We Accuse Graziani of Genocide and Object His Worship by Italian Neo-Fascists
Speech by Mikael Wossen (Ph.D.); February 16, 2013
The following is a speech Mikael Wossen (PhD), chairman of Ethiopian Genocide Committee (EGC), delivered at a panel discussion held on November15, 1212, at the African Heritage Dance Center. This landmark Center is located in the historic Anacostia neighborhood of Washington DC. The forum was organized by the Ethio-Mixer USA, and the indefatigable Ato Tamrat Medhin.
Put bluntly, Nazism and Fascism are two parts of the same ideological coin. Both are 20th Century political phenomena, and what Hitchens calls “man-made structures of inhumanity” that have bloodied the world, as totalitarian allies during World War II. The Nazi criminals were held accountable at the Nuremberg Trials. Meanwhile, the blood trails of Graziani’s crimes run from Libya, Somalia to Ethiopia and remain unaccounted for. This is the crux of the problem for us. Namely, Field Marshal Graziani never stood trial for the genocidal crimes he committed in Ethiopia.
Field Marshal Graziani was a member of Mussolini’s Fascist High Command and served at Il Duce’s pleasure. This arrangement paid off quickly in terms of promotion. By the early 1930s Graziani had become vice governor and military commander of Cyrenaica or Eastern Libya. By February 1935 he was appointed governor and military commander of Italian occupied Somalia. This position allowed him to participate in the invasion of Ethiopia from the South-East. By 1936, he became Viceroy of Italian East Africa and Governor-General of Shewa/Addis Ababa. This was the practical culmination of his villainous phrase:
"The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians."
Carrying the strategic logic of this sentence to the final conclusion can only lead to concentration camps and genocide. We still hear about Auschwitz Treblinka and other Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe, but never about the Italian Fascist prisons and concentration camps at Nocra, Danane, Asinara, where Ethiopian “prisoners of war” suffered indignity at the hands of fascist Italy. At any rate, to achieve his murderous intent, Graziani had several divisions of heavily mechanized troops, supplemented by Eritrean Askaris, Somali irregulars, Arab auxiliaries from Libya and Yemeni troops recruited from across the Red Sea. Di Bono, the governor of Eritrea, commanded the other invasion force from the North. He had, under his direct command, a force of nine Army divisions in three corps: The Italian I Corps, the Italian II Corps, and the Eritrean Corps. Di Bono emphasized the fascist military's idea of full-scale war – a strategy of war perfected as Blitzkrieg by the Nazis. Graziani emphasized deadly and systemic counterinsurgency methods or techniques of “systemic terror” for pacifying “natives.” Both were rabid racists. In other words, they believed in racial theories that have been refuted innumerable times. Such theories pose supposedly different “races” of people into an ordinal hierarchy that is biologically arbitrary. They deny that mankind is of one race.
In addition to this enormous invasion force and doctrinal detestation, Graziani would use chemical weapons and gas to crush/overwhelm any Ethiopian patriotic resistance to the Italian Fascist supremacist agenda in the region. A communiqué from Rome dated October 27, 1935 from Mussolini to His Excellency Graziani reads “The use of gas as an ultima ratio to overwhelm enemy resistance and in case of counterattack is authorized.”(Campbell). Evidently, Graziani had freely used the internationally outlawed phosgene (poison gas) as a weapon of war, both on humans and livestock. This is genocide, pure and simple. International silence about this period is proving extremely painful to us Ethiopians. The question remains: what are the responses/ responsibilities of the international community, the UN and International Criminal Court of Justice at The Hague, in such horrendous events?
The Anatomy of Genocide
In 1934 Il Duce Mussolini decided to invade and brutalize/exploit Ethiopia to expunge the humiliation of defeat “civilized” Italy had suffered at the battle of Adowa (1896). The Italians had returned to avenge the decisive and humiliating Adwa (1896) defeat that Ethiopians and Emperor Menelik had inflicted on the overall white supremacist imperialist-colonial project in Africa. The repercussions were worldwide and lasting. No European colonizing army had ever been so thoroughly crushed in Africa. The Adowa victory forced foreign powers to recognize Ethiopia’s very existence in the modern world’s inter-state system, its sovereignty and independence included. Also, Ethiopia’s victory had inspired Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement and awakened Black -and Pan-African consciousness.
Ethiopia thus emerged as a beacon for anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles. Italy, on the other hand, had become a laughing stock. Europeans had questioned Italy’s fitness to colonize, and mocked its imperial pretenses. All told, at the Battle of Adowa, Ethiopians exposed the mass of lies, untruths and “negrophobic” hatred and racial inferiorization of Africans at the heart of 19th century imperialism. This victory was unprecedented in the archives of modern imperialism and the famous scramble for Africa. The Spectator of March 7, 1896 set the tone and observed mournfully: “The Italians have suffered a great disaster – greater than has ever occurred in modern times to white men in Africa. Adowa was the bloodiest of all colonial battles”. Also, the racial dimension of the struggle was unmistakable to the European world.
One thing is incontrovertible about the “second coming” of the Italians, this time in fascist guise. In the 1880s Crispi spoke of a “place in the sun,” and plenty of free agricultural land for his army, Fascist propagandists in 1935 spoke of all that and “happy black faces” that await Italian victory. Graziani was a perpetrator of genocide in Ethiopia and is directly responsible for 760,000 human losses, according to Angelo Del Boca (The Ethiopian War 1935-1941). Del Boca cites a 1945 Memorandum from Ethiopia to the Conference of Prime Ministers to underline his point. Oral historians put the number of dead, raped and disabled at well over a million. Either way, to achieve this impressive body count, Field Marshal Graziani had presided over “One of the more sadistic and shameful episode of modern times” writes Ian Campbell. The sadistic orgy of violence was speeded up by the failed assassination attempt on Graziani in Addis Ababa on Yekatit-February 1937. This scenario provides the background for Campbell’s narrative. My contention here is that the genocide begun long before the assassination attempt on Graziani by Mogus and Abreha; in fact, it was the modus operandi of the whole conquest and occupation period. From the start, the air dropped leaflets prove this intent to committing genocide and promoting fratricide among Ethiopians. The genocidal and fratricidal logic of the following leaflet is as clear as the intent. This particular message is addressed specifically to the people of Tigrai (Adolf Parlesak/Mekonnen, 114, translation mine) reads as follows:
The Almighty God has sent us to bring peace, civilization and prosperity/development to you. However, the Amara and Oromo oppressors have armed their cruel and man-eating forces to prevent us from achieving this blessed objective.
Dear respected people of Tigrai, should you encounter these savage bandits, strictly refrain from feeding or providing them with hambasha and water at any cost. Instead, eliminate them like dogs. Show no sympathy whatsoever. Beware too that we have our people among you, and should anyone dare to provide or sell any kind of sustenance to these Amara-Oromo “shifta” soldiers, the entire village will be mercilessly erased by our airplanes.
Here we enter the discourse of Genocide, namely the premeditated identification and demonization with “intent to destroy” a specific people and/or ethnic groups deemed disposable. Genocides do not occur in a vacuum as it were. The “Amara-Oromo” people they have targeted constitute the vast majority of Ethiopians. This historically forgotten genocide or holocaust perpetrated against Ethiopians from 1935-1941, was a historic product of Fascist Italy’s war of colonial conquest in Eastern Africa. It attempted a forced psychological and political detournement in the identity and perception of Ethiopians. The ultimate object was to destroy Ethiopia/Ethiopians and create a pseudo-Roman Empire in Eastern Africa, African Orientale Italiana (AOI). What is more, the so called “international community,” of the time, apart from imposing some symbolic sanctions, was morally indifferent if not complicit in this criminal colonial war of conquest and genocide. It was certainly not moving to stop it, nor held the Fascists rigorously accountable as did the Nuremberg trials with the Nazi hierarchy and the Tokyo trials with the Japanese. Despite Graziani’s well-documented crimes of genocide against Libyans and Ethiopians, his major offense in the end seems to have been his bloody pact with the Nazis against the British.
Though the Ethiopian genocide happened well into the twentieth century, it was as though the international social contract-League of Nations, the laws of civilization and human rights (the sanctity of life) did not apply to Ethiopians and Africans in general, both on the continent and in the wider Diaspora. The concept of genocide was not in circulation. Actually, Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia was blessed by the Catholic Pope and lauded by European statesmen and prominent French intellectuals as “an honorable extension of France’s and England’s project of civilizing the uncivilized through colonization” (Yves Rene Marie Simon). So reads “the Manifesto of French Intellectuals for the Defense of the West” issued by about a 1000 prominent French intellectuals, almost half of them were members of the prestigious Academie Francaise. The “intellectual” signatories to this Manifesto thus defended the Fascist invasion and colonization project, and condemned even the threat of feeble sanctions against Fascist Italy “under the pretext of protecting in Africa the independence of an amalgam of uncivilized tribes.” This amounts to a blatant and racist denial of Ethiopia’s statehood and independence i.e. Ethiopia’s “expulsion from history,” and the obliteration of its proud people’s sovereignty and national identity. It was both an intellectual and psychological warfare waged against Ethiopians and the entire black “race” deemed uncivilized and unworthy of basic human rights and statehood. Poet Aime Caesaire rightly commented that with the holocaust occurring in Europe, Europeans finally discovered that the colonial crimes they routinely inflicted against Negroes, Coolies, Arabs and so called Orientals are, in fact, crimes of genocide when practiced against Europeans. Hence, the concept of genocide was coined in 1948.
Genocide has been called the “Crime of Crimes” as it is premeditated, ideologically rationalized, racially/ethnically tinged, impersonal and directed against a whole “people” deemed different, “inferior” and somehow a “peril” to society or Western Civilization. A state practicing genocide becomes in effect - criminalized. While a precise definition varies among legal scholars of the subject, a working definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) and the more recent ICC and the Rome Treaty. Simply stated, Genocide is "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group” though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has apparently been subject to much debate by legal scholars. In this case, evidence shows that the ideology of genocide permeated virtually everything Graziani said and thought about Ethiopians. There is no doubt that Europe’s entrenched “scientifically underwritten racism” created the necessary conditions for tolerating the heinous crime of genocide among certain populations. The question for Ethiopians now is: how can neo-Fascists build a monumental mausoleum to “honor” war criminal Graziani? This is neo-Fascist revisionism at its best. Graziani and the entire Fascist hierarchy never brought “honor” to Italy, only shame and defeat in what came to be known as World War II.
“Wholesale and Indiscriminate Execution”
Graziani was a cruel and prolific mass killer whose major “killing fields” were in Ethiopia. Fortunately, the oral history of the Ethiopian genocide handed down to us has been validated in recently published books. The crucial events may be presented as follows. Following the famous Yekatit-February 1937 grenade-driven assassination attempt on Graziani at the Palace, a bloody and indiscriminate repression followed. Terrified by an imminent insurrection, the panicking Italians opened fire indiscriminately unleashing terror throughout Addis Ababa. It was an “orgy of murder, bloodlust and mayhem” writes Campbell. The indiscriminate massacres, hangings and burning of people, homes/villages lasted for several days. To be sure, the dead have never been really counted, continues Campbell, but are estimated at 30.000 Ethiopian martyrs in three days. That is ten thousand Ethiopians every day!
Authoritative witnesses were not lacking either. The Acting British Consul General reported the atrocities as a “wholesale and indiscriminate execution” of Ethiopians found in the neighborhood of the Palace and elsewhere in an expanding cycle of death. In every case, the crime was one of being Ethiopian. Party Federal Secretary Guido Cortese declared to well-armed Fascists and Blackshirt troops “For 3 days I give you carta blanca to destroy and kill and do what you want to Ethiopians.” In those days mutilated corpses littered the streets of Addis, ostensibly “to make an impression on the native mind” as the Viceroy grew fond of saying. All told, hyenas and dogs fed on the mutilated corpse of Ethiopians. The American Consul-General wrote that there have been mass executions of wretched people, in batches of 50 or 100, although they could not have any possible part in the attack on Graziani. The diplomat wrote “I have seen no display of unbridled brutality and cowardice since the Armenian massacres.” The parallel is instructive, although Consul-General did not yet conceptualize it as genocide. The military-political objective of the “mass executions” was to colonize Ethiopia by any means necessary, including (poison gas) and fratricide. It is high time the international community acknowledge that genocide was indeed perpetrated by Mussolini’s Italian fascist state in an effort to conquer, plunder and colonize Ethiopia.
Obviously, the second time around in 1934, Italy’s fascist invaders came prepared and with the most modernized and automated machinery of war, including internationally banned weapons of mass destruction. This time around, failure was not an option. Mussolini’s motto was Qualsiasi Mezzo! or win by any means. The result was arguably the most unjust and brutal asymmetrical warfare of the 20th Century. Italians were masters of the sky and poured a “rain of iron and poison” on /defenseless Ethiopians at will. Ethiopians had no air force to speak of and limited modern weaponry. The bulk of the peasant soldiers were shoeless. The four Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns and twenty bullets at the Ethiopian army’s disposal were ineffective antics and relics of the Adwa war of 1896. They could not prevent the steel, poison gas and fire of death raining from the sky.
No wonder Graziani became known as “the Butcher of Addis Ababa” in addition to his designation as “Butcher of Libya” and the “Hyena of Cyrenaica.” His designations speak to his bestiality, not to mention his predatory instincts and deadly intent. To illustrate the genocidal intent and aspects of his crime further:
He declared war on Young Ethiopians and ordered the liquidation of an entire generation of the literate youth and foreign educated elements in society. The Ethiopian intelligentsia of the time was found to be “particularly poisonous” and “dangerously xenophobic” and outright inimical to the Fascist Master Plan for Ethiopia’s dissolution into the new AOI-Roman Empire. During the occupation, close to 80% of Ethiopia’s literate population was eliminated.
Graziani ordered the eradication of patriots and members of the Black Lion Resistance movement on sight. Furthermore, Graziani gave a carta blanca order to “shoot all Amhara notables and ex-army officers.” In his own words, he ordered that “the extermination of all the Amhara chiefs, great or small must be speeded up, none to be spread out of feeling of false pity.” Some 300,000 patriots were summarily killed on that order.
In the predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia, populations were instructed to “kill everyone carrying the cross,” thus singling out Christian Ethiopians for extermination.
Graziani authorized the massacre of the monks of the ancient monastery of Debre Libanos, including the large number of pilgrims who had traveled there to celebrate the feast day of the founding saint of the monastery. The legendary monastery and place of traditional higher learning was deemed “a den of murderers, brigands and monks, absolutely opposed to us.” It was, therefore, visited with two mass executions. Graziani’s personal order in this regard, was to “execute summarily all monks without distinction.” After eliminating the targeted population, he wrote “no more trace remains of the Debre Libanos Monastery.” This amounts to admitting to physical and spiritual genocide.
The fascist army ordered the despoliation and looting of some 2.000 Orthodox churches and over half a million homes and all schools throughout Ethiopia. Ethiopians were to be “educated” for some three years in Italian Fascist “Balila” schools and serve Italians. Graziani also presided over the killing of 14 million animals and the methodical poisoning of fertile agricultural lands and contamination of rivers that sustain life. According to Del Boca some 24,000 civilians were killed by air force alone. These examples suffice to prove the point. Graziani is the leading architect of genocide in Ethiopia.
Upon his recall to Rome in Dec 1937, Graziani was deemed an embarrassment to the Italian “Civilization Mission” and diagnosed as mentally unstable. He was replaced by Duke of Aosta, presumably a milder fascist. As Italy finally descended into civil war with the advance of the Allies, Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani served as a loyal fascist military commander and followed Mussolini till his disastrous end-by-hanging. Graziani, however, was arrested and sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment by the victorious Allies. This was punishment for his part in war crimes atrocities and for “collaborating with the Germans,” and was released from jail after serving only two years. After his release, he resumed active political life with the neo-fascist Movemento Social Italiano (MSI), and even served as its President. The MSI is the movement that nurtured contemporary neo-Fascists like long-time Italian President, and present day contender, Berlusconi. Graziani died in 1955 of old age, while his victims continued to suffer in pain. Instead of persecuting the leading Fascist war criminals, the victorious powers were busy grooming leaders from the Fascist ranks, allegedly for establishing a bulwark against the rising tide of Communism in Italy.
Fellow brothers and sisters, who else is going to hold the Italian fascists accountable for this Great Crime of genocide against Ethiopia? Justice demands that all Ethiopians and fellow Africans everywhere make their voices and objections heard on this decisive issue for the Ethiopian-African people and humanity as a whole. Indeed, it is our human obligation not to turn a blind eye to such a crime. Show up and support the February 19 demonstrations organized by the Global Alliance for Justice: The Ethiopian Cause.
Campbell, I, The Plot To Kill Graziani, Addis Ababa University Press, 2010.
Parlesak, A. (translated by Mekonnen, T.J.) Ye Habesha Jebdu, Addis Ababa University Press, 2010.
Mennasemay, M. The Ethiopian Campaign and French Political Thought. International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Vol.V, No.1, 2010.
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