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For us Ethiopians building a mausoleum and memorial park, in a village south of Rome to the fascist commander Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, a convicted war criminal is far beyond expectation.
He was notorious as Benito Mussolini’s military commander in colonial wars in Ethiopia and Libya where he carried out massacres and used chemical weapons. He was the one who ordered the extermination of thousands of Ethiopian people in Addis Ababa on February 19, 1937, a year after the Italians occupied Ethiopia in the second attempt. The Italians first attempt to colonize Ethiopia was in 1896 when they were defeated at the battle of Adwa.
The Ethiopian army headed by Emperor Menelik II finished them (Italians) off in a single day battle on March 2, 1896. The Italians came for the second time to avenge that defeat in 1936, exactly 40 years after they were disgracefully defeated in Adwa. Using chemical weapons and better fire arms including fighter jets the Italians won over the Ethiopian army at Maichew, a place 660Km away from Addis on the road to Tigray, in 1936.
After capturing Addis Ababa a few months later fascist commander Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani became the ruler of Ethiopia. He used to live in the now Italian Embassy compound and at the Genete Leul palace of Emperor Haileselassie at Sidist Kilo. On February 19, 1937 he massacred thousands of Ethiopians right after an assassination attempt was made against him by Moges Asgedom and Abrha Deboch at the Sidist Kilo Genete Leul Palace.
In the recently published book by the Addis Ababa University printing house, ‘the Plot to kill Graziani,’ the foiled assassination attempt was organized by the Ethiopian patriots. Even the invisible hand of Emperor Haileselassie was in the plot to kill Graziani.
The fascist commander was a confirmed criminal. Field Marshal Graziani, also known as the Butcher of Fezzan, is known in history books for his brutality in putting down a local rebellion in Cyrenaica, Libya, in the 1920s. The cruelty of Graziani went as far as ordering the use of poison gas and chemical weapons against Ethiopian troops and tribesmen in contravention of the Geneva Convention, which Italy had signed. At one time he is reported to have said: “The Duce [Mussolini] will have Ethiopia with or without the Ethiopians”.
In line with this criminal view chemicals were added in to the drinking water (rivers) and mass killings were rampant all through to his five-year turbulent dictatorship with massacres in different places including the one on February 19 to take Ethiopia without Ethiopians. After the war culminated with the victory of Ethiopia in May 1941 he was charged with crimes against humanity committed in Ethiopia in the 1930s and was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment by an Italian war crimes tribunal for collaboration with the Nazis, though he was freed after serving only two years of his sentence.
At that time historians, in particular those who study Ethiopian history, requested that the Italian government implement the decision of the crimes tribunal when Graziani was freed before serving his 19 year rigorous prison term.
Although almost unknown to modern generations of Italians, the mayor of the village of Affile attended the opening ceremony held in early August 2012, together with a representative from the Vatican. The most disappointing one was the presence of the representative of the Vatican which is a papal government. The Vatican was expected to condemn the incident rather than adoring.
Of course, the opening of the museum was not smooth. A political row has erupted in Italy after the memorial was opened. Italy’s main leftist party was to the forefront to protest against the commemoration. “Is it possible to allow, accept or simply tolerate that, in 2012, we dedicate a park and a museum to the fascist general and minister Rodolfo Graziani?” asked Esterino Montino, head of the Democratic Party in the Lazio region.
The BBC also said that the cult of fascist heroes remains alive in certain parts of Italy despite the outlawing of the fascist party in the country’s post-war constitution. The BBC added that it is curious, however, that there has been no formal protest that a crypto-fascist mayor of a small town near the capital of Can, in 2012, publicly honouring a man who brought death to thousands of Africans and dishonouring his own country.
But Mayor Ercole Viri was defiant. He was quoted as saying the memorial was of national importance and dismissing criticism as “idle chatter”. The Mayor went ahead to post the photos of the opening ceremony in a gallery on the village’s website, which lists Graziani as one of the village’s “famous sons”. Engraved on the mausoleum are the words “Fatherland” and “Honour”. We Ethiopians feel that this is just honouring the butcher.
Fascist Graziani commanded Italian troops alongside the Germans at the Battle of Garfagnana in December 1944, one of the last military victories of the Axis forces. According to La Republica, the mausoleum in Affile cost 127,000 euros (£100,000; USD 157,000). About 100 people attended its inauguration, the paper adds. His final post was as defence minister in Benito Mussolini’s short-lived Fascist republic of Salo, just before the end of World War II and died in 1955.
In the 21st century where the rule of democracy and the respect of human rights are high on the agenda honouring the convicted criminals on charges of crimes against humanity is indeed deplorable.