Abdissa Aga

By Dr. Fikre Tolossa
Colonel Abdissa Aga was born in Welega, Oromia. His father lost his temper and killed his own brother when Abdissa was about 12 years old. Though he went as far as Addis Ababa to appeal for the release of his father, he was executed.  Sad and embittered, he joined the Ethiopian Army around the age of 14 and fought against Fascist Italy in 1936 in Ethiopia.

He was captured and imprisoned in a concentration camp in the island of Sicily in Italy. There he met Captain Julio, a Yugoslav hero. The two became friends and made a daring escape from the concentration camp taking with them a dozen prisoners to the woods. They returned to the camp a few days later, at night, led by young Abdissa who was terribly feared by the Italians.

Abdissa choked and silenced the guards. He and Julio took off the uniforms of the guards. Two of the former prisoners wore the uniforms, held the guns of the dead soldiers, and stood at the gate of the camp pretending to be Fascist watchmen. Abdissa and Julio, followed by the other partisans Penetrated the camp, released all of the prisoners, fought with some of the Fascist officers, robbed them off their ammunitions and supplies, as well as trucks full of weapons, and drove back to the woods. They continued to fight in that manner freeing prisoners and robbing concentration camps, banks, government warehouses, etc. until their number grew to an army, and until the Italian Government battled with them fiercely.

The partisans chose Abdissa to be their leader and called him Major. The Italian Fascists were terrified since they knew how brave Ethiopians were recalling the Battle of Dogali, Ambalage, Adwa, Maichew and remembering the bravery of Zerai Deres, whom later, Abdissa tried in vain to see and hug. Taking advantage of the fear of the Italian people, Italian gangsters painted their faces black and started robbing banks and pillaging villages imposing as Abdissa and other Ethiopians who were also partisans together with him. Abdissa caught these awe-inspiring gangsters and executed them,since they were discrediting his name by their atrocious acts.

The Italian Government did all it could to catch Abdissa by force. As they failed to do so, they tried to cajole and allure him by promising him a big post and by begging him to stop fighting and join their ranks. If I recall correctly, Abdissa shot the Italian officer who brought him the letter from the Italian Government.

Finally, the Second World War broke out. The Allied forces, Britain, the USA, France and Russia recognized Major Abdissa, Captain Julio and the rest  of the partisans and began to supply them with arms and provisions. Major Abdissa Aga was chosen to lead the international army of partisans (former prisoners) which consisted of Americans, English, French, Ethiopians and other nationals. Captain Julio became the commander of the Yugoslav partisans. This way the partisans weakened Italy and contributed to their defeat. Major Abdissa Aga was the first hero who entered and captured the city of Rome sitting in a jeep, waving first and foremost the flag of Ethiopia,which was also tied around the arms of his international soldiers including Americans, French and English. When the armies of the allies reached Rome, they honored Major Abdissa Aga highly. The British made him the Commander of the British Military Police and sent him to Germany to fight against the German Army. He battled with the German Nazis in different cities, defeated them, controlled the cities and villages, and entered Berlin triumphantly again waving Ethiopian and British flags. He was in the spot light all over the world.

At the end of the war, the British, the Canadians and the Americans wanted him to join their armies promising him high ranks. He refused adamantly saying that though hismother land, Ethiopia, was poor, he would stillreturn to her and see the face of his Emperor whom he had missed for so long. This incensed the Allies, and believe it or not, theyaccused him of ravaging the Italian Fascists when he was a partisan. The French, the British, the Americans, even the Russians to some extent condemned him.

Fortunately, a noble British general who had decorated himwith medals previously fought for his releasechanging the prison sentence to financial fine, which was paid by Abdissa himself and the British Government.The great Ethiopian hero finally returned to Ethiopia longing to see his country and Emperor. The Emperor welcomed him and sent him to Ras Abebe Aregai, the then Minister of Defense so that he would employ him. Ras Abebe and some of the most important patriots Ethiopia were scared of Abdissa’s valor and fearedfor their own positions.

So, instead of promoting him to a general, Ras Abebe sent Major Abdissa to the Holeta Military Academy as a simple cadet. After several months of hardship in Holeta he graduated as a first lieutenant, to the surprise of the British officers whom Abdissa used to command when they were in Europe.  Abdissa was oppressed in the Ethiopian Army. He was sent to the Ogaden and fought against the Somali invaders displaying incredible courage and military tactics.

In spite of what he did to raise the pride of Ethiopia and to safeguard her territorial integrity, he didn’t  rise above the rank of a captain for many, many years until somebody (they say Captain Julio and Marshal Tito) drew the attention of the Emperor towards the end of the Emperor’s life and regime. The Emperor raised his rank to colonel and made him his bodyguard. Colonel Abdissa Aga the great died a few years after the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution.