Friday, June 30, 2017

Professor Alem Habtu, 1944-2016

Professor Alem Habtu in earlier times

One of the extraordinary things about the story that I have been investigating for the last few years is that these dramatic events are not ancient, lost history but memories still living with survivors and veterans of the times I’m attempting to chronicle.

It just came to my attention that somebody I had hoped to interview for my research has passed on. Professor Alem Habtu was a key member of the leadership of the Ethiopian Students Union in North America in the early 1970s. He lived in Manhattan near City College with a number of other Ethiopian students, all of whom were recognized players in the transformation of the Ethiopian Student Movement into a political movement that helped spawn a revolution. I’m saddened at the passing of Professor Alem, and now regret that the questions I hoped to ask him will go unanswered. There’s a lesson there for those hoping to collect oral history.

Mesfin Habtu
Alem Habtu was the brother of Mesfin Habtu, an important figure in the early revolutionary Ethiopian Student Movement, who tragically committed suicide in New York in 1971. Mesfin was a leader in the wing of the ESM that would become the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, and his suicide came after his personal correspondence was uncovered and published by political opponents including Senay Likke and supporters of the clandestine network that would become the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (Meison).

From what I can gather, Alem Habtu did not return to Ethiopia along with other members of the diaspora upon the advent of the revolution in 1974, and ultimately became a harsh critic of both the EPRP and Meison, whom he blamed for provoking the violence that would consume so many lives during the period of the so-called “Red Terror.”

Professor Alem Habtu died of cancer. I'm lucky that he left a number of testimonies to his experiences on the internet: his accounts have been helpful to me in understanding some of the factional ins and outs of the movement at the time.

Rest in power!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Deadly Namecalling in the Student Diaspora, 1976

Original flyer front

Original flyer back

The Ethiopian left was deeply divided by the ascent to power of the Derg in 1974. Divisions that had begun in the student movement in the diaspora were exacerbated when abstract political lines became questions of life and death in the unfolding of real world events in real time. Readers of this blog will probably recognize my general sympathies for the EPRP against the military government; but my research teaches me it’s important to present contrasting views to give a clear picture of the time.

And so I am pleased to present this leaflet, published here for the first time in English, issued in West Berlin in late 1976, by the Ethiopian Student Union in Berlin, a member of the Ethiopian Student Union in Europe. Unlike ESUNA, the similar organization of radical Ethiopian students in the United States, ESUE was dominated by supporters of the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement, or Meison.

Until the summer of 1977 Meison were not only supporters of the Derg, they were important members of its ministries and government. When the Derg declared the EPRP its enemy number one in the summer of 1976, supporters of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party blamed Meison for backing, indeed for instigating, the Derg's repression against the EPRP. After the EPRP responded to the Derg assault by attempting to assassinate Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, they proceeded to target for assassination members of Meison who were providing information about EPRP activists to government death squads. The first successful assassination by EPRP urban guerrillas was a Meison leader, Fikre Merid, a veteran of the student movement in Europe.

This leaflet was issued in response to that action. I republish it here without endorsing its extreme, and as near as I can tell, largely fantastic, claims against the EPRP. I post it without endorsing the assassination of Fikre Merid either. But this flyer stands as vivid testimony to the heated passions and often violent sectarianism of the moment. Equating the leftist EPRP with the rightist Ethiopian Democratic Union and the imperialist CIA was pretty standard Derg slander for the time. It’s worth noting that at this time the Ethiopian government itself was actually still being armed by the United States. This blog has previously discussed the circumstances around the elimination of Sisay Habte, cited herein as background.

This leaflet and many other fascinating documents from the Ethiopian Student Movement in exile in Germany in the 1970s can be found at the Mao-Projekt Archive ( I'm exceedingly grateful to Eric Burton at the University of Vienna for the translation from the original German. Some slight editing done by me. Following is the translated original text.—ISH

The EPRP, EDU Gang of Terrorists:
With the CIA Against the Ethiopian Revolution

Roughly two weeks ago a leading personality of the Ethiopian revolution and a spearhead of the Ethiopian proletariat, Comrade Fikre Merid, was murdered in cold blood and infamy in broad daylight by the fascist groups of thugs of the so-called EPRP. Thereafter a wave of assassinations targeting revolutionary fighters and workers’ leaders set in.

These infamous actions represent the desperate attempt of the social-fascist EPRP to break off the spearhead of the revolutionary movement of the Ethiopian masses and thus put an end to it.

The background to these fascist assaults against workers’ leaders and other leading revolutionary personalities was the successful abatement of the right-wing military’s and EPRP’s fascist coup attempt in collaboration with the CIA. The attempted coup had the objective to undo the land reform, smash the peasant associations and bring about the disarming of the peasantry, the liquidation of the Marxist-Leninist movement; the smashing of progressive institutions established in the course of the revolution like the political bureau for the Organisation of the People [POMOA—ish], the Marxist-Leninist cadre school, etc.

Tellingly, ultra-right and chauvinist officers like Major Sisay Habte and General Getachew were involved in the EPRP conspiracy. The leaders of this coup attempt had been shot on the spot by their own soldiers; while the roaming EPRP army of bandits, which had been supposed to initiate an uprising in the capital, was denounced on its way there by peasant associations. The weapons, documents and amounts of dollars which were secured in this context are perfect evidence that the CIA was behind this conspiracy.

This fact has exposed EPRP which likes to pose as progressive. This is visible in the fact that during the demonstration of September 12, where at the same time the death of Chairman Mao Zedong and the second anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie’s downfall was celebrated, 250.000 people demonstrated under the flag of Marxist-Leninist organization, the All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement. They unanimously condemned EPRP’s fascist and counter-revolutionary schemes.

In light of this fact, EPRP reaches for the most obscene means against Ethiopia’s progressive forces. But it will be in vain. Maybe EPRP will succeed in murdering individual fighters, but it cannot stop the revolution, as the broad masses are the motor of history. May the EPRP meddle with the CIA, instigate coup attempts, burn Marxist books — it marches toward a miserable end.

We will convert our grief about the murdered comrades into revolutionary hate, even more so are we determined to fight energetically and alertly against the enemies of the Ethiopian peoples until the final victory.


Ä.S.U. Berlin

(end of original text; flyer is undated but the assassination of Fikre Merid took place in late September 1976)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Translation Assistance Needed!

Hey friends.

I have several documents of different lengths in Amharic, some short documents in German, and some medium documents in French I could use translation help with. They would be a big help for my research/book project. Are any of my readers out there willing to help?

Please leave a confidential comment with your email address. I will not publish your comment but will reply with my own email address and a description of what I need translated.

Any translations would be credited here and and in my book, and I would probably post at least excepts here, with your permission.