aman was of Eritrean background.
They began to whisper that the General wanted to resurect the old Federation, and that his loyalty to a united Ethiopia was questionable. There was also the issue of the imprissoned ex-officials of the Imperial Government under arrest in the wine cellars of the Great Guibi. Although General Aman was the leader of the government that had put them there, these people were his former fellow officers, fellow senators, colleagues, and many he counted as personal friends. Their alleged misdeeds were being investigated by the Investigating Committee.
Weary of their long winded investigations, the Dergue demanded results which didn’t seem to be rapidly forthcoming. There was lobbying to simply summarily execute the major figures of the Imperial regime immediately. General Aman was said to have balked at this and refused to ever sign any extra-judicial decision to sentence anyone to imprisonment or execution. Matters quickly came to a head. The Dergue demanded that General Aman sign their collective decission to send new troops to Eritrea to crush the rebles militarily.
General Aman refused, and in the heated exchange, Generla Aman announced his resignation as Chairman of the Dergue and left the meeting hall for his home next to the Princess Tsehai Hospital (known today as the Armed Forces General Hospital) in the Old Airport (Lideta) district of the capital along with several of his supporters. After he refused several personal and telephoned summonses to return to the Palace and meet with the Dergue, a meeting was called, chaired by Mengistu Haile Mariam, to decide what to do about this situation.
In addition to the Dergue, Mengistu claims he also summoned the Neus Dergue, a rag tag crowd of soldiers and low ranking officers several hundred strong to attend the meeting as well along with the Dergue to participate in this particular decision and that this group subsequently forced his hand by going to extremes. Others say that Mengistu simply used this group to provide him and the smaller Dergue with political cover from future backlash to their fatefull decissions they were about to make. After a case was presented to the meeting for General Aman’s percieved treasonous behavior, it was agreed that an armed unit should immediately be dispached to the General’s home and he was to be escorted back to the palace at once. If he resisted then force would be used.
The subject then turned to the issue of the prisoners in the wine cellars under the palace floors on which they were conducting their meeting. According to Mengistu it was the Neus Dergue who demanded that the matter of the prisoners be decided at once, and that he was a reluctant participant in what followed. However, it is more likely that the subsequent events were exactly what Mengistu wanted, and that all the events were carefully engineered to bring about the results he desired. One by one the names of prisoners were read out and cries of “Kill him” and “Let him live” decided the fates of the men who had governed the country for decades.
Following this meeting, on the night of November 23rd,1974, soldiers surrounded the home of General Aman Michael Andom and demanded his surrender. When he refused they opened fire, and the General and a group of supporters fired back. After a fierce but brief firefight, a large explosion demolished the General’s house and it’s occupants were all killed. Some claim it was blown up by the General and his followers themselves in an act of Theodorean suicide. With this act completed, the armed unit returned to the palace in the heart of the night and awoke the prisoners. One by one, 58 prisoners of the prisoners were summoned by name and led out of the cellars.
When they asked where they were being taken they were either not given answers or told they were being taken to the central prison. Some of them may have been pleased at being taken to the prison as that would allow their families to start visiting them again as they had done when they were imprissoned at the 4th Division. Others such as Ras Mesfin Sileshi are said to have almost immediatly commented “We are being taken to our deaths”. The former governor to the Imperial Household, Blata Admassu Retta was removed from what his doctors were certain was his death bed at the Haile Selassie I Hospital in order that he be executed. The Eritrean born veteran of the war with Italy, the elderly General Isayas was also taken on a stretcher from the hospital to his execution.
Prince Asrate Kassa is said to have been loaded into the back of an army truck in a wheelchair. The selected prisoners were driven in trucks and buses to the Akaki Prison (also known as Kerchele) to it’s Alem Bekagn (which translates with Finished with the World) section. Under bright spot lights, they were machine-gunned to death and their bodies tossed into a freshly dug trench nearby, their remains promptly covered by buldozers. On the night of Friday November 23rd, 1974, the so-called “Bloodless Revolution” of the Dergue showed it’s true face. The next day, the city awoke to the spreading rumor that General Aman had been toppled, and possibly killed, and that there had been a change of leadership overnight, but the population had no idea of the scale of the previous nights events.
The author remembers peering at the remains of General Aman’s house from the grounds of the Princess Tsehai hospital where his parents had gone to visit a doctor friend who lived there. Then as the people of the counry sat down to lunch on Saturday November 24th, Radio Ethiopia announced the names of the 58 ex-officials of the Imperial Government, complete with military, official and noble titles along with the names of Lt. General Aman Michael Andom and the two Dergue members who had died with him. As people waited to hear news of either additional charges, trial date or pardon, they instead heard the announcement that all of the mentioned had been executed for abuse of power and crimes against the people.
Their “ceremony of burial” had been conducted and it would not be permitted for their family members to ask for their bodies. They had never had a chance to defend themselves in open court, as so many of them had been sure they would be allowed to do when they surrendered peacefully. Immediately a dark mood decended on the city as the horror of the day sank in. In a courageous act of defiance the widows and close relatives of the deceased opened their homes to mourners and their houses were thronged with weeping people.
The wife of one of the Generals walked up and down the street in front of her house waving his ceremonial sword crying out to all who passed that her brave lion had been killed by “these girls..these cowards” who had to tie his hands because they were afraid to fight him. The women and children of the Imperial family are said to have learned of the execution of the ex-officials at the Duchess of Harrar’s palace where they had been all confined on an upper floor together. One of Prince Asrate Kassa’s younger sons had leaned out the window to listen to a radio being played by the soldier guards below when he heard the name of his father and other former officials, and then heard the news of their deaths. His hysterical screams brought the entire family running to hear him screaming “They killed them all! They killed them all!” As the women and children panicked and chaotic hysteria began to set in, the soldiers rushed in and ordered them to be quiet and told them the boy had misheard and that all that had been anounced was the trial of the prisoners, nothing esle.
The next day however, a Dergue member arrived and informed them of the deaths of six people who the Dergue had determined were Imperial relatives. In fact, the Imperial family had lost 11 relatives of various degrees that day. Prince Asrate Kassa, the Emperor’s cousin, and Prince Rear-Admiral Iskinder Desta, the Emperor’s grandson, being the most prominent family members. When the women tearfully asked to be allowed to visit their graves with a priest, they were scolded and ordered never to ask such a question again. Their is no public record provided as of yet on what the Emperor’s reaction was to the deaths, but it must have been profound.