By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D) — Great books arrive on the reading scene at the right time and for the right reason. So does Derege Demissie’s, Abate Yachin Se’at: Major General Demissie Bulto and the Coup d’ etat of May 1989.
Such books create their own readers. The book is so compellingly presented that readers cannot wait until they wrap themselves around with it. It has created a new CULTURE OF WRITING and with it a new breed of readers.
The newness of the readers is a function of the literary merits of the author. Derege writes well. In his hands, classical Amharic has returned to the literary scene, and subtly imposes its musicality on our ears, and its elegance on our eyes. Like all great books, it engages all our senses. The result is at ones informative, engaging, revolutionary and original. Ethiopians from all walks of life are ready to read again. They are ready to engage literature, to consume it, to discuss it, to take positions on its behalf, and criticize it when they can and must.
The narrative begins with an elegantly written portrait of General Demissie as a father who is being bombarded by his curious son about how to correctly estimate distance in directing artillery fire at an enemy position during combat. The General addresses the question but the son was not satisfied. He wanted to test his father’s ability to visually call the distance between two points. The father responds tactfully and in turn challenged his son who at the time is playing with an orange, while asking many penetrating questions. From early on, one senses the maturity of Derege and the father’s decision to sculpt that maturity from competence to brilliance. Father and son are making history.
Father and son finally agree to bet on the precise measurement from where they were standing to a building further down. Should the father’s estimate prove to be accurate, then he will eat the juicy orange Derege has spent hours massaging.
The interaction is a moving revelation of Major General Demissie as rational, conversational, delicate and tactful. Rarely are these features combined in a soldier, whom the world typically stereotypes as stubborn, tyrannical, uncompromising and excessively stern.
Major General Demissie combines the bravado and strength of the soldier with the moral and rational frame of a thinker, a philosopher. Derege convincingly narrates these characteristics by showing us the General’s action, without preaching us. Like a great writer, he shows us what we need to see, without telling us what we should think. The author is quietly reflective and calmly firm.
The military adventure begins in Asmara where the young Derege goes to spend time with his father. There he observes very closely his father’s heroic struggles to overcome EPLF and later the major strategies of the TPLF. He worked from dusk to dawn commanding the respect of his soldiers. With few hours sleep, his diaries, compiled at the end of the book, display an impressive array of facts and plans, detailed with the precision of a scholar and the vision of a strategist- aiming at victory, against all odds.
A skillfully organized chapter provides the context for the diary, in a moving discussion of two successful campaigns against EPLF, called ZEMECHA BAHIRE NEGASH and KEY BAHIR ZEMECHA.
Like Sun Tzu before him, Major General Demissie takes the art of war seriously. On many occasions he suggests to Mengistu Haile Mariam, that the Eritrean war cannot be won with ill-trained conscripts and had to be contained diplomatically. Mengistu does not listen.
On his own, amidst the coup of 1989, Major General Demissie, offers a non-military solution to Isayas Afework, and Isayas accepts. As confirmed by the person who was engaged in the negotiations with the EPLF, Isayas was willing to settle for a solution short of cessation. When the coup fails, the offer cannot be enforced, and the EPLF was able to defeat the demoralized army that was robbed of its ablest commanders. The loss of military leaders such as Gen. Demissie had mighty consequences for the Ethiopian regime.
Derege narrates this remarkable story movingly to the benefit of the Ethiopian reader.
The greatness of Major General Demissie is captured brilliantly in an eloquent speech, which was delivered to the military unit. He said: Our attempts to replace the existing regime are being done for you, and not for us. For we have already achieved our individual goals, as army commanders. What is power for us beyond what we have? We are already Generals in charge of the army. For a soldier what we have is the fulfillment of the ambition. Should we desire more power, all that we need to do is follow orders and satisfy the whims of the leader. We have decided to sacrifice our life to bring out a new regime and put the country on a path of peace and out of perpetual war. Our goal is to give Ethiopians a genuine democracy and the much-needed self-reliance with which the Ethiopian people can govern themselves, free of domination. (P, 271)
The speech reveals the selflessness of the mission, the depth of the General’s commitment to Ethiopianity, to the preservation of our history, and his profound respect for the dignity of the Ethiopian person.
This greatness is also present in the moral decision that Major General Demissie made, in that final hour, where words lose all meaning, and the struggle between life and death is poignantly present. Unafraid and untempted by the desire to live, he chose death, guided by the revolutionary respect for principles.
Once again the humanity of the great Major General is disclosed in the purity of his moral choice that led to his eventual death.
He chose death with dignity, and impregnated his legacy with the signs of moral greatness, for which we Ethiopians ought to be grateful.
Great literature is born out of the fragments of memory, and so this great book created by the moral imaginary of Derege Demissie, who patently and masterfully creates a historical and political narrative destined to make a name for itself as great literature.
This is a great book on a man larger than life.
Book Signing and discussion
“Abate Yachin Se’at”: Major General Demissie Bulto and the May 81 coup d’état attempt.
Aesop Publishers presents Ato Derege Demissie, Attorney at law and author of the book, “Abate Yachin Se’at”: Major General Demissie Bulto and the May 81 coup d’état attempt.
The book signing and discussion event shall take place on Sunday, November 8, 2009 at the Double Tree Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia starting from 2:00 PM.
Captain Mamo Habtewold, among other distinguished guests, friends, and colleagues, as well as family members of the late General Demissie Bulto, will be present at the event.
A member of the former Imperial Honor Guard (Kibur Zebegna) and the battalion that fought in Korea, Cap. Mamo Habtewold was the most decorated Ethiopian war hero of the Korean War.
Place: The Double Tree Hotel (Army Navy Drive)
The Commonwealth Hall
Time : 2:00 PM – 5:00
Date: Sunday, November 8, 2009
Organizer: Aesop Publishers
Tel: 202-386 -3037