Nowadays Ethiopians leave all the titles of lieutenant colonel laureate Dr. Abiy and just lovingly refer to him as “Abichu”. How many of us know though that Abichu is a person’s name? Abichu was a handsome 16 year old teenager whose name infamous amongst his enemies even at abroad. Born into a world of envy, hate and greed, Abichu was someone who has not had recognition. But now thanks to Dr. Abiy, his name is spoken in many places.The Czech writer Adolf describes the identity of Abichu like this: Abichu was born in 1912 in today’s north Shewa, Jarso region.
His father was the leader of the region’s army and on the eve of the Italian occupation he died of natural causes. Since the tradition was to take the father’s place and responsibility when the father has passed, Abichu’s two brothers were obliged to take over the leadership of the army. Even though Ras Kassa was the major commander of the Selale and Bege, the region’s army took orders from his son Dejazmach Abera. In 1928, when fascist Italy entered the country, Abichu’s brothers were amongst those proud Ethiopians who fought against them. The teenager who saw his brothers’ courage wanted to go along with them and fight the Italians. He swore in the name of Emperor Menilik that he was afraid of neither bullets nor death itself. His mother, seeing her son’s desire, gave him up to Dejazmach Abera. Dejazmach Abera was educated in Europe and was a smart and young commander. Abichu also by this time, had finished the courses given within the country and was going to go abroad for further education but his dreams were cut short by the arrival of the enemy that came from abroad.
Even though Abichu marched along with his brothers, his love for the Dejazmach was big. The army that came from Selale travelled for seven months and reached Tigray’s Ambalage region. It met and fought with Italians at Ambaladom. Many heroes fell fighting to their last breath and killing as many Italians as they could without knowing what would become of their beloved country. Amongst these fallen heroes were Abichu’s brothers. Not knowing whether one of them was captured or killed, Abichu buried his other brother’s body and mourned without eating for two days which worried Dejazmach Abera. Abichu had vowed that he would not eat until he knew what became of his other brother. The Jarso army was without a leader.
Dejazmach Abera was in a dilemma. On one hand, he could name a leader for the Jarso army but Abichu would be upset for the army was lead by his family members. On the other, even if he named Abichu as the leader, he was worried that the teenager may not reach the level of war strategy and sophistication of the highly organized Italian forces. He consulted the elderly on this topic for days till one of them decided to convince Abichu to get on his feet and he did. Abichu demanded that he would only eat if he was provided with 200 young men that he would lead to set his brother free. The Dejazmach granted him his wishes.
The following day, Abichu marched towards the Italian fortress with the 200 young men. No one claimed to have seen him after that. However after some time, his name not only became famous in Ethiopia but also in the Italian capital of Rome. His army continuously attacked the fascists in a way they could not have expected and were least prepared for so the fascists started brutally murdering other Ethiopian. For this, the emperor and commanders called for Abichu to be arrested. The people sent for his arrest, admiring his leadership, started joining his army. A battalion of Eritrean soldiers who were with the Italians also joined his army after murdering their Italian leader.
Dejazmach Abera came up with a plan to capture Abichu sending him a message that he was seriously ill and Abichu fell for it. Upon his capture he told the Dejazmach “when we started marching from Selale I took a vow of loyalty to you and not for some old men or the emperor. I am not a king but a simple soldier. I will not sit at Desse and wait until I am captured.” (Sarcasm based on the time the emperor ordered army at Desse to defend but not attack).” But for you I vow again. I will give my life for you. But I cannot go home for I have no home. If the old men are trying to send an army for me, it’s all well. But they should know that I have no quarrel with them. In case we do not meet again, Dejazmach, tell my mother that I was happy and I will do whatever it takes to go back to Selale.” After saying that, Abichu left their presence. Although no one saw him after that, he continued to march his now 2000 soldiers through Tigray and terrorize the enemy.
Even though Abichu’s former intention was to fight the enemy, punish the traitors and return his country back to its freedom, he was also made an enemy by his fellow countrymen who only strictly followed His Highness’s orders who considered his army as bandits and outlaws. Abichu marched his army towards Maichew to a final battle that was to decide the fate of Ethiopia. Ras Emiru H/Selassie, Ras Seyoum Mengesha, Ras Mulugeta Yigezu and Ras Hailu along with their combined armies were to face the fascists at Maichew and repeat the victory of Adwa. Abichu’s army faced the Italian forces at front and traitor forces from the back. Surrounded by enemies, they could not get help from their fellow countrymen so they were persuaded to return to Selale after losing two of their best commanders.
After the horrible deafeat at Maichew, the emperor and the nobility fled to Europe where as the people who fought and faced the fascist directly were left without a leader. The army dispersed and the separated battalions could not face the highly modernized tactics and war machines of the fascist. Abichu returned to his home Jarso with the hopes of raising another army to face the Italians. But what happened to him after that? Did he fall fighting to death? Or did he become the means to revenge by the emperor like Belay Zeleke and many others?
Many have written about Maichew but our source about Abichu comes only from the Czech writer Adolf who admired him amongst many heroes at the war. Politicians told the people that the emperor did not flee but went to Europe to get the help of the League of Nations. They attribute the victory not to the people who suffered but never surrendered for five years but to the emperor who had finally returned bringing help from Britain; yet it was through the full support of Britain that Italy was able to invade Ethiopia before World War two. The British switched alliances after the war and decided to help Ethiopia but the victory should not be entirely attributed to them for it was the result of fallen heroes like Abichu.
After the emperor returned, he only gave titles and gifts to the traitors and those who helped him stay in power and not for those who fought for the dignity and freedom of the country. His highness not only did not award heroes, he punished them in public and wiped their memories and identities from history. The book Habeshaska Odessa was translated to Amharic in 1989 and before that nobody even heard of the hero Abichu. How could a true hero like that be wiped from history let alone not receive an award? Today the people call Dr. Abiy “Abichu” because of this teenage hero to remember and praise his achievements.