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Historical Introduction

Photos of those killed by the Dergue Regime Ethiopia, on display at Addis Ababa s Meskel Square, Sunday, May 27, 2007. On Sunday, the Ethiopian government solemnly commemorated Martyr s Day, which falls on Monday and is the celebration of 16-year anniversary of the downfall of the Derg government and the expulsion of its leader, Maj. Mengistu Haile Mariam, now living in exile in Zimbabwe. AP

As a rare exception among African countries, multi-ethnic and mostly Christian Ethiopia was never conquered or colonized by European powers, except for Italian occupation during 1936-41. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie attempted to continue reforms after WWII but famine and economic difficulties prepared the ground for 1974 coup in which a Marxist-Leninist junta known as Derg toppled the Emperor and established a Socialist regime. Derg's anti-opposition Red Terror in 1975 sparked the Ethiopian Civil War that lasted sporadically until 1991. Ethiopian revolutionary leader Mengistu Haile Mariam launched repressions that claimed as many as half a million Ethiopian lives during 1977-78. In late 1970s, the junta introduced Soviet-style political terror together with nationalization and collectivization, leading the country into economic crisis and contributing to the 1980s famine that caused up to 1 million hunger deaths. Hundreds of thousands fled from poverty, Communist experiments, forced mobilization, Biblical population transfers and repressions.

In 1977, the bloody regime fought a war against Moscow's former ally Somalia and its armed conflict with neighbouring Eritrea lasted until 1988. Mengistu's regime fell in 1991 after Soviet Union and Cuba had discontinued economic and military aid as their Communist economies collapsed. Reliable data on Ethiopian victims of Communist terror are unavailable. During trials in Addis Abeba in May 1995, witnesses said that during the period between February 1977 and June 1978, about 10 000 political murders were committed in the capital alone. Several thousand trials have taken place since 1991 and Mengistu was found guilty of genocide in 2006 together with 71 other Derg officials.