Ethiopia's Red Terror - Original Wolde Giorgis

Ethiopia's Red Terror - Original Wolde Giorgis

An account by one of the survivors of Ethiopia's Red Terror carried out by the regime of Colonel Mengistu against rival left wing groups.

CW: for physical abuse and torture.

In the 1970s the political situation in Ethiopia was very chaotic, a military council called the Dergue replaced the Emperor Haile Selassie, meanwhile student movements, unions and political parties were making their presence felt.

The Dergue soon felt threatened by these movements outside of its control and in response to rising violence declared a Red Terror and began imprisoning, torturing and murdering thousands of Ethiopians. The Dergue made no secret of this, its leader Colonel Mengistu talked openly about it in speeches on the radio and in the press, and Dergue agents often left the bodies of victims on display in the streets of Addis Ababa.
Curiously the main targets for the brutal repression were those who arguably were its fellow travellers. The Dergue publicly supported Communist revolution of the Marxist-Leninist variety and developed close links to the Soviet Union and Cuba. Meanwhile it try to exterminate a rival Marxist-Leninist party and engaged in brutal and indiscriminate conflict with Eritrean speratists in the north who were also lead by a Marxist-Leninist party.
The video and transcription are an account from one of the victims of the Terror campaign and her testimony includes graphic accounts of torture and murder.

CW: for physical abuse and torture.


Link https://youtu.be/opqIf3dZ3xs

Quote:
In the 1970s up to half a million people were killed during the brutal campaign of repression launched by Ethiopia's military regime called the Derg. Hear from one survivor who was imprisoned and tortured.
Memorial to victims of the Terror https://thevelvetrocket.com/2010/05/08/the-red-terror-martyrs-memorial/

[Program Producer Max Pierson]

Throughout history though there have been far more brutal and overt forms of government repression. We’ve got an example of that next as we go back to 1977, when Ethiopia’s military regime was involved in a violent campaign against any form of opposition.

It was called Ethiopia’s Red Terror, Alex Last has been speaking to a woman who was imprisoned and tortured by the regime, and you may find parts of her story distressing.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

It could be anybody, our friends were being taken. You were saying when would my turn be? It was devastating, it was mind blowing, it was unbelievable.

Alex Last:

One night in 1977 Ethiopian Security in Addis Ababa came to arrest a young woman with an unusual first name, she is called Original Wolde Giorgis and she was just 24 years old. She would be just one more victim of Ethiopia’s military regime the Dergue.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I was at home with a very wicked headache when plainclothes people, they came and I just went out with a very very tiny night dress on. And barefoot, my mother was so surprised and frightened she just brought something to put on my shoulders. Nothing else, so I was, I was really half naked when I was taken, and they took me to the office of the Dergue, the old Menelik palace.

So when I went there, there was a commander and he said “go and tear her apart”.

Alex Last:

Original was a mid-ranking member of the EPRP the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party. A popular left-wing underground movement which opposed the country’s new military regime called the Dergue.

The Dergue had taken power following the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and though it adopted Communism as its ideology and spoke of revolution for many on the left it was simply a brutal undemocratic, authoritarian regime. Certainly it was ruthless towards its perceived enemies, in 1976 as opposition violence intensified across the country the Dergue launched a campaign of murder, arrest and torture against so called counter0revolutionaries.

The EPRP was a principal target in homage to Soviet history the Dergue called their campaign the Red Terror.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Their Cadres would just go out on the street, they see a youth they shoot and kill him. And they killed so many young people. It could be anybody, they don’t ask, they don’t inquire they just shoot.

Alex Last:

And the Dergue regime wanted to show its work, the corpses of its victims would be dumped on the streets as the BBC reported at the time.

[Archival BBC report]

In the last few weeks people who have been coming to work in Addis after the dawn curfews been lifted have often had to bypass bodies which are displayed at prominent street corners. The victims have always been shot in the back of the head and they usually bear a notice pinned to their chests saying that they were enemies of the revolution. Nobody knows the exact number of people who’ve died in this so-called Red Terror, but the essence of revolutionary justice apparently is that its quick.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

They used to throw the bodies on the streets, on the streets, that is not only it, they used to ask for the price of the bullet for the people they have killed. That is real, the shocking part is after you paid they never give you the body. No mother whose son or daughter was killed in the Red Terror has a body to bury. They didn’t.

Alex Last:

Anyone could be a suspect, killed, arrested or tortured. And in this climate of fear many were denounced innocent or not. When they came for Original they took her to one of the interrogation centres in the capital Addis Ababa, a place with a brutal reputation and there her ordeal began.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I could hear a boy groaning, I think he was being tortured, the investigator just pushed me from behind so that I fell flat on my face, and then he beat me with a whip. I kept quiet and they said “oh, this lady needs something else.”

Alex Last:

Original still wearing her nightie, was trussed up and hung upside down from a horizontal pole under her knees. Then the beatings and torture began again. Here she describes the brutality she experienced.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Imagine, me being half dressed, being swung like that. And they beat me for hours, I can’t imagine how to describe that torture. They beat you and beat you and beat you. The only result was that the inside pf your feet is like, like raw meat.

And unfortunately for me they tore my toes. The marks of the torture are still there. After two hours they let me down and took me to his office. I couldn’t walk, he just pulled me and put me in the office, somebody wearing white came along and said “who have you slapped inside there?” why he said the corridor is full of blood.

He said “please call somebody, have the floor cleaned and do something about this blood.”

The two things I most remember of this torture is that you get very very cold. You shiver I don’t know why, and then you are very very thirsty. For my shivering the guard was kind enough to say there was a man who was killed yesterday, he has some clothes so you better put them on. So, there was blood on the clothes but I was really thankful and I wrapped it around myself.

Alex Last:

That wasn’t the end of the torture, but Original considers herself one of the luckier ones. She was not killed. She was transferred to one of the overcrowded prisons of Addis Ababa. To keep their spirits up the inmates would tell each other stories, and talk of revolution in far off lands.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Can’t imagine how many stories I told to the kids, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Count of Monte Cristo, otherwise you talk about the July 26th Revolution and we talk about the Dien Bien Phu, we talk about the Long March. Depends on the audience, sometimes they like it sometimes they don’t and we go around the world through the stories.

Alex Last:

Many did not survive long in the prisons. Names would be called and it was soon clear to all that many were being taken away and executed.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I never forget their names, I never forget the way they looked when they go out. Even after so many years I can’t talk about it without emotion. And there were others, who were summoned after 5:00pm, when they walked out of the compound they walked as if a price had been put on them. They walked so tall and proud, and so many people passed through my eyes, to be killed.

Alex Last:

After two years Original was suddenly released, but by the end of the 1970s the Red Terror campaign was largely over. The EPRP ceased to be a major threat to the regime. It’s not clear how many were killed during the Red Terror across Ethiopia, estimates range from 100,000 to half a million.

After the fall of the Dergue in 1991 some leaders of the regime were put on trial for crimes against humanity. But for some the full extent of the Terror has yet to be addressed. Original Wolde Giorgis returned to study law at Addis Ababa University and is now a leading lawyer in Ethiopia focusing on women’s rights.

She says she has forgiven those responsible for her treatment, but the scars of the Red Terror are still felt across Ethiopia.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

In my family, in my neighbourhood, in the friends of my sisters and in the friends of my brothers in my classmates in high school, in the University and the people I met in prison, so many were taken away and executed. There is a void, the wounds are still there, there are still families and people suffering and the gap of the generation is enormous.

Max Pierson:

Original Wolde Giorgis was talking to Alex Last, and you can hear an extended version of that interview in the Witness podcast, just search for BBC podcasts and then Witness.

Incidentally the Ethiopian dictator Colonel Mengistu was sentenced in absentia to death for crimes against humanity, but he’s currently living in exile in Zimbabwe.

Posted By

Reddebrek
Dec 6 2018 19:04

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  • There is a void, the wounds are still there, there are still families and people suffering and the gap of the generation is enormous

    Original Wolde Giorgis

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