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Yekatit 12 Square Monument

Yekatit 12 Square Monument
Yekatit 12 Square Monument

Public Art: Yekatit 12 Square Monument

Also Known As: Sidist Kilo or the Martyrs’ Monument

Sculptor: © unknown

Description: The 28m white stone obelisk stands as a tribute to the thousands of innocent martyrs murdered by the Fascist Italian occupiers (1936-1941).  This occurred after the attempted assassination of the Italian Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani by two young Eritreans, Abraha Deboch, and Mogus Asgedom,  on the 19th February 1937.

Yekatit 12 refers to the date of the massacre in the Ethiopian calendar (it is equivalent to 19 February in the Gregorian calendar).

Around the base of the obelisk are bas-reliefs depicting the massacre and the Imperial funeral for the victims, in which Emperor Haile Selassie I was present. A bronze Lion of Judah, which is the symbol of heroism and resistance to Ethiopians, also decorates the face of the obelisk.

The monument once included the story of the massacre carved on four open-book-like stones around the obelisk but they have since mysteriously vanished.

Date unveiled: The Martyrs’ Monument was inaugurated on February 1942.

Funded by: The monument was a gift to Ethiopia by President Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, who was himself a leader of a guerrilla army who fought against his country’s occupation of Ethiopia by  Italy and a great friend of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Location: The Yekatit Monument is located at the intersection of Russian Street, Entoto Avenue, King Street and George Street and Weatheral Street in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

Background to the Massacre: During Ethiopia’s quest for independence in the 1930s, the country fell into war with Italy.  Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had long desired Italy to expand its empire into North Africa just like Britain and France.  Under his orders, Italy pushed for war. The Ethiopian army was ill-prepared for the conflict.  The end result was the military occupation of Ethiopia by Italian armed forces in 1936 and lead to the establishment of a new colony called Italian East Africa.

During the conflict, the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, and his family fled (on advice)  to Jerusalem and then on to England where they stayed in exile.

Meanwhile, the Italian commander of the southern front, Rodolfo Graziani, was made Viceroy of Italian East Africa and Governor-General of Shewa/Addis Ababa.

On the 19th of February, 1937, two young Eritreans, Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom, decided to assassinate Graziani and other leading Italians during a public ceremony on the grounds of the once Imperial Palace. Before leaving, Deboch stabbed an Italian flag to the wooden floorboards of his home with an Ethiopian spear and then tied the Ethiopian flag to the top end of it. Deboch and Asgeom then headed to the ceremony armed with ten grenades. As the Italians gathered on the steps of the palace Deboch and Asgedom threw the grenades at them, injuring Graziani and thirty other officials, without killing any. Graziani was rushed to hospital with over 200 shrapnel wounds while Federal Secretary Guido Cortese gave official orders for three days of carnage.

From Friday until Sunday the Italians went on a revenge rampage. Ethiopian men were murdered, women were raped (and in some cases disemboweled), houses were burnt down and those attempting to escape were shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death.  No one was spared. Educated Ethiopians (estimated to be 70% of the educated elite), especially those belonging to the Black Lion resistance group, were rounded up and slaughtered near the Little Ghebi (now the present Addis Ababa University building). Pregnant women, babies and the elderly were shown no mercy. Witnesses describe the streets as being literally drenched in blood.

After the three days of horror, it was estimated that 30,000 Ethiopians had been murdered.

Three months later, when Graziani had recovered from his wounds, he ordered that the 297 monks and 23 laymen from the monastery of Debre Libanos, who was rumored to have sheltered Deboch and Asgedom be shot dead.

What became of Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom? Some reports say the two fled to the western border but were caught by the Italians, tortured and then killed. Wikipedia claims they sought safety in Sudan and were later killed in Gojjam by the locals, who were suspicious of the strangers.

Things You May Not Know About Yekatit 12 Square: Each year on “Martyrs Day” (12th of February on the Ethiopian calendar)  wreaths are laid at the monument.

During the reign of the Dergue ((1974 to 1987) all images of the Lion of Judah and of Emperor Haile Selassie were removed from the city except for those that adorn the Yekatit 12 monument.

Graziani was never tried for his crimes in Ethiopia but did become known as the “Butcher of Ethiopia.”

In 2012, a small town in the Italian region of Lazio inaugurated a Mausoleum dedicated to the memory of the fascist Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani.

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