Ethiopia: Remember the 24th of November 1974 By Prof. Alemayehu G Mariam

Black SaturdayLast week, many Ethiopian families in the United States gathered in houses of worship with their relatives and friends to hold memorial services in remembrance of the victims of the massacre of the 24th of November 1974, a date that shall live in infamy in Ethiopian history. On that fateful day, a military junta gathered and took a “simple vote” to summarily execute 60 high level government officials, civil servants, decorated war veterans and elite army officers and enlisted men of the imperial regime of H.I.M. Haile Selassie. That massacre propelled Ethiopia into a spiraling vortex of gross human rights violations and tyranny which persists to the present day. On November 24, 1974, Ethiopia crossed the Rubicon, the point of no return, and marched headlong from a promised bloodless revolution to one the bloodiest military power grabs in modern African history. The darkness that descended on Ethiopia on November 24, 1974 still envelopes her today.

The bloody bloodless coup of 1974 

The 1974 military takeover of power in Ethiopia has been described alternatively as a “bloodless” and “creeping” coup. Unlike most African countries that experienced violent military coups in the post-colonial period, the junior officers in Ethiopia tiptoed their way into a power vacuum left by a decaying imperial regime whose leaders were in confusion and disarray over the burgeoning civil unrest at the time.

The “creeping” coup began haltingly as a ragtag bunch of junior officers bungled their way into power. Their slogan was “Yaleminim Dem Ityopia  Tikdem” (“Without shedding blood, Ethiopia First (Forward)”.) They  organized themselves in a self-styled “Derg”, (Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army). By September 1974, the Derg had dethroned H.I.M. Haile Selassie and arrested many of his top officials.

The pretext for the Derg’s seizure of power included the purported need to control the civil arrest triggered by student protests over economic hardships following the 1973 oil crises, the need to establish accountability for official neglect of widespread famine in northern Ethiopia  and to address mutinous soldiers’ demand for pay increases and improvements in military service conditions.

To ingratiate itself with the protesters and the public, the Derg launched a public relations campaign using the rallying cry, “Ethiopia Tikdem (First)”. The Derg later made a political platform out of the slogan to articulate its ideas about promoting equality and grassroots democracy, reforming the judicial, justice and land sectors and to pledge implementation of national health and literacy campaigns. The Derg infused its populist propaganda with combative and militaristic  rhetoric.  In 1975, the 120-member Derg proclaimed its allegiance to communism and renamed itself the “Provisional Military Government of Ethiopia”.  Despite the official change in name, most people continued to refer to the military junta as “Derg”.

As the Derg implemented its “creeping coup”, it began arresting high level officials of the imperial government. The arrests provided grist to the anti-imperial government propaganda mill and fueled the widespread dissatisfaction with the imperial government and its ineptitude in dealing with pressing demands for economic, social and political change. The Derg arrested and detained hundreds of officials in the imperial government. It promised to undertake a full investigation into their alleged official misconduct, wrongdoing and malfeasance. The promised investigative process was stillborn on the night of November 23, 1974.

The events leading to the executions of the 60 high officials of the imperial government was diabolically conceived and staged by Mengistu Hailemariam, a junior officer consumed by blind ambition. From the beginning, Mengistu’s eye was fixed on the top prize, the chairmanship of the Derg;  but he had to consolidate his power. Mengistu cleverly orchestrated the massacre of the 60 officials as his ultimate power play game for the chairmanship. Mengistu  first scapegoated Gen. Aman Michael Andom, the first titular chairman of the Derg. Gen. Aman was not only a highly decorated military leader but also widely respected and loved by the troops. He led Ethiopian troops during the Korean War and distinguished himself in the Ethiopian Somali border conflicts in the early 1960s.

Mengistu  set in motion an elaborate intrigue to oust  Gen. Aman by fabricating a story that Gen. Aman was plotting to sabotage the “revolution” spearheaded by Derg. He accused Gen. Aman of being an appeaser of the rebels in Eritrea because Gen. Aman had proposed a negotiated settlement of that conflict. Gen. Aman had ethnic roots in Eritrea and Mengistu sought to play on prevailing sentiments of ethnic mistrust in the Derg. He depicted Gen. Aman as a conspirator and rebel sympathizer and insisted that the Eritrean rebellion could and should be crushed militarily.

Gen. Aman actually had other fundamental disagreements with Mengistu and his faction in the Derg. For instance, Gen. Aman as chairman rejected Mengistu’s demand for the summary execution of certain detained imperial officials. Gen. Aman also did not believe Ethiopia could be led by a gathering of callow and sophomoric junior officers and enlisted men. As a result of deep disagreements with Mengistu, Gen. Aman resigned. On November 23, 1994, Mengistu sent troops to “arrest” Gen. Aman. In the ensuing battle, Gen. Aman was killed. It was rumored that he committed suicide than be captured. It will never be known whether Gen. Aman could have delivered a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Eritrea, but in 1994 Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia.

On November 23, 1994, Derg members reviewed a list of 250 detainees of the imperial government for summary execution to cover up and to make the murder of Gen. Aman more palatable to the public. On November 24, 1974, the Derg announced the dreadful news of its dastardly deeds to a shocked public.

In justifying the summary executions, the Derg issued the following statement:

The Council (Derg) also found it necessary to execute former civilian and military officials on whose account repeated plots have been made that might engulf the country into a bloodbath. This decision was imperative to save the lives of innocent people that had suffered for so long in the past. Hence the Council ordered the execution of those found guilty of maladministration, hindering fair administration of justice, selling secret documents of the country to foreign agents and attempting to disrupt the present Ethiopian popular movement.

The 60 victims were all buried in a mass grave with their hands tied as evidence later proved following exhumation of their remains. (For a Youtube video of the exhumation and reburial of the remains of the 60 victims, click here.)

Extra-judicial executions by Mengistu and the Derg 

George Orwell wrote, “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” To justify its cold-blooded murder of the detained officials, to give a veneer of legal legitimacy for its criminal actions and to create political theater for a shocked public, the Derg announced the detained officials were executed for having committed one four “crimes”: 1) gross abuse of power, 2) gross abuse of  authority,  3) plots to incite civil war and disrupting popular movement, 4) breach of oath of office and attempt to create divisions in the armed forces.

To read the rest of the story, click here.


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Posted by on December 1, 2014. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to Ethiopia: Remember the 24th of November 1974 By Prof. Alemayehu G Mariam

  1. Addisu

    December 1, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    Thanks to WOYANE’S selfless heroic actions that Col. Mengestue and his gasngestas were chased out of the country, today we do not have no civil war, mass starvation nor dead bodies young ETHIOPIANS laying all over the streets as we ETHIOPIANS used to.

  2. Abiy Ethiopiawe+Segawi+We-Menfesawi

    December 3, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    Thank you for remind me the remembrance of the victims of the massacre of the 24th of November 1974, a date that shall live in infamy in Ethiopian history.
    At the same time let us not forget the other side victimized Welo people;It had been a drought in Welo province which is in the Ethiopian North.This drought had been probably,responsible for the death of a quarter of a million people.This was not the first drought that had struck Welo or that had stuck Ethiopia.There is a cycle of droughts that occur there and about every twenty-five years you have these massive droughts which someone mordantly said were like birth control because you lose a quarter of a million people–no one is quite sure of the numbers.The emperor in his traditional fashion continued as if the drought did not exist.One of his grand-daughters was getting married.At the height of the drought,a cake that costs 3000 pounds sterling was brought in.In taking it off the plane,in Addis Abeba,it cracked and was thrown away and another cake ordered.There was a British TV producer and cameraman who happened to record the cake caper.They also recorded scenes in the welo area,with children dying.They also taped scenes of the emperor throwing scraps to his dogs and the zoo animals that were at the palace.Earlier in the year,the teachers and taxi drivers were exposing them.

    On September 15 1974, the committee renamed itself as the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and took control of the government.The Derg chose Lieutenant General Aman Andom, a popular military leader and a Sandhurst graduate,[10] to be its chairman and acting head-of-state. This was pending the return of the Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen from medical treatment in Europe, when he would assume the throne as a constitutional monarch. However, General Aman Andom quarreled with the radical elements in the Derg over the issue of a new military offensive in Eritrea and their proposal to execute the high officials of Selassie’s former government.

    After eliminating units loyal to him — the Engineers, the Imperial Bodyguard and the Air Force — the Derg removed General Aman from power and executed him on November 23, 1974, along with some supporters and 60 officials of the previous Imperial government.
    Leaders of the Marxist Government that carried out political-killings in Ethiopia were on trial; whether enough or not enough other than 60 officials of the previous remaining Killers of Imperial Government were not on public trial and they must wait for it.

  3. Mengistu Hailemariam

    December 3, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    The Hailesselasie, Teferi Mekonnen or Jajoy time rulers of Ethiopia who claim to be Jews were selfish, greedy , coward and ruthless. The guy never knew how to say enough to the jews for their huge power appetite. I was raised and educated among their children so I know their true nature. We decided to get rid of these people as the result of Economic antisemitism the Ethiopian people were exhibiting at the time. The Ethiopian people including many of the sons and daughters of these adhari imperialists were victims of these few feudals complete economic oppression. The current situation in Ethiopia seems exactly the same. Few billionaires are taking in continuously without puting out any. Economic antisemitism comprises stereotypes and canards based on the economic status, occupation or economic behavior of Jews. I was amazed to hear these writer calling me a bloodsucker and Engineer Girma suggest to me to apologize to the children of the 60 ministers for my action, while in actuality their children are the ones that had fueling the mass to revolt and eliminate the 60 ministers because their parents were not willing to share their endless treasures even with their own children. The old men were not willing to transfer their power to their sons until they were dead. The old women were forcing their husbands to go grab more land each day leaving the poor farmers with no way to support their family. These people put in money never put out, not even to their own children. They left us no choice but to do what we did. Same as we defended ourselves with the red terror when I produced three bottles of what appeared to be blood and smashed them to the ground to show what the revolution would do to its enemies by Abyot Adebabay, Addis Ababa: where currently the Protest preparations is underway “Justice first” rally on December 6-7, 2014 in Addis Ababa at Meskel Square (Abyot Adebabay) the 27 hours justice first rally
    The 9 Ethiopian opposition coalition who called the rally says intense protest preparation is underway amid by police and security forces harassment.

    I gave justice . Ethiopians diodnot see any justice for the crimes committed against them after I left the country. The enemies tried to assassinate us before we resorted to defending ourselves in any means necessary and gave these 60 minsters and others who tried to eliminate us.. If the enemies did not start to attack us we would not have retaliated. In my lifetime I never threw the first punch yet I am accused for defending myself.