[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 opposite, 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.
Interview with historian Richard Pankhurst