During the Italian occupation, he was one of Ethiopia’s finest patriots, although his tale is hardly remembered. Abdissa Aga, a native of Welega, Oromia, joined the Ethiopian Army at the age of 14 and fought against Fascist Italy in Ethiopia in 1936. While resisting Italian troops, he was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp on the Italian island of Sicily.
That’s where he met Captain Julio, a hero from Yugoslav. While in prison, the two became friends and began plotting their escape. They were successful, and they were able to flee to the woods in secrecy with a dozen prisoners. Aga and his men returned to the camp at night a few days later to assist additional inmates in escaping. While fighting Fascist forces, many of whom dreaded Aga, they were able to do so.
Aga “choked and silenced the guards,” according to author Dr. Fikre Tolossa. He and Julio removed the guards’ uniforms. Two former inmates dressed in the uniforms of the dead soldiers and pretended to be Fascist guards at the camp’s gate. Abdissa and Julio were first, followed by the other supporters. “I broke into the camp, freed all the captives, fought with several of the fascist officials, robbed them of their ammo and supplies, as well as trucks full of weapons, and drove back to the woods.”
Aga went on to battle the Fascist Italians in their own country with more men and ammunition. He and his army of partisans (ex-prisoners) liberated other inmates and robbed concentration camps, government depots, banks, and other locations. Their numbers grew, and the Italian government responded by waging a ferocious campaign against them.
The partisans had chosen Aga as their leader at the time, and he was known as Major. When the Italian forces failed to arrest Aga, they attempted to seduce him by promising him “a prominent post.” He turned down their offer.
Then there was World War II. Aga and his soldiers were armed and fed by the Allied forces, which included Britain, the United States, France, and Russia. They invited him to lead the international partisan force, which included French, Americans, English, Ethiopians, and others. Julio, a friend of his, rose to the position of commander of the Yugoslav partisans. The purpose of this alliance was to defeat the Italians.
Aga was “the first hero who invaded and captured the city of Rome while sitting in a jeep, waving first and foremost the Ethiopian flag, which was also tied around the arms of his foreign men, including Americans, French, and English,” according to Ethiopian history.
For his gallantry, the Allies recognized him, and the British promoted him to Commander of the British Military Police before sending him to Germany to battle the German Army. Aga reportedly “reached Berlin triumphantly again waving Ethiopian and British flags” after fighting the Nazis and conquering several cities and villages there.
He became recognized throughout the world, but when the war ended and the British, Americans, and Canadians urged him to join their troops, he declined, stating that he wanted to return to Ethiopia. The Allies were not pleased, and accused him of “ravaging the Italian Fascists when he was a partisan.” Aga was eventually compelled to pay a hefty fine in order to escape being imprisoned. The fine was paid by Ethiopians, British, and Aga himself.
The Ethiopian hero returned home, surprising himself by graduating as a first lieutenant before being promoted to colonel and eventually becoming the head of the Emperor’s personal security. Aga died in 1974, just a few years after the Ethiopian Revolution.