Red Terror (Ethiopia)


Red Terror (Ethiopia)

The Ethiopian Red Terror, or Qey Shibir (also "Key Shibbir", etc., Amharic: ቀይ ሽብር "ḳey šibbir"; 1977–1978), was a violent political campaign in Ethiopia that most visibly took place once Mengistu Haile Mariam achieved control of the Derg, the military junta, 3 February 1977. In December 2006, Mengistu Haile Mariam was convicted "in absentia" for his role in the Red Terror while leader of Ethiopia.

Background

Since the deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie 12 September 1974, the Derg had been faced with a number of civilian groups competing for control of Ethiopia, most notably being the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). During September 1976, EPRP militants were arrested and executed, in tandem with the EPRP's assassination campaign against ideologues and supporters of the Derg. Although an unsuccessful attempt to kill Mengistu on 23 September was attributed to the EPRP, the first prominent victim of the EPRP's terror was Dr. Feqre Mar'ed, a member of the Political Bureau and MAISON. [Marina and David Ottaway, "Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution" (New York: Africana, 1978), p. 247]

However, at the time the Derg was split by a rivalry between Mengistu and a faction allied against him, which limited his control. This rivalry was resolved at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Derg 3 February 1977, in which eight top Derg officers were killed in an hour-long shootout. Seven of these officers were opponents of Mengistu, who included chairman and Lieutenant General Tafari Benti, Captain Almayahu Haile, Captain Mogas Wolde Mikael and Lt. Colonel Asrat Dasta. Although two rivals to Mengistu were still alive -- Colonel Berhanu Bayeh and Lt. Colonel Atnafu Abate -- Col. Berhanu had sided with Mengistu, and Lt. Colonel Atnafu quickly sided with the victor of the bloodbath, leaving Mengistu as the undisputed head of the Derg -- and ruler of Ethiopia. [Ottaways, "Ethiopia", pp. 142ff] A few days later, Mengistu turned his attention to his rivals outside of the Derg, foremost being the EPRP.

Attacks on the EPRP

Mengistu officially began his campaign with a speech in Revolution (formerly and currently "Mesqel" or "Holy Cross") Square in the heart of Addis Ababa, which included the words "Death to counterrevolutionaries! Death to the EPRP!". When he delivered these words, he produced three bottles of what appeared to be blood and smashed them to the ground to show what the revolution would do to its enemies. [http://hrw.org/english/docs/1999/11/29/ethiop5495.htm Backgrounders: Ethiopian Dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam] Human Rights Watch, 1999] This campaign involved organized groups of civilians, or "kebeles", which within a month's time began to receive arms from the Derg. "Contrary to expectations," note the Ottaways, "these squads did not all side with the "Derg" or heed its call to track down 'reactionaries' and 'anarchists.' Rather, many followed their own whim and law, in accordance to the political faction that controlled each "kebele" or factory. Not only had numerous defense squads been infiltrated by the EPRP, but also those controlled by the Political Bureau were often bent on furthering the interests of MEISON rather than the "Derg"." [Ottaways, "Ethiopia", p. 145]

The Ottaways date the height of the Red Terror in Addis Ababa to 22 March, when the Derg felt that they had armed enough civilian groups to permit a house-by-house search for EPRP members, arms, and other paraphernalia. However the search was anything but systematic, the Ottways note, with "each squad a law unto itself. some looked only for arms, but others confiscated foot supplies, building materials, and gasoline; some considered cameras espionage equipment, and others regarded typewriters as highly dangerous." [Ottaways, "Ethiopia", p. 146] Despite that many were taken from their homes in the middle of the night, some never to return home, few of the top leaders of the EPRP were amongst the dead.

A number of distinctly ugly incidents followed. One was at the Berhanena Selam Printing Press, where three days later a dozen workers were arrested for being EPRP members, then afterwards released for lack of evidence; on the morning of 26 March, nine of them were found murdered, including a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy, which shocked the city. The deaths were found to be the responsibility of a certain Girma Kebede, and who was later found to be "the Political Bureau's chief executioner; he had already murdered twenty-four persons and had a list of over two hundred others he was supposed to liquidate." Embarrassed, the Derg had him and five associates executed as counterrevolutionaries on 2 April. [Ottaways, "Ethiopia", pp. 146f]

Events like this led to tension between the Derg junta (and presumably Mengistu) and the civilian Political Bureau. Concern over the threat of the EPRP kept this tension from becoming a definite break until the eve of May Day when the Political Bureau, on the pretext that an anti-government protest was in the offing, ordered the "kebeles" to arrest any young person suspected of being an EPRP member. According to the Ottaways, "Hundreds were arrested, taken to three different sites on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, and executed en masse. Scores of others were gunned down in the streets by the "Derg's" 'permanent secretaries,' the jeeps mounted with machine guns constantly patrolling the streets of Addis Ababa. The death toll may have been as high as one thousand." Afterwards, the Derg disavowed this outrage, and put the blame for this slaughter on the Political Bureau in a proclamation on 14 July. The Bureau's leader Haile Fide and a group of his followers attempted to flee the capital the following August, but were caught. [Ottaways, "Ethiopia", pp. 147f]

At the same time the Red Terror made MEISON its next target. "Sensing danger," writes Bahru Zewde, "the leaders of the organization hastily tried to go underground. But almost all of them were either captured or killed in August 1977 as they tried to retreat into the countryside in several detachments." [Bahru Zewde, "A History", p. 248]

Thousands of men and women were rounded up and executed in the following two years. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6251095.stm Mengistu is handed life sentence] BBC, January 11, 2007] Amnesty International estimates that the death toll could be as high as 500,000.Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. "The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World." Basic Books, 2005. ISBN 0465003117 [http://books.google.com/books?id=4eSR1rHg5_YC&pg=PA457&dq=the+Save+the+Children+Fund+1,000+or+more+children&ei=81V2R-WCA4eQjgGMwcx3&ie=ISO-8859-1&sig=Ba_dV32N_Z1dqTfznGjiZuUcx8o p. 457] ] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/575405.stm US admits helping Mengistu escape] BBC, 22 December, 1999] The Save the Children Fund reported that the victims of the Red Terror included not only adults, but 1,000 or more children, mostly aged between eleven and thirteen, whose corpses were left in the streets of Addis Ababa.

Aftermath

Mengistu was found guilty of genocide and was sentenced to life in prison in January 2007. After his conviction, Zimbabwe, where he received sanctuary due to friendship with Robert Mugabe, said it would not extradite him. On 2008-05-26, the Ethiopian Supreme Court sentenced Mengistu "in absentia" to death. Eighteen associates of Mengistu, two of whom live in the Italian embassy in Addis Ababa and 16 in Ethiopian prisons, also are under a death sentence. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7420212.stm Court Sentences Mengistu to Death] BBC, 26 May 2008.]

See also

*Ethiopian Civil War

References

External links

* [http://www.ethiopians.com/qey_shibir.htm Victims of Red Terror Memorial website]
* [http://www.redterrormovie.com Red Terror (Short Film)]


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