The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopian Patriots Association

Author - Martha Mulugeta-Berihun and Andrew Chadwick

On a recent trip to Ethiopia, Andrew and I spent some time in the Kidist Selassie (Holy Trinity) Cathedral in Addis Ababa. At first there were few other visitors as we walked through the gardens, but that soon changed when we were joined by what can only be described as a heavy throng of people following an old Volvo estate car. Our curiosity got the better of us and, as we joined the crowd, it soon became evident that we had become part of a funeral procession.

Patriots attending the funeral of a fellow soldier, Addis Ababa 2007.
Photo - © Andrew Chadwick

We could tell from the size of the crowd that the funeral was of no ordinary person. Preceding the hearse was a guard of honour consisting of men in uniform. Not regular servicemen, for they were now too old for active service, these were retired soldiers whose hour of glory came in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when Mussolini's army invaded our country. The Ethiopian Patriots were honouring one of their comrades, an officer who survived the Italian onslaught and who was now being buried with military honours.

Medals left to right:
Patriots Medal with 1 palm (awarded to those fighting in Ethiopia)
Refugees Medal with 4 palms (awarded to Ethiopians helping from outside the country)
Star of Victory Medal (1941) (awarded to all combatants)
Each palm represents one year of service.

All Photos - © Andrew Chadwick

Those of us who grew up with the Ethiopian education curriculum introduced after the 1970s, were denied the opportunity to learn of Ethiopia's history prior to that era. I was one of the lucky ones in that my father was a good story-teller. I learnt a great deal from him and from some of my other relatives. I am now trying to catch up with what I have missed and to learn as much as I can about our history prior to the Revolution.

I quickly came to realise that, through the Ethiopian Patriots Association, here was a chance to meet some people who could teach me about what really happened during the Italian conflict and those heroic souls who struggled to defend our country, eventually driving out the invaders.

We arranged to visit the offices of the Association to find out about the years of occupation and the bravery of the ordinary men and women of Ethiopia who took up arms and paid untold sacrifices in the name of freedom by confronting a modern army equipped with all the machinery money could buy.

We eventually met with Ato Werekeneh Tegegne, the Vice President, and members of the management committee who briefed us about the Association. We were allowed the opportunity to speak with some members of the Patriots and the stories we heard moved us deeply.

Wzo. Engedasew Welete Welde, foot soldier under the command of Lij Gizachew Haile:

"The thought of a foreign invader massacring our people, setting fire to our monasteries and burning our monks alive ... my dear, desperate times call for desperate measures. Although we are women we were not prepared to stay at home. We joined our brothers to confront the enemy face to face. We set out from Menze, fought at Lallo Meder and lost our leader Lij Gizachew. We didn't have the luxury to mourn our loss, we could only bury the dead and keep on going. Dejazemach Keffelew Welde Tsadik replaced Lij Gizachew. I fought until the last day and on my return I learnt that three of my brothers had died at the other fronts. I am very proud of them as they died for the honour of our flag."

Captain Etecha Birru, logistics assistant:

"As I was only 12 years old, I could only accompany my uncle Ato Abebe Tollosa who left with Fitawrary Demessa Gemessa to join Dejazemach Deresu Duiki's army. There was no time for childhood. Anyone and everyone who could talk and walk joined forces to deprive the arrogant enemy of a good night's sleep. Those who had guns, with their guns; others with their sticks, even stones were used as weapons. Although the enemy had powerful weapons, we were armed with fierce determination and victory was ours."

Having spent time speaking to, and photographing, some members of the Association, Ato Werekeneh then told us of the plight of the Patriots since their glorious victories on the battlefield.

His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, to show his gratitude towards these heroes, granted each surviving Patriot the ownership of a small plot of land with which they could earn a living. He also presented a building for use as their Association headquarters.

After the Emperor was deposed by the Dergue, land owned by the patriots, awarded to them for their bravery, and the building in Addis Ababa which was owned by the Association, were confiscated leaving those without family support to beg on the street. As a result most of the Patriots were destitute and remained so for years.

Many of the Patriots died in abject poverty. Only recently, after a long campaign by the members, has the current government returned their headquarters building to the Association and agreed to pay a small, monthly pension of 60 birr per soldier, less than £3.50. A sack of tef currently costs about 650-700 birr. The Association tries to supplement their small pension by renting out part of the building to small businesses, but maintenance is practically non-existent and the building is almost in darkness; it is dirty and the sanitary conditions are horrendous.

Due to the escalating cost of living the Patriots are unable to survive on their current income so the Association has had plans drawn up and won planning permission to build another office block on an adjoining car park. Hopefully, this will provide additional income. Of course, there is no money and the Association is now trying to raise the necessary funds to pay for the construction of this new building. They have asked for their appeal to be conveyed to those who might be willing to provide them with some support.

If any individuals or organisations are able to help the Ethiopian Patriots Association achieve their plans for a new building and give their members a better chance of living in dignity once more, please contact us at International Development Partnerships, a charity registered both in the UK and in Ethiopia, and we will ensure your help is passed directly to the Ethiopian Patriots Association. The contact details are:
Phone: 020 7286 9756;

First Published in News File Spring 2008

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