Ethiopian Civil War

civil war in Ethiopia between 1974 and 1991

The Ethiopian Civil War (1974–1991) was a conflict in Ethiopia that followed the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, and the establishment of Mengistu Haile Mariam's Communist Derg regime.


  • The Emperor of Ethiopia has been deposed by a military coup … Poor Haile Selassie; over the past few years he'd lost control and the inevitable was bound to happen. I remember his attendance at the monarchy celebrations, how he snatched his hand away when I tried to help him from his car, telling me he could manage well enough on his own, thank you very much. Likewise during the recent drought when thousands of his people were dying he refused all HIM's offers of help, denying that anyone was suffering or even that there was a drought. He saw himself as a mighty ruler, but now the truth has caught up with him. At the Shavand Palace today I could think of nothing but Haile Selassie's fate. Inevitably one is inclined to draw parallels … They are not reassuring ...
    • Asadollah Alam (1991), The Shah and I: The Confidential Diary of Iran's Royal Court, 1968-77, p. 388
  • Haile Selassie was not an evil man, but his priorities were misplaced. He was so concerned with establishing a strong central government and modernizing the country that he failed to meet the challenge of natural disaster... It was his false pride, this lack of courage to admit mistakes, that brought about his downfall.
    • Dawit Wolde Giorgis (1989), Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia, p. 257
  • [Haile Selassie] wanted to avoid bloodshed, so he gave up power for the good of his people and without fighting.
  • Haile Selassie wanted to develop his country, but social justice was not a concept that made a great impression on him. Opinions differ over the degree to which Ethiopia's backwardness in the early 1970s was to be attributed to his policies. Unquestionably, however, the flaunting of the wealth of the aristocracy and the business class, many of them foreigners, made the poverty of the masses seem all the more terrible.
    • David A. Korn (1986), Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union, p. 4
  • The Derg was largely a mystery to the Americans, as it was to others. The officers of the US military mission in the Ethiopian capital knew few of its members, and those that could be identified and approached shied away from contact with the Americans.
    • David A. Korn (1986), Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union, p. 7
  • There were two reasons why Mengistu and others in the Derg wanted Soviet arms. First, they came to power as revolutionaries with a radical program. They regularly denounced imperialism, yet they remained dependent on the bulwark of what they called imperialism, the United States, for the most critical of all commodities, weapons for their army. Could they be true revolutionaries and socialists and still have such a vital link to the United States? It was very embarassing. But it was more than that. For the second and equally powerful motive that pushed them toward the Soviets was that they wanted a much bigger army than Ethiopia had at the outbreak of the revolution.
    • David A. Korn (1986), Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union, p. 17-18
  • The killing of General Aman and of the old regime notables was the turning-point for the Ethiopian revolution. To that moment events in Ethiopia had unfolded without bloodshed; thereafter blood flowed freely.
    • David A. Korn (1986), Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union, p. 10
  • No sooner had Mengistu seized power than he unleashed an orgy of killing. Arms were given out to the Kebelles ('Urban Dwellers Associations') and a 'people's militia' was formed. Mengistu publicly urged it and the army to 'dispense revolutionary justice' and 'liquidate counter revolutionaries'. Revolutionary justice meant summary killing, without trial, of suspected enemies of the regime.
    • David A. Korn (1986), Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union, p. 26
  • 1,000 children have been killed, and their bodies are left in the streets and are being eaten by wild hyenas . . . You can see the heaped-up bodies of murdered children, most of them aged eleven to thirteen, lying in the gutter, as you drive out of Addis Ababa.
    • Håkan Landelius, as quoted in Stephane Courtois, et al. (1999), The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, p. 691
  • Of all these offenses the one that is most widely, frequently, and vehemently denounced is undoubtedly imperialism—sometimes just Western, sometimes Eastern (that is, Soviet) and Western alike. But the way this term is used in the literature of Islamic fundamentalists often suggests that it may not carry quite the same meaning for them as for its Western critics. In many of these writings the term "imperialist" is given a distinctly religious significance, being used in association, and sometimes interchangeably, with "missionary," and denoting a form of attack that includes the Crusades as well as the modern colonial empires. One also sometimes gets the impression that the offense of imperialism is not—as for Western critics—the domination by one people over another but rather the allocation of roles in this relationship. What is truly evil and unacceptable is the domination of infidels over true believers. For true believers to rule misbelievers is proper and natural, since this provides for the maintenance of the holy law, and gives the misbelievers both the opportunity and the incentive to embrace the true faith. But for misbelievers to rule over true believers is blasphemous and unnatural, since it leads to the corruption of religion and morality in society, and to the flouting or even the abrogation of God's law. This may help us to understand the current troubles in such diverse places as Ethiopian Eritrea, Indian Kashmir, Chinese Sinkiang, and Yugoslav Kossovo, in all of which Muslim populations are ruled by non-Muslim governments. It may also explain why spokesmen for the new Muslim minorities in Western Europe demand for Islam a degree of legal protection which those countries no longer give to Christianity and have never given to Judaism. Nor, of course, did the governments of the countries of origin of these Muslim spokesmen ever accord such protection to religions other than their own. In their perception, there is no contradiction in these attitudes. The true faith, based on God's final revelation, must be protected from insult and abuse; other faiths, being either false or incomplete, have no right to any such protection.
  • Henceforth we will tackle our enemies that come face to face with us and we will not be stabbed in from behind by internal foes... To this end, we will arm the allies and comrades of the broad masses without giving respite to reactionaries, and avenge the blood of our comrades double - and triple - fold.
    • Mengistu Haile Mariam, February 5 (1977), as quoted in Dawit Wolde Giorgis (1989) Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia, p. 31
  • In this country, some aristocratic families automatically categorize persons with dark skin, thick lips, and kinky hair as "Barias" [Amharic for slave]... let it be clear to everybody that I shall soon make these ignoramuses stoop and grind corn!
    • Mengistu Haile Mariam, as quoted in Dr. Paulos Milkia's "Mengistu Haile Mariam: The Profile of a Dictator", reprinted from the February 1994 Ethiopian Review
  • I'm a military man, I did what I did only because my country had to be saved from tribalism and feudalism. If I failed, it was only because I was betrayed. The so-called genocide was nothing more than just a war in defence of the revolution and a system from which all have benefited.
    • Mengistu Haile Mariam, as quoted in Riccardo Orizio, Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators, p. 150
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