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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I



CHAPTER 34

Our notification of Italy's aggression



We had made constant efforts at the time in requesting to select arbitrators on the basis of what is laid down in article 5 of the treaty we had concluded in 1920 (= 1928), in order to make it possible to settle peacefully the quarrel that had taken place at Walwal. But since Italy’s desire tended towards hostilities, We heard that, in neglect of a peaceful solution, she was piling up war material in the vicinity of our borders. We therefore transmitted to Geneva the following message on 8th Genbot 1927 (= 16th May 1935).

‘To the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, Geneva.

We, Emperor of Ethiopia, request Your Excellency to be kind enough to cause the following message to be read at the present assembly at which Ethiopia’s request is to be examined.

While we, on our part, did not up to now order the mobiliza­tion of soldiers or equipment nor offer any provocation, Italy has been assembling, since before last September, troops, military aircraft, tanks, and other war material of all sorts in the vicinity of our frontiers. Anyone residing in Ethiopia, the subjects of whatever nation, are aware that Italy has been doing this. Ever since the time of the attack against Walwal, Italy has begun to request that Ethiopia should pay her compensation for the wrongdoing which she has not committed, while Italy was seeking, by every known diplomatic means, to evade her international obligations upon which she had entered previously and to prevent an impartial examination of all the quarrels that had occurred between the two of us—it being well known that she was seizing, in an illegal manner, large tracts of our territory.

Italy has recently established a propaganda campaign to make it appear that her occupation of a part of Ethiopian territory, her attack upon Ethiopia, and her desire to seize the people are simply in order to civilize them properly; and this is what ought to be done to a pagan population. If Italy has any accusations to present against Ethiopia or against the government, We are prepared to give an appropriate answer at the proper time and place. Italy has just now chosen for the arbitration and conciliation commission two of her nationals who are her own government employees. Their selection is apt to prevent an impartial examination of our affairs or at least is bound to render such an investigation very difficult.

Apart from this, Italy’s restriction of the matters that are to come before the arbitrators for examination is liable to leave unresolved the question of the interpretation of the treaty of 8th Genbot 1900 (= 16th May 1908) which is of major importance and which deserves to be determined by arbitration. It has not been possible, nor will it be in future, to set up by agreement a truly impartial arbitration commission, i.e. in Italy’s present state of mind and by diplomatic means.

While Italy put the blame on Ethiopia alleging that we refused to accept arbitration, We notified Italy of Our choice of two arbitrators who were not Ethiopian subjects, thinking that We were neglecting nothing to ensure for us an equitable and speedy outcome, lest Italy should find a way that would permit her to shirk the obligations she had accepted by international treaties. Although this government which is our neighbour did not interrupt its warlike preparations and did not cease its incursions into our border areas, We took the most meticulous care lest there should be any frontier clashes and even gave permission to set up a free or neutral zone wholly within Our territory. We earnestly request the Council to cause the covenant of the League of Nations to be fulfilled and to have Italy’s military preparations stopped—preparations which are truly not for defensive purposes. We request that, if Italy refuses to accept that the arbitrators should examine and adjudicate upon all the attacks that have been made in the vicinity of the Somali-Ethiopian border since last December and should pronounce upon the interpretation of the treaty of 16th May 1908, the Council itself will take the investigation in hand and resolve matters by a full examination on the basis of article 15 of the covenant.

In submitting this appeal, Ethiopia only seeks a lawful, complete, speedy, and peaceful outcome of the matter.’

Later on, on 11th Hamle (18th July 1935), We communicated this state of affairs to Our people in a speech which We delivered to Our parliament. The text is set out here below.

‘For more than forty years Italy has never at any time ceased to entertain the desire to take our country. This desire, which had always been apparent in various forms throughout these years, began to be clearly manifested in her actions during last year’s (i.e. 1926 = 1934) rainy season. To prove this, last year, in the month of August, without any reason whatever the Italian Government began to pile up war materials en masse in the vicinity of our borders.

When We heard this, We instructed Our Charge d’Affaires at Rome to make enquiries as to the reason for this; in reply they gave a reason that was baseless and mendacious from beginning to end, i.e. that they had made these war preparations because Ethiopia had the intention of making war against their colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. Although We exposed this answer as completely untruthful, from that time onwards Italy’s unswerving resolve was embodied in a plan upon which she had decided after lengthy examination, and she never ceased pushing on progressively with her military preparations—while pretending they were for defensive purposes, although it was her absolutely settled intention to wage aggressive war against us.

In order to make such an aggressive design appear proper in the eyes of the peoples of the world, it was essential for Italy to find a useful pretext.

Last November at Gondar there arose disturbances about some woman between Ethiopian subjects who were, in part, employees of Ethiopian factories and others who were servants of the Italian commercial agency. When blood was spilt as a result of this quarrel between these men in their own affair, the Italian Legation at Addis Ababa energetically intervened in the matter in a diplomatic demarche, and Our peace-seeking government directed that the Italian demands should be satisfied, lest any vehement quarrel should develop. Later on again, there occurred the Walwal incident which is the basis of our present conflict.

Italy, infringing our territorial integrity and violating— instead of respecting scrupulously—our country’s independence, has placed troops and much equipment at a place called Walwal which is some hundred kilometres beyond the border which the treaty concluded between the two governments in 1908 had determined.

On the occasion when the border between British Somaliland and ourselves was being delineated, some men had been ordered by the Ethiopian and British governments to determine, by inspection on the spot, the places where the British Somaliland tribes were putting their herds to pasture—as had been permitted to them by treaty.

When these delegates, whom the two governments had sent out for this task, were carrying out the work they had been ordered to do within our territory, they were given a military escort because it was Our government that had to protect them. As you are well aware, on 26 Hedar 1927 (= 5th December 1934) a surprise attack was launched against these Ethiopian soldiers, and Our brave troops were hit by Italian machine guns, tanks, and aircraft; their death in battle is adequate testimony of the violence which the Italian aggressors have wrought by premeditation.

Having acted in this manner and having attacked Our soldiers within Our own territory, Italy intended to shift the responsibility for the aggression, which her own men had committed, against us and to reproach us. Not content with killing Our soldiers, Italy went so far as to demand that Our government should apologize to her and pay compensation.

Ethiopia’s clear conscience was aware of the rights due to her and We, therefore, submitted immediately Our request to Italy to settle the matter on the basis of the text of the treaty, referring to the treaty concluded in 1920 (= 1928), by which Italy had undertaken that peace and friendship should forever persist between us and that, if a quarrel arose between us, this quarrel should have a peaceful outcome on the authoritative verdict of arbitrators. To this request, which We had presented, the reply was an absolute refusal, and Italy revealed her inflexible resolve to have the demands which she had submitted fulfilled in their entirety—without investigation and without adjudication in the proper manner.

We were resolved that our honour was in no way to be impaired, and We were convinced that a government that submits, entirely voluntarily, a conflict of this kind to a proper international tribunal, which judges matters impartially, would exalt rather than debase itself, if it submitted to judgement and were to comply with the verdict; We, therefore, made it known publicly that, if Ethiopia were found to be guilty in this matter, she would at once carry out in full the terms of the judgement pronounced against her.

Because it was Our desire that the matter which arose from Italy’s unwillingness to submit to arbitration should be settled legally and peacefully, it became necessary, in pursuit of this peaceable avenue, to cause the matter to come before the Council of the League. We notified the King of Italy and the leader of the Italian government, Monsieur Mussolini, in a detailed written submission of the grounds on which We had brought this matter before the League of Nations.

Last January the matter had appeared on the agenda of the meeting of the League of Nations Council, and Italy accepted, albeit reluctantly, the plan to resolve things by arbitration.

But, while We complied with the text of the decisions reached by the League of Nations Council on 11th Ter (= 19th January 1935), it was necessary for Us once again to submit the matter to the League Council in March, because the Italian Minister went on dragging his feet while endeavouring to make us acknowledge wrongdoing, which we had not committed, in the course of the diplomatic talks that had been started in order to choose the arbitrators.

Indeed, while Italy strove by diplomatic means to exert im­proper pressure upon Our government, the news which came every day over the radio made clear to Us her intention to make war, as We continually heard of Italy’s uninterrupted despatch of soldiers, war material, and ammunition to our frontiers at Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

As a result of our second submission to the League of Nations, it was decided on 17th Genbot 1927 (= 25th May 1935) that arbitrators should definitely be chosen.

Because it was Ethiopia’s desire that the judgement to be pronounced should be impartial and on an absolutely legal basis, she on her part chose as arbitrators two men who were legal experts, one French and one American, who were very well known for their knowledge and refinement in international law.

Italy on her part selected two Italians from among Italy's government officials.

Although there was nothing for us to oppose on these grounds, yet it seemed to Us proper to bring to mind the Italian Government's unwillingness, in choosing her own nationals, for the dispute to be settled legally and impartially. The reason is that no man should be put under suspicion for pronouncing impartial judgement upon the country which had chosen him to argue in her favour.

As it was causing anxiety that the dispute might not be settled by arbitration on account of the fact that the gentlemen whom the Italian Government had selected did not possess the independence to judge as they saw fit, the British Government, noting that international law was the main foundation of world peace, began to attempt on its part to see whether a way of conciliation could be found, because its principal desire was that peace be firmly established in the world. Although it was not casting doubt on the legal status of the Ogaden province belonging to Ethiopia and although Italy was launching a bad attack upon Our patrimony by aggressive incursion, the idea of conciliation which the British Government presented was that we should give to Italy, by cession, a part of our Ogaden territory and, in exchange for this, the British would cede to us the port of Zeila and a part of its territory. For Our part there was no limit to Our seeking peace and, therefore, We were prepared to examine this conciliation proposal which had been submitted. But even before this compromise proposal had been properly presented, Monsieur Mussolini had already absolutely refused to accept it, and there was, therefore, no need for Us to consider the matter.

It was not now possible for the arbitrators to complete the task for which they had been chosen. The principal leader of the Italian Government curtly rejected the conciliation idea which the British Government had submitted.

The Italians did not interrupt their preparations. The principal leaders of the Italian Government were declaring openly that the main thought in their heart was to take over our country. Hence, from then onwards the hour of war was progressively coming closer.

Last Sane 1st (8th June 1935), the principal leader of the Italian Government stood before 5000 soldiers who had been ordered to Eritrea and Somalia, now newly designated “Africa Orientale”, and, while preaching to the Italian people according to his custom, he spoke to incite their spirit of bellicosity and said: “It is for you who are going out there to write the story of supreme heroism in the annals of our history.” As Monsieur Mussolini said, what Italy seeks is to civilize Our people.

From now on Italy ceased to let the matter be settled peacefully. Her idea was to take revenge for Adwa of old, with a lot of blood being spilt.

The Ethiopian people, whose name Italy seeks to extinguish calling it a heathen people, is a nation that honours the word it has given and upholds the treaty it has signed.

Ethiopia does not seek war. But she is bound to defend herself against the invader. Even at the time of Adwa it was not Ethiopia who picked the quarrel. The reason why the war occurred was that the Italians were found beyond their border within her territory. Maybe they will do so again tomorrow.

Although Ethiopia was victorious in 1888 (= 1896), warding off the invader by God’s goodness and the heroism of her brave soldiers, she did not demand everything that was due to her; she did not make it an occasion for the expansion of her territory. When the war comes which appears daily more inevitable, the Ethiopian Government’s conscience will not reproach it; it has done everything possible to preserve peace, Ethiopia has no intention of establishing her authority over other countries; she is prepared to defend her independence up to the last, while being mistress in her own domain, and her civilization and territorial integrity undaunted.

When the Italian people, which has turned oppressor, arrives with the weapons of aggression which the modern age has pro­duced and claiming that it is to teach us civilization, the Ethiopian people, which is prepared to die for its Emperor and its country, will await the invader mustered in unity.

Soldiers! When it is announced that a respected and beloved leader has died for our freedom in the course of the battle, do not grieve, do not lose hope! Observe that anyone who dies for his country is a fortunate man, but death takes what it wants, indiscriminately, in peace-time as well as in war. It is better to die with freedom than without it.

Our fathers who have maintained our country in freedom for us have offered us their life in sacrifice; so let them be an example to you!

Soldier, trader, peasant, young and old, man and woman, be united! Defend your country by helping each other! According to ancient custom, the women will stand in defence of their country by giving encouragement to the soldier and by caring for the wounded. Although Italy is doing everything possible to disunite us, whether Christian or Muslim we will unitedly resist.

Our shelter and our shield is God. May our attackers' new weapons not deflect you from your thoughts which are dedicated to your defence of Ethiopia’s freedom.

Your King who speaks to you today will at that time be in your midst, prepared to shed his blood for the liberty of Ethiopia.

Before We conclude, there is one thing We wish to say to you once again. And this is Our earnest striving for peace. We would remind you of the Ethiopian Government’s exertions for peace right up to the present time. By diplomatic means it has continually sought a way of reaching accord which is peaceful and in which there is honour for both of us. It has twice asked the League of Nations to get the Italian Government to honour the treaty of friendship and of arbitration which Italy had voluntarily signed.

Furthermore, as Ethiopia and Italy, together with other governments, had signed the treaty to outlaw war, We recently informed the American Government, because America was the originator of the treaty.

Again, while the arbitrators of our two sides were now in Holland examining our dispute, the Italian arbitrators were causing much difficulty and We, therefore, had to order Our minister in Paris to bring this to the attention of the League of Nations for the third time.

We shall strive for peace till the end. But even if our exertions and our good-will have not achieved any result, at least our conscience will not reproach us. The Ethiopian people, united in faith, stretches out its hand to God that he may strengthen the power of our valiant men truly to defend our country’s independence.’

11th Hamle 1927 (= 18th July 1935).

Later on again, on 6th Pagumen 1927 (= 11th September 1935), We spoke to the peoples of the world by letting them hear Our voice over the radio. The speech was as follows:

‘At the time when, according to the Ethiopian era, the year 1928 (= 1935/6) begins, We wish that this new year may bring the peace which is essential and which Our people and the world desire with a warm heart; and it appears to Us right to remark upon and to recall the principal events which have occurred in the days of the past year.

The clash which took place between Italian soldiers who were found to have entered Ethiopian territory unlawfully, together with much equipment, on 26th Hedar 1927 (= 5th December 1934) at Walwal, in Our Ogaden region, upon Ethiopian soil, and who are still there up to now, and, on the other side, soldiers who had been ordered to escort the personnel who were under instructions to delimit the territory of Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland—because this clash was a serious matter according to the basic provisions enshrined in the covenant of the League of Nations, it was proper to settle it at once according to the text laid down in the special treaty which Ethiopia had concluded with Italy on 20th Nahase 1920 (= 26th August 1928).

This Walwal clash, which Our government had demanded to be settled by arbitration as the attack occurred, was recently adjudicated on 28th Nahase (= 3rd September 1935). While Ethiopia was striving to bring matters to this outcome and to settle the Walwal incident by peaceful and legal means, Italy was strongly opposed, and it was therefore necessary to get the League of Nations Council, assembled in session, to institute an investigation on 11th Ter (= 19th January 1935), 17th Genbot (25th May), and finally on 28th Nahase (= 3rd September). The five men, i.e. the two members of the Italian Government together with the other three arbitrators, who had been appointed to examine the Walwal incident reached the following unanimous verdict: neither Ethiopia nor Italy can be held responsible for the attack which occurred at Walwal. As the Walwal incident was thus closed, Italy was made to stop humiliating Our government, by demanding payment of compensation and salute to her flag; and to brand Ethiopia as an aggressor before the world. As it was the Walwal clash which Italy had made the pretext to wage war upon Ethiopia, this pretext has now been removed by the verdict.

The Council of the League of Nations has done everything necessary and possible for the arbitrators to dispose properly of the matter which had arisen between Ethiopia and Italy. Nevertheless, the Italian Government was strongly opposed.

The primary cause of the present conflict between Ethiopia and Italy is that the interpretation of the treaty of 8th Genbot 1900 (= 16th May 1908), concluded between the two governments about the Somali territory, has remained unsettled. At the January session of the League of Nations Council the Ethiopian Government requested that the interpretation of this frontier treaty should be examined, and in particular it asked that the question be investigated and decided as to whether Walwal was situated within Ethiopian or Italian territory. The Italian Government, however, opposed this for fear that the arbitrators might find against her. When it was even claimed that the map officially published by the Italian Ministry of the Colonies, showing Walwal to be within Ethiopian territory, was insufficient, this action on the part of the Italian Government was persuasive enough.

By Our Government’s firm stand to obtain an outcome through the authority of the League of Nations, by the application of law and by following the path of peace, the clash which occurred at Walwal was adjudicated by arbitration, although Italy had meant to wage war against Ethiopia since August last year—irrespective of the Walwal incident. She now went on realizing the intention she had formed when, five months later, she discovered a pretext in the Walwal clash to make this war. Since Nahase 1925 (= August 1933) Italy had begun sending equipment to Eritrea and her Somali colony, and she continued consolidating her position by despatching uninterruptedly soldiers, material, various war machines, and ammunition. While the Council of the League of Nations and the arbitrators were working to settle peacefully the matters that had arisen between Ethiopia and Italy, the latter never interrupted the despatch of men and material.

Since the Walwal incident has now been settled and Italy is somewhat short of reasons to make war, she has been active in preventing other governments to sell to Ethiopia the equipment she requires for her defence; she is working to make Ethiopia an object of hatred and to cause the peoples of the world to believe that, since Ethiopians are like wild beasts, they need a civilizing agent.

History will judge Italy’s behaviour. While Italy claims to be the very essence of civilization, she is making unjust war upon a people that is peaceful, which has first been prevented from obtaining military equipment, and which lives trusting a treaty which Italy publicly signed on 20 Nahase 1920 (= 26 August 1928), so that peace and friendship should persist. Italy, who is planning to incite a future war against the Ethiopian people, with her soldiers being victorious without suffering too many casualties, seeking to convince everyone that the useless work she is preparing to carry out against Our people is fully justified, while she is striving to prevent Ethiopia from obtaining equipment and thus to become weak.

Hence, to the legally well-founded evidence which we submitted, to the effect that Italian soldiers had unlawfully crossed the border and seized our land, the Rome Government gave no reply. It made its representatives accredited to Us give assurances, many times and in public, that Italy had a cordial and inextinguishable friendship for Ethiopia, while for a long time past it had been collecting information which its employees, whom it scattered in some strength over our territory and whom it paid a large salary, were supplying to it. Now, at the last moment, the Rome Government presented its submission to the League of Nations Council.

As the memorandum, with which the Italian Government presented its rude and mendacious accusations to the League Council on 29th Nahase (= 4th September 1935) has not yet reached Us, it is only a very short time since We have become aware of these accusations and, therefore, there is no time now for Us to give a detailed reply. However, Our government is pre­pared to provide evidence and to return an answer point by point to these accusations which have arrived at the very last moment—as well as the reason for which they have been revealed to the peoples of the world. It is sufficient to announce only that We are transmitting instructions to Our envoys, now at Geneva, clearly designed to request the League Council to set up an international commission to examine the matter.

It is this international commission which We have asked for that will be able to decide by examining the accusations which the Italian Government has submitted and by looking at both cases.

The Ethiopian people emphatically seeks peace. Moreover, it loves its country dearly. Although it does not possess sufficient military equipment and although, through Italian political machinations, it has been prevented from obtaining it, it will resist by defending itself against the enemy, protecting its chest in which there is a proud heart burning with love of country.

Our peasants, who live tilling their land in peace, whose arm is strong, and who are jealous of their freedom, will rise up with their spades and lances to wield them quickly, overturning their ploughs to stop the enemy invading their land. We do not like war. But in war we shall not let our enemy pass without defending ourselves fiercely and without strong resistance. As Ethiopia’s faith reposes in God, she knows that God’s judgement will prevail over that of man. New weapons and guns which man has devised to destroy his kind are not a mark of civilization.

Thanks are due to all the statesmen who, in the troubles which have come upon today’s world and despite their vast and boundless work over many months now, have been striving to strengthen peace lest it be extinguished, while Italy, thinking only of herself, rose to destroy peace.

The Imperial Ethiopian Government, the Ethiopian Church, and the people are unceasingly bringing their prayers before God, that He should be their leader and that He should grant a fruitful result to the exertions which all those in government are making to preserve peace.

Ethiopia is always conscientiously honouring and fulfilling any and all the international obligations upon which she has con­tractually entered, and she is seeking a way of conciliation, consonant with her honour and dignity, so that the conflict which has now arisen between her and Italy may be peacefully resolved. Her conscience will not rebuke her. As this act of aggression which Italy, who is called a great nation, is committing causes anxiety to all governments of the world, great and small, who are putting their minds to this in the conviction that it is peace that will improve living conditions and offer civilization to all mankind, Ethiopia desires and hopes that, with the assistance of the League Council, the quarrel which has broken out between Ethiopia and Italy may be resolved by law and proper judgement in consonance with the League of Nations covenant.’


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