Stained memory: Graziani and the Ethiopian genocide

[Image credit: azulnocturnal_img6033 (2009) from inside the Debre Libanos monastery, Ethiopia]

Tomorrow in New York City, filmmakers Valerio Ciriaci (Director) and Isaak Liptzin (Producer) will be airing excerpts from their new film If Only I were that Warrior,  and discussing their adventure into Ethiopian past and reverberations in the present. The film, and contemporary debate about Italian and Ethiopian past, has been electrified by the establishment of a permanent memorial for Rodolfo Graziani. This monument pictured with graffiti affileopposite, was built with $160,000 of public funds and ordered by Affile’s major. Despite attempts to charge Graziani with war crimes against Italians in connection with Mussolini’s failed Salo Republic, justice has not been served on the genocidal Italian campaign in Ethiopia. The monument prompted a loud response form the Ethiopian diaspora, and internationally from country’s such as Germany. Such furor was met with shoulder shrugging by residents in the Italian town who cared too little, or too much about their fascist heritage, to be too bothered by the international outcry.

Graziani led the campaign in Ethiopia to take the territory, infamously “with or without the Ethiopian people”. It was in 1935 that Graziani led troops from Somalia westwards; and only after a year of fighting was Addis Ababa finally taken. Illegal use of chemical weapons allowed the Italians to gain the upper hand, leaving up to 20,000 Ethiopian casualties. However the carnage did not stop here. In February 1937, following a grenade assassination attempt on Graziani, Italian forces and settlers embarked on a rampage in Addis, killing 18-20% of the city’s inhabitants, with whole sections of urban areas burnt to the ground. In May of the same year, at the monastery of Debre Libanos, historian Ian Campbell documents that 1,200 inhabitants and a further 500 from the local area were shot by Fascist forces (see the below video excerpt from the film of a surviving eyewitness of the massacre at Debre Libanos). Today these fateful events are known in the Ethiopian culture and history as Yekatit 12; this marker historical denotes a period still untouched by justice, and sparsely covered by academic study.

This is the precise legacy that Criaci and Liptzin hope to capture and highlight. Any genocide in a given country’s past, without being thoroughly historicized, in a somewhat objective manner, leads to the weaponization of history in the hands of political or other elites. In other cases, such an absence also leads to the neglect of justice. No Italians have been brought to bear for the crimes committed against Ethiopian peoples during the 1930s. For that matter Italian crimes in occupied Libya of the same era also remain untouched by history and justice. Yet, this it is not uncommon for post-colonial/post-genocidal states to have treated their own sordid pasts with white-wash or brazen justifications.

If Only I were that Warrior seeks to bring out voices from Italians and Ethiopians living in various localities, including Ethiopian diaspora in Rome, and Italians descended from 1930’s settlers in Ethiopia. Interviews with a UN development worker also speak to the level of continuing silence of both Ethiopian and Italian governments, due to the lucrative foreign aid and trade that now characterize this post-colonial relationship. Genocide narratives in Africa suffer from being cast aside or misused; and more often than not by both new states and old post-colonial ones colluding in this perpetration of stained memory.

Further reading:

Film Website

You Tube trailer

Kickstarter project

Interview with historian Richard Pankhurst

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One thought on “Stained memory: Graziani and the Ethiopian genocide”

  1. New Book Exposes the Ethiopian Genocide:

    We are all familiar with the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. In very recent times, we have also come to know the details of the Armenian genocide – a tragedy that the world’s superpower, the United States government, has refused to accept.

    However, one scarcely-known atrocity was the annihilation of one million Ethiopians at the hands of the Fascists.

    When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, in order to Christianize and civilize the Ethiopians (even though they were both Christian and civilized before the Italians), the Emperor Hailé Sellassié was forced to leave Ethiopia. One national hero who sustained and encouraged his co-national patriots to continue fighting for their independence was the holy Orthodox bishop Abune Petros, who was baffled as to how a Christian country like Italy would occupy another peaceful Christian country like Ethiopia in such a brutal manner.

    Atrocities committed by the Italians included “the use of mustard gas, the bombing of Red Cross hospitals and ambulances, the execution of captured prisoners without trial, the Graziani massacre, the killings at Debre Libanos monastery, and the shooting of ‘witch-doctors’ accused of prophesying the end of Fascist rule.”

    The Italians killed approximately 1 million Ethiopians, in addition to destroying 2,000 churches, 525,000 homes and 14 million domestic animals.

    What was the West’s reaction to this?

    The United States distanced itself from the Ethiopian situation and did not give any assistance to the Ethiopians against their aggressors. Other nations pretended to ignore this tragedy as well.

    Why has this atrocity been hidden from the pages of our history books? Where is the outrage about this injustice?

    In his newest book, Ethiopian & Eritrean Monasticism, Mario Alexis Portella exposes the horrors of the Ethiopian genocide and sheds light on the courageous figures who stood strong in the face of such inhumanity.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ethiopian-Eritrean-Monasticism-Spiritual-Cultural/dp/0692449981/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1435989399&sr=8-1&keywords=ethiopian+%26+eritrean+monasticism

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