- Yekatit 12 It is a date in the Ethiopian calendar, equivalent to 19 February in the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used to refer to the indiscriminate massacre and imprisonment of Ethiopiansby elements of the Italian occupation forces following an attempted assassination of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Marchese di Neghelli, Viceroy of Italian East Africa, on 19 February 1937.
- MarshalThe Marchese di Neghelli had led the Italian forces in the Second Italian invasion of Ethiopia and was supreme governor of Italian East Africa. This was one of the worst atrocities committed by the Italian occupation forces.
- Estimates of the number of people killed in the three days that followed the attempt on the Marchesedi Neghelli’s life vary. Ethiopian sources afterwards estimated as many as 30,000 people were killed by the Italians, while Italian sources claimed only a few hundred were killed. Over the following week, numerous Ethiopians suspected or accused of opposing Italian rule were rounded up and executed, including members of the Black Lions, and other members of the aristocracy; most of the 125 young men whom Emperor Haile Selassie had sent abroad to receive college education, and were still resident in Ethiopia, were killed.
- Many more were imprisoned, even collaborators like Ras Gebre Haywot, the son of Ras Mikael of Wollo (who had been imprisoned by Emperor Haile Selassie for nine years prior to the Italian invasion), Brehane Markos, and even Ayale Gebre; the latter had helped the Italians identify the two men who made the attempt on General Graziani’s life.
- Despite having unquestioned control over the new Italian East Africaat the beginning of February 1937, Marshal The Marchese di Neghelli still mistrusted its inhabitants. During the previous year, following the capture of Jijiga by his men, the Marchese was inspecting an Ethiopian Orthodox church when he fell through a concealed hole in the floor, which he was convinced had been prepared as a mantrap for him. “From that incident,” writes Anthony Mockler, “it is possible to date his paranoiac hatred of and suspicion towards the Coptic clergy. Despite this, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Naples, Neghelli announced he would personally distribute alms to the poor on Friday, 19 February, at the Genete Leul Palace (also known as the Little Gebbi).
- In the crowd that formed that Friday morning were two young Eritreansliving in Ethiopia named Abraha Deboch and Mogus Asgedom. Finding their fortunes limited in the Italian colony, they had come to Ethiopia to enroll in the Menelik II School, where recent events had overtaken them. Apparently accommodating himself to the new administration, Abraha gained employment with the Fascist Political Bureau, where his Eritrean origin, knowledge of Italian, and familiarity with the city made him useful. However, according to Richard Pankhurst, Abraha Deboch was bitterly opposed to the Italians, especially its racist practices. Before leaving their house, Abraha had placed an Italian flag on the wooden floor, driven a bayonet through it, then tied an Ethiopian flag to the bayonet.
- The official ceremony began as might be expected. The Viceroy, the Marchese di Neghelli, made a speech, a number of Ethiopian notables made their submission to the victors, Italian planes made a fly-over above the city, and at 11 o’clock officials began distributing the promised almsto priests and the poor. Abraha and Mogus managed to slip through the crowd to the bottom of the steps to the Little Gebbi, then began throwing grenades. According to one account, they managed to lob 10 of them before escaping in the resulting confusion. According to Richard Pankhurst, they were rushed from the scene by a third conspirator, a taxi driver named Simeyon Adefres. Pankhurst also credits him with providing the grenades that Abraha and Mogus threw.
- Behind them, the dead included AbunaQerellos‘s umbrella-bearer. The wounded included the Abuna himself, the Vice-Governor General Armando Petretti, General Liotta of the Air Force, and the Viceroy himself; one grenade exploded next to him, sending 365 fragments into his body. Viceroy di Neghelli was rushed to the Italian hospital where he was operated on immediately, and saved. General Liotta lost his leg to the attack.
- For a while Abraha and Mogus hid at the ancient monastery of Debre Libanosbut soon moved on, seeking sanctuary in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Somewhere in Gojjam local inhabitants, always suspicious of strangers, murdered them
- The Italian response was immediate. According to Mockler, “Italian carabinierihad fired into the crowds of beggars and poor assembled for the distribution of alms; and it is said that the Federal Secretary, Guido Cortese, even fired his revolver into the group of Ethiopian dignitaries standing around him.” Hours later, Cortese gave the fatal order:
|“||Comrades, today is the day when we should show our devotion to our Viceroy by reacting and destroying the Ethiopians for three days. For three days I give you carte blanche to destroy and kill and do what you want to the Ethiopians.||”|
For the rest of that day, through Saturday and Sunday, Italians killed Ethiopians with daggers and truncheons to the shouts of “Duce! Duce!” and “Civiltà Italiana!” They doused native houses with petrol and set them on fire. They broke into the homes of local Greeks and Armenians and lynched their servants. Some even posed on the corpses of their victims to have their photographs taken. In three days, the Italians had killed 30,000 Ethiopians in Addis Ababa only. The first day has been commemorated as “Yekatit 12” (Ethiopian February 19) by Ethiopians ever since . There is a monument called by the same name in Addis Ababa in memory of those Ethiopian victims of Italian aggression.