Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Never, ever again."

Today, I paid a visit to the Red Terror Martyrs' Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa. It's a small museum of six rooms with a handful of artifacts and blown-up photographs captioned by cut sheets of printer paper, and as such is a humble but powerful homage to those who were illegally executed under the Communist junta (called the Derg) following Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974.

Caption on the statue: "Never, ever again."
The story is this: Haile Selassie faced growing opposition from the Ethiopian people over property rights and other issues. A Communist military junta led by Major Mengistu Haile Mariam rode the wave of dissent and was able to depose the emperor. The Emperor was last publicly seen getting into a car in 1975, and was given a proper funeral after the discovery of his remains in 2000.

In addition to Haile Selassie's death, a printed and stamped document from the Provisional Military Administrative Council of the Derg in a display case at the museum orders the following three things:
1. The detention of 54 of Haile Selassie's advisors.
2. A mass grave to be dug for 54 people.
3. The execution, by firing squad, of the 54 detainees.

In addition to the 54 executed detainees and Haile Selassie, approximately 500,000 political dissidents were murdered in the 13 years following.

Five-hundred thousand.

In Addis Ababa, a city easily walked across in an afternoon, there were no less than 25 secret torture and execution facilities, many of which still stand (unused) today. They look like regular houses and office buildings.

There is a room full of human skulls in the museum.

Mengistu, the man responsible for the room full of human skulls and approximately 500 other mass graves, is still alive today. He resides under the protection of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

To the left is a photograph of some of those killed. Out of respect for their remains, I elected to photograph this, and not the bones themselves.

The country has grown, changed, and healed from the Red Terror since the end of the Ethiopian Civil War that ended Mengistu's leadership in 1991. During the Derg, Revolutionary Square in Addis Ababa was routinely flooded with onlookers of ostentatious military parades.

Today, Revolutionary Square is called Meskal Square, and is flooded not with tanks but with taxis, lined not with military banners but with billboards for soft drinks and airlines, and attended not by fearful government supporters but by runners zigzagging the terraced stands. And at the far end of Meskal Square sits the Red Terror Museum as a reminder of the dark days that cost Ethiopia millions of lives through starvation and execution, as well as seventeen years of stunted economic growth whose effects can still be seen today.

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