Remembering Yekatit 12: the brutal Italian massacres of occupied Ethiopia

Julian McBride February 26, 2022
Yekatit 12 Memorial. (@Yekatit12) / Twitter

Eighty-five years ago, one of the most brutal massacres in Africa took place. Yekatit 12 was a three-day blood fest, in which Fascist Italy killed over 30,000 Ethiopians, including many intellectuals during the Italian occupation.

After two Eritrean-born men threw hand grenades at the viceroy of Italy and Graziani, wounding the latter, Mussolini gave the order to brutally punish the Ethiopian population of Addis Ababa. The Italian forces led by Rodolfo Graziani led a campaign of ethnic cleansing with dozens of massacres and atrocities to “keep Ethiopians in line” as Ethiopia had always resisted the Italian East African occupation, especially with the attack at Addis Ababa.

Yekatit 12 took place for three days in a row from February 19th to 21st in 1937, though massacres were continuous throughout Ethiopia until the Ethiopian resistance and allied forces ended the Italian occupation. Italian forces under Graziani declared several days of total war against the Ethiopian population after a failed assassination attempt against him and the Viceroy of Italy.

Graziani himself was severely wounded in the assassination attempt. Soldiers would butcher Ethiopians with daggers and truncheons to the shouts of “Duce! Duce!” and “Civiltà Italiana!” Houses in the capital were set on fire and quarters of the Greeks and Armenians were ransacked. Dozens of Greeks and Armenians were killed as well if they were caught sheltering Ethiopians in the city from the fascists. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were indiscriminately massacred on the first day alone.

During the massacres, a kangaroo court unjustly sentenced 62 Ethiopians to death by firing squad in the Alem Bekagn prison in Addis Ababa. The occupiers ran concentration camps full of forced labor and mass execution. Graziani personally made sure Ethiopian detainees would only receive the bare minimum of rations to keep them working. The Nokra concentration camp was even worse in inhumane treatment and the survivors of the camp suffered from malnutrition for years after. The Fascist Italian methods would be an idea the Third Reich later picked up and used with their own concentration camps during the Second World War.

According to Italian and British soldiers, over 30,000 to 40,000 were killed in Yekatit 12. That number could be much higher as the Italian authorities hid most of their central figures during the Nuremberg Trials.

As the massacres became more severe, Ethiopia would reject the Italian occupation even more and continue to secretly support Emperor Haile Selassie in exile. The Italian occupation ended during the Second World War when Ethiopian resistance groups under the emperor linked up with British forces to expel the occupiers.

To this day, Italy hasn’t truly apologized to Ethiopia nor paid reparations for the occupation of Yekatit 12. May the martyrs Rest in Peace and live on through our memory.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 25, 2022


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