Ethiopia / Places We Go

The Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial

Located just off Meskal Square, the Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial is a good way to get up to speed on the activities of the Derg.

The Derg (or Dergue) was a communist military junta that came to power in Ethiopia following the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie. Derg, which means “committee” was the short name for the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of military officers which ruled the country from 1974 until 1987.

And they weren’t very nice… Between 1975 and 1987, the Derg imprisoned, tortured and executed tens of thousands of its perceived opponents without trial.

The entrance to the Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial:

red terror martyr's memorial

A memorial on the grounds of the memorial:

red terror martyr's memorial

We’ve heard “Never, Ever Again” many times before, haven’t we? It always happens again. And again. And again… It seems to be human nature.


And so it begins again in Ethiopia in 1974.

On 12 September 1974 Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by Derg forces – In this photograph hanging in the museum, he appears in has last picture, being hustled away to a military prison in the back of a VW Beetle:

red terror martyr's memorial

Emerging as the leader of the Derg was Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam who rode the wave of popular opposition to Selassie’s regime, as well as the Marxist-Leninist ideology of left-wing students.

On 20 December 1974 a socialist state was declared. Under the adage “Ethiopia First”, banks businesses and factories were nationalized along with urban and rural land. Viewed as raising the status of Ethiopia’s peasants, the nationalization program was initially highly praised internationally, particularly by Unesco.

In the meantime, internal political debate degenerated into crude violence. In 1977 the Red Terror campaign was launched to suppress all political opponents. At a conservative estimate, 100,000 people were killed and many more fled abroad.

The hijacking of the popular revolution, the dawn of military rule and the suspension of democratic and civil rights:

red terror martyr's memorial

Tanks parading through the streets of Addis Ababa to demonstrate the power of the Derg:

red terror martyr's memorial

The Derg unleashed the Red Terror because it considered itself powerful beyond measure and that its opinion alone represented the “absolute” truth about Ethiopia. Anyone that did not conform to its kind of “truth” was a counter-revolutionary and subversive.

All of the photographs below are hanging in the museum. I apologize for the glare on some of the photos, but the light in the museum was not even sightly conducive to quality photographs.

Door-to-door searches to hunt down opposition members:

red terror martyr's memorial

The fate of anyone perceived to be a subversive or opposition member during the door-to-door searches:

red terror martyr's memorial

red terror martyr's memorial

And a display of the door-to-door search findings as recorded by the state-controlled media of Ethiopia:

red terror martyr's memorial

red terror martyr's memorial

The fate of printing presses and other instruments of free speech:

red terror martyr's memorial

For those that survived their initial capture by the Derg – public confessions. Coerced by torture, the public confessions planted the seeds of psychological terror, mistrust and destruction:

red terror martyr's memorial

red terror martyr's memorial

After their “confessions”, the above individuals did not meet a pleasant fate.

Below is a model of “wofelala” – The preferred torture technique employed by the Derg to break people’s will:

red terror martyr's memorial

And these are some of the toys the Derg torturers would use to spice things up if they grew bored with wofelala:

red terror martyr's memorial

One room of the museum is filled with plastic coffins. The coffins contain the personal effects of thousands of individuals dug up from mass graves – bits of clothing, combs, pens, glasses, shoes, belts, bones and much more:

red terror martyr's memorial

Paintings of some of the torture techniques and executions of the Derg line the walls of the museum in the room described above:

red terror martyr's memorial

Another room contains an exact replica of a mass grave that was unearthed:

red terror martyr's memorial

And the very real contents of the mass grave that was recreated above:

red terror martyr's memorial

While we were visiting this room, a girl whose grandfather’s remains were in the mass grave depicted above, visited the room for the first time and suffered a breakdown:

red terror martyr's memorial

Photos of the disappeared:

Derg victims

red terror martyr's memorial

Red Terror only cemented the stance of those opposing the Derg. Numerous armed liberation movements arose, including those of the Afar, Oromo, Somali and, especially, the Tigrayan people. For years, with limited weaponry, they fought the military might of the Soviet-backed Derg.

Whole forests were torched by the Derg to flush out rebel forces. Additionally, the Derg’s large armies, hungry and with inadequate provisions, turned their sights on the land’s natural resources and much wildlife was wiped out.

The various opposition groups eventually united to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which in 1989 began its historic campaign to Addis Ababa.

Doubly confronted by the EPRDF and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in Eritrea; with the fall of his allies in Eastern Europe and Russia; and with his state in financial ruin as well as his own military authority in doubt, Mengistu’s time was up and, claiming that he was going to inspect troops at a base in southern Ethiopia, Mengistu slipped out of the country on 21 May 1991. Seven days later the EPRDF entered Addis Ababa and the Derg were done.

The victorious march of EPRDF forces toward the capital:

red terror martyr's memorial

The banality of evil… Derg members on trial in Ethiopia:

red terror martyr's memorial

red terror martyr's memorial

In December 2006, 72 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide. Thirty-four people were in court, 14 others had died during the lengthy process, and 25 were tried in absentia.

Mengistu received asylum in Zimbabwe, where he remains comfortably to this day, despite being tried in absentia in Ethiopia and sentenced to death.

7 thoughts on “The Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial

  1. Pingback: Bahir Dar War Memorial « The Velvet Rocket

  2. Pingback: New Museum in Addis Ababa « Ethiopia Travel News

  3. You said: “Red Terror only cemented the stance of those opposing the Derg. Numerous armed liberation movements arose, including those of the Afar, Oromo, Somali and, especially, the Tigrayan people. For years, with limited weaponry, they fought the military might of the Soviet-backed Derg.”
    I am not defending Derg at all, he is a bloody murder no question about it.

    But, EPRDF lied to you when they told you “Derg killed esppecially Tigrayan People”. The truth is Very few Tigryans were among the murdered by Derg. EPRDF is Tigryans . . .they used Red Terror as their propaganda by conveying as if the Tigryns were the most oppressed and killed. This is a FAT lie. Derg didn’t discrimenate by province, he killed anyone who opposes it and the whole Ethiopia opposed it. EPRDF collabrated with Eriteria with the aganda of separating from the rest of Ethiopia. It is only when they got power and saw they could be rich by looting/stealing from the rest of the Ethiopian people, they changed their mind and started to say we are Ethiopian. Originally, they set out to break their tiny and desert province and wanted to create Tigryan Country.

    You have no idea how currently EPRDF forces killed and killing the whole Ethiopia . Read how not only systematically killing Ethiopians but looting the countries wealth and money and treating themselves with wealth beyond your imaginations. EPRDF is now filthy riches while the rest of 70, 000,000 Ethiopian poor suffer with poverty. Read just one of the many hows they use the money they loot from Ethiopia to build a $5,000,000 USA mansion and to party in America at the following address:

  4. እንዴት አድርጌ ልጨርስ እንባ ብቻ መርሳት ቢቻል ምን ልበል ደነዘዝኩ ውይ ልጅነታችን የሰቆቃ ነበር እንዴት

  5. The propaganda purpose of that establishment (“museum”) makes a mockery of the affair of Red Terror. The first commenter is right. EPRDF aka TPLF was one of the main players in this dirty business. They made sure to have people murdered via their agents that infiltrated into Derg just for the sort of propaganda purpose they’re known for. The difference is that Derg has fallen and TPLF is now in power. Most of those establishments where students or “suspects” used to be interrogated or tortured are still operating today.

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