After living five years in exile, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie I returned to the capital city of Addis Ababa on this day in 1941. Five years prior on the same day, the emperor would flee Ethiopia as the Italian invasion, which began in 1935, overtook the country. The emperor was patient in rising back to power, using political connections and the military might of his allies to defeat the fascist Italian forces, prompting Ethiopia’s liberation.
“No human lips can express the gratitude which I feel to the merciful God who has enabled me to stand in your midst on this day, of which the angels in heaven and creatures on earth could neither have thought of nor known about. Before everything else, I want to tell you and to make you understand that this … is a day on which a fresh chapter of history of the New Ethiopia begins. In this new era, new work is commencing, which is the duty of all of us to perform.
“As We remember the affliction which befell Ethiopia, which had preserved her independence for many thousand years, was attacked in 1888 E.C. (1895-6) by Italy, which had harbored aggressive designs against her for many years and intended to destroy her freedom, her brave sons fought at Adwa and she retained her independence. The Treaty of Wuchale was not the only cause of the battle that was fought at Adwa. It was only a pretext for the ongoing aim that Italy had of ruling Ethiopia. Although the Great European War interrupted her plans for a time, notwithstanding her outward pretensions of friendship, Italy made preparations to invade Ethiopia. Since her defeat at Adwa, she had been irate that justice prevailed against her.
“When Italy began to wage a war of aggression against Ethiopia, although We knew We were not so well armed as she was, We countered with what strength We could muster, because it was Our duty to resist an enemy that had come to seize Our country. But as it was apparent that she was bent on exterminating Our people with poison gas, the use of which was prohibited by international law, We went to appeal to the League of Nations and claim justice. As it was feared that the hostility started by Italy might spread all over the world, and as it was a period when all those who were charged with the responsibility of government were trying to save the world for the catastrophe which has since befallen it, the [leaders] worked to bring about understanding in the world to prevent the spread of the conflagration. At the time our true friend, Great Britain, received Us with sympathy. I remained there working, but in spirit was constantly with my countrymen, whose blood was pointlessly and ruthlessly shed at the hands of the Italians; with the monasteries and churches that were being burned down; with those forced to take refuge in foreign lands; and with those suffering and being afflicted in the wilderness, in the caves and in the forests of their native land.
“How many are the young men, the priests and monks whom the Italians pitilessly massacred during these years? You know that in Addis Abeba alone many thousands perished during the three days following St Michael’s day on Yekatit 12, 1929 [Feb. 19, 1937]. The blood and bones of those who were killed with spades and pickaxes, of those who were split with axes and hammered to death, pierced with bayonets, clubbed and stoned, of those who were burned alive in their homes with their little children, of those who perished of hunger and thirst in prison, have been crying for justice. Everybody knows that this act of barbarism and cruelty was not perpetrated in Addis Abeba alone, but [also] in the provinces of Ethiopia. There is hardly anyone who has not been caught and beaten, kicked, humiliated and imprisoned.
“Now We shall pass on to the new history that is before Us. five years ago on this day the fascist forces entered Our capital city. Then Mussolini announced to the world that he had established a Roman Empire in Our country, Ethiopia. He believed that the land he declared conquered would forever be in his hands. The gallantry of the Ethiopia people is recorded in history. But as We had no ports through which to import armaments necessary for people, we were unable to obtain them. Fifty-two nations condemned Mussolini for his actions. But he boasted of his violent deeds and took no heed of their condemnation. The past five years have been years of darkness for you, my people. But you never lost hope, and in the Ethiopian hills you gradually grew [strong]. The enemy never ventured to come near the mountains on which you were, because, enduring every hardship and affliction, you, the warriors of Ethiopia, safeguarded your freedom during the past five years. But in spite of the fact that he could not conquer the country, he spent many thousands of millions of lire, saying that he was civilizing what he could hold. He spent all that money not because he desired to improve the conditions of the oppressed Ethiopian people or to mitigate the injustice he had done. It was because he wanted to plant a fascist colony in Our sacred land of Ethiopia and to impose on her the rule of oppression which he had planned. He tried to exterminate the Ethiopian race and did not even entertain the idea of giving her the administration of either a mandate or a protectorate, which, in any case, would have been considered a heavy yoke for Our people. But all the money that could be counted by the thousands of millions and all the prepared armaments served a purpose which Mussolini never intended. At the time when Italy revealed her intentions of entering the war in order to be able to snatch from a defeated France as much as she could, the number of soldiers, the amount of money and the armaments she had sent to Ethiopia were enormous. The regular troops she deployed were not less that 250 000, she also had amassed provisions to last many years in case she was encircled. Trusting in, and bragging of , the invincibility of this military force, the fascist government proceeded with implanting dictatorial rule in Our country. But something happened which the fascist government did not take into account–the fighting morale, essential in modern war, demonstrated by you.
“You were able to destroy the enemy who were superior to you in numbers and equipment, because you are a people of bravery and mercy and because you cooperated and knew the strategy of war. The British troops, who were fighting for human rights on other fronts…needed time to get ready to come to the assistance of Ethiopia. and free her. But you, warriors of Ethiopia, harassed the enemy by cutting his communications [and] by restricting him to his fortifications. In spite of the great numbers of troops in which he put his trust, he realized that the Ethiopian people from one end [of the country] to the other hated him and his rule. He understood also that it was impossible for him to live in such a country and in the midst of such a people. Even by using poison gas and bombs and by [committing] atrocities. he could no longer hope to enjoy overlordship in a country where he was terrible undermined. He realized that the soldiers who surrounded him were adversaries more powerful than he was. He spent his daring and money to meet his adversaries. Then he looked around, if perchance he could find somewhere where he could take shelter in Ethiopia, but he could not find even one place.
“When the time came, Our great ally, the British Government prepared to launch a proper attack against Our enemy. As soon as I knew this, I left for the distant land of the Sudan, which borders us the west, and entered central Gojam. In Gojam Our enemy had strong fortified positions, powerful troops, airplanes, and artillery. On comparing the number of Our soldiers with those of the enemy, We found that We had one soldier for every 20 of his. Moreover, We had no artillery or aircraft at Our disposal. The fact that I was found in the midst of my warriors at once attracted many thousands of men. And the fear and anxiety of Our enemy increased. While my soldiers were harassing and cutting off the enemy’s communications and , after having driven his troops across the Abay river, were pursuing them towards Shewa and Begemdir, I heard the good news that British Imperial troops had, with incomparable speed, retaken Our capital city and were pushing towards Dese in the north and Jima in the south. In the same way, the troops who started from the Sudan destroyed the fortress at Keren with brilliant force and utterly defeated the enemy. And as the time came for my return to my capital, I mustered my soldiers who were scattered in every direction in pursuit of the enemy… I am exceedingly happy that I have been able to arrive here at the head of my soldiers, the enemy who was found on my path having been defeated, and to break the power of the common foe. I am deeply thankful to Almighty God that I stand today in your midst in my Palace, from which the fascist government has fled.
People of my country, Ethiopia!
Today is a day in which Ethiopia is stretching her hands to God in joy and thanksgiving and revealing her happiness to her children.
“This day , on which the people of Ethiopia are freed from the oppressive foreign yoke and eternal servitude and on which I am enabled to rejoin my people, whom I love and have yearned for, will be honored as a holiday to be commemorated annually as a Great Ethiopian Anniversary. On this day we shall remember those heroic warriors who, determined not to surrender the great charge passed on to them by their fathers, became martyrs, shedding their blood and breaking their bones for the freedom of the land they loved and for the honor of the Emperor and their flag. Their heroic deeds will remain recorded in Ethiopian history.
“The tribulations and afflictions, which befell us during the past five years and which cannot be recounted and enumerated in detail, will be a great lesson to us all and, with industry, unity, cooperation and love engraved in your hearts, will be a great incentive to your to be my helpers in the construction of the Ethiopia which I have in mind. In the New Ethiopia I want you to be a people undivided and endowed with freedom and equality before the law.
“You will have to join me in my efforts for the prosperity of the country, for the riches of the people, for the development of agriculture, commerce, education, learning, for the protection of the life and resources of Our people, and for the perfection, on modern lines, of the country’s administration.
“It is my firm wish and purpose to merit the blessing with which God in His mercy has visited on Us, first, by showing Our gratitude to Our allies, the British, by the release of the Imperial troops to fight the common enemy on other fronts, and by supplying them with troops whenever they may be needed; secondly, to do work beneficial to the people and the country by establishing in Our Ethiopia a government which will protect Our nation and make it respectable by guaranteeing the liberty of the people and freedom of conscience.
“What I would finally announce to you, my people, is that today is a day of rejoicing for us all. Today is the day on which we defeated our enemy. We shall see that our enemies are disarmed and sent out the same way they came. As St George who killed the dragon is the Patron Saint of our army as well as of our allies, let us unite with our allies in everlasting friendship and amity in order to be able to stand against the godless and cruel dragon which has newly risen and which is oppressing mankind. I charge you to consider [our allies] as brothers and friends [and] show them kindness and consideration.”
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