The exterior of the museum

The similarities between this museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia are striking.  Both institutions starkly demonstrate man’s inhumanity to man and should be on everyone’s ‘must-see’ list, if only to ensure that this kind of atrocity never happens again.

The Martyrs Memorial Museum tells the story of the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974 and the horrors of life under Mengistu’s Derg regime.  Selassie’s demise came as a result of a terrible famine in Ethiopia which was brought to the world’s attention by British journalist, Jonathan Dimbleby.  The emperor was seen to be living a life of luxury while his people were starving to death.  Protests instigated by trade unionists and students led to his overthrow by the military. At first, the Ethiopian people were elated that Selassie had gone.  Unfortunately, nobody in the protest movements had given much thought to what kind of regime would replace him.  Within a year, under Mengistu’s leadership, the Derg had created an atmosphere of absolute terror amongst ordinary Ethiopians, tens of thousands of whom had been imprisoned without trial and tortured, or, worse, executed.  Like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Derg targetted intellectuals and educated youngsters.  Every one of Selassie’s cabinet of 60 highly intelligent men, many of whom had graduated from Oxford, Cambridge or another of the world’s top universities, was murdered.  The term ‘Red Terror’ comes from a famous speech given by Mengistu when he smashed what he said was a bottle of blood to illustrate the killings to come.

Selassie being taken away by the Derg in a VW Beetle to humiliate him

Selassie’s cabinet, all of whom were executed

Mengistu with the bottle of ‘blood’

This small museum graphically shows us the appalling horror inflicted.  There are walls of photos and names of just some of the estimated half a million killed during the lifetime of the Derg.  These include the four teenage children, murdered on the same day, whose mother officially opened the museum in 2010.  Also on display are human remains dug out of mass graves.  Financial constraints mean that very few of these victims have been formally identified, but the handful that have are particularly poignant.  Family members have brought personal mementos to the museums – watches, photos, etc. – and these are displayed alongside the bones.

Our guide in front of a wall of photos of victims

Four teenage brothers murdered on the same day

We were shown around the museum by a man who had been imprisoned by the Derg regime for eight years.  We therefore heard a very personal account of what life was like then.  Our guide was tortured in a variety of ways and witnessed several of his fellow detainees being executed.  He now relives the terror every day as he explains what happened to tourists.  He is clearly still very traumatised by what he experienced and his sense of injustice is heightened by the fact that many of the perpetrators are now free and living under government protection in Addis.

Human remains

A victim of the Derg

A victim of the Derg

A victim of the Derg

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