One of Africa’s most heinous atrocities occurred eighty-five years ago. During the Italian occupation, Yekatit 12 was a three-day bloodbath in which Fascist Italy killed over 30,000 Ethiopians, including many intellectuals.
Mussolini gave the order to ruthlessly punish the Ethiopian populace of Addis Ababa after two Eritrean-born men launched hand grenades at the viceroy of Italy and Graziani, wounding the latter. The Italian soldiers led by Rodolfo Graziani waged an ethnic cleansing operation that included scores of massacres and atrocities in order to “keep Ethiopians in line,” as Ethiopia had consistently fought the Italian rule of East Africa, particularly after the attack on Addis Ababa.
Yekatit 12 was carried out for three days in a row from February 19th to 21st, 1937, while atrocities continued throughout Ethiopia until the Italian occupation was halted by Ethiopian resistance and allied troops. After a failed assassination attempt on him and the Viceroy of Italy, Italian forces led by Graziani waged utter war on the Ethiopian people for several days.
The assassination attempt left Graziani seriously injured. To the cries of “Duce! Duce!” and “Civiltà Italiana!” soldiers would kill Ethiopians with daggers and truncheons. Houses in the capital were set on fire, and Greek and Armenian areas were pillaged. If they were detected sheltering Ethiopians in the city from the fascists, dozens of Greeks and Armenians were slaughtered as well. On the first day alone, tens of thousands of Ethiopians were slaughtered indiscriminately.
62 Ethiopians were sentenced to death by firing squad in the Alem Bekagn jail in Addis Ababa during the massacres by a kangaroo court. Concentration camps with forced labor and mass executions were run by the occupiers. Graziani personally ensured that Ethiopian captives received just the most basic food in order to keep them working. Inhumane treatment was considerably worse at the Nokra concentration camp, and survivors suffered from hunger for years afterward. The Third Reich would subsequently pick up on the Fascist Italian methods and utilize them in their own concentration camps during World War II.
Over 30,000 to 40,000 people were slain in Yekatit 12, according to Italian and British soldiers. Because the Italian government kept most of their key figures hidden during the Nuremberg Trials, the number could be far higher.
Ethiopia would reject the Italian occupation even more as the atrocities became more horrific, and it would continue to discreetly assist Emperor Haile Selassie in exile. During WWII, Ethiopian resistance groups led by the Emperor teamed up with British forces to drive the occupiers out.
Italy has never fully apologized to Ethiopia for the occupation of Yekatit 12 and has never provided compensation. May the martyrs rest in peace and continue to live on in our hearts and minds.